On a recent trip to Dallas (for the Family Travel Conference), somehow fate made it possible for me to be in the same place at the same time as Larry Hagman, better known as JR Ewing from all of his years on Dallas (the television series from the late 70s). I didn’t know then that he’d be gone forever just weeks later.
There I was, touring the Omni hotel as part of an assignment to shoot a video about the various artwork hanging throughout. I wasn’t too pleased with the assignment, to be honest, because it’s pretty difficult to shoot videos that seem compelling of something that is hanging (still) on a wall.
I was making the most of it, along with the rest of my group, including another travel-writing pal, Connie, who uses a motorized scooter to help her get around. Often, that scooter means she has a tougher time moving with a group because she has to find ramps and elevators when others don’t have to take that into consideration. But when we were in the hotel lobby, looking at one massive piece of artwork, and our tour guide casually said hello to an older gentleman walking by, Connie had a distinct advantage with her scooter. The tour guide quietly pointed out that was Larry Hagman who had just walked by. I immediately started to follow him, thinking “JR” would make a much better video than the artwork I was shooting. Connie was right beside me.
Within seconds I was just feet away, trying to get his attention. “Mr. Hagman, excuse me, could we stop you for a quick second?” By this time, Connie was FLYING by me, her scooter in high gear. He was kind enough to turn around and wait for us (very brave since I’m certain we must have appeared to be two crazy women).
“Mr. Hagman, would you mind if we took our pictures with you?” I asked.
He shook his head no, with a smile, but holding his hands over his throat to indicate he couldn’t speak.
I was instantly concerned, thinking he reminded me a bit of my father as he looked toward the end of his battle with cancer, looking weak but still handsome.
“I’m sorry, do you mean no, you don’t want to take the photo, or no, you don’t mind?” I asked, then realized he wasn’t going to be able to answer. So I continued, “if you don’t mind taking the photo, would you just stand there, right next to Connie?”
He moved over to stand next to Connie (in her speed-scooter) and I took a quick picture. Then, two women came over to assist, apparently his travel partners, and offered to take a picture for us so that I could be in it, too.
At that point, I leaned into his ear and said, “I have to know, who shot you?”
He laughed. I am sure others have asked that question, but maybe not recently, because he genuinely smiled and relaxed. I love that the women got that shot on camera.
We took a more serious photo next (the one at the top of this post).
That’s when the ladies explained he was scheduled to perform in Tyler, Texas, that night and was saving his voice. They told us he doesn’t speak the days that he performs until right before the performance. I didn’t have reason to doubt them and honestly wanted to believe he was ok.
The rest of our tour group caught up to us at this point. They also asked for photos but his assistants explained they had to leave.
Then we watched them walk out of the hotel into an RV of sorts that was waiting outside. And even that held surprises for me. It was solar powered! I assume that means that the power or appliances inside the vehicle were solar powered. But I didn’t want to bother him to clarify. I only envisioned “JR” in a Mercedes-Benz, maybe the new GL-Class. Not something so new age.
I was stunned to discover there were people I talked to around Dallas that weekend who had no idea who he was. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but “JR” was the very definition of Dallas for so many people for so long. And if you didn’t know Hagman for his role on Dallas, you knew him as Major Tony Nelson, the astronaut/master on “I Dream of Jeannie”.
I guess I have to realize I’m part of that “older” group now.
Older, yes, but so happy that I chased him down for that photo. Because now, hearing of his death less than two weeks later, I realize the legends of yesterday won’t be around forever. I knew he seemed weak, but strong at the same time. He didn’t use his voice, but that great laugh said it all.
He was still very much alive at that moment and I’m honored to have met him, even if it was just for that quick exchange.
Rest in peace Larry Hagman.