HAGMAN ON CONFRONTING DEATH
Apr 3 2004
Exclusive From Tanith Carey
Hagman picked up the phone and rang each of his five granddaughters
in turn. One by one, the Dallas star asked them how their
day had been and what they'd been doing at school - then signed
off by telling them he loved them.
What Larry omitted to mention was that
he was about to go under the knife to remove a diseased piece
of the liver transplanted into him nine years ago. He also
left out the fact he might not survive.
"It was my choice to go ahead
with the operation. But the choice was between that or dying,"
says the 72-year-old actor, who is still a household name
for his portrayal of evil oil baron JR Ewing in the biggest
soap opera of the 80s.
"So I just made out a really good
will. And then I called my granddaughters to say I loved them.
I didn't say there was a good chance I might not come out
because I didn't want to make a mish-mash of it."
Today it looks as if Larry made the
right call. Four months after having two operations to get
rid of the dead tissue, the actor and former alcoholic is
sitting in his living-room with its panoramic views high over
As befits the man who was the most
successful TV actor of his generation, there is a fleet of
six cars outside, including a Ferrari. For each, he has a
bumper sticker: "Hagman Lives."
It is a characteristically defiant
statement after two US tabloids went so far as to say that
nothing more that could be done for him - and that he had
been sent home from hospital to die.
Still, Larry has put a great deal of
thought into his last great performance: his funeral. He doesn't
know how many years he has left - and doesn't seem worried.
But when he does go, he wants it to be a celebration.
"I would like to be minced. Did
you ever see Fargo, when they put the guy in the chipper and
his feet are sticking out?" he asks. "Then I would
like to be spread over half an acre of land. Then I want to
spread some wheat over there, and then some marijuana seeds.
"At the end of the year you harvest
me for a huge cake - and serve it up for my birthday.
"I want a big party for guests
to come and dance for three days. I have had a wonderful life.
It's been so good and so blessed. Most things don't bother
"If I have a fault it is that
I take life too humorously. If you look at the funny side,
it is pretty funny most of the time. I am rich, I am alive
and I am living well."
Larry is known as the "Mad Monk
of Malibu" for his eccentric ways. But he has admitted
for the first time that he secretly started drinking again
despite receiving a new liver in 1995 to replace the organ
he had destroyed with 30 years of alcohol abuse.
HE is at great pains to stress that
this had nothing to do with his latest liver problem, which
was sparked by a recurring infection.
"I was having a beer for the taste,
not for the buzz," he says without a trace of apology.
"I was having half a pint once a month with a salad.
"I didn't think it was a serious
thing. Then they caught me on it. So I'm human. It was nothing
to do with the reason for my operation. I didn't even mention
the beers to my doctor."
He also kept it a secret from his regular
Monday night Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. "I was breaking
the rules. I didn't tell the group about it," he confesses.
"That is 'going out', as they call it. A beer a month,
a beer a year, a beer every 10 years, is 'going out'. You
are not supposed to drink anything.
"When the story came out, I had
to go back to the meeting. I threw down the magazine and I
said: 'Here's what I have been doing.'
"It wasn't difficult to do. People
do it all the time. There was no criticism. They don't shoot
the wounded at AA. It wasn't like I was going out getting
drunk and crashing the car, beating my wife."
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Harmless or not, Larry says it was
the last drop of alcohol he will ever drink. "I don't
need alcohol any longer and I don't crave it. It might start
me again. I don't want to disgrace the AA movement by going
back into that sort of behaviour.
"I don't hate myself for it. I
have never hated myself for anything - which is maybe part
of the problem."
He can trace his alcoholism back to
his first drink at 15. In his Dallas heyday he was getting
through four bottles of champagne a day.
"My father was an alcoholic,"
he explains. "All of my heroes were smokers and drinkers:
John Ford, John Wayne. That's what you do in Texas. Real men
smoke and drink."
He was such a happy drunk that if the
booze hadn't rotted his first liver he would still be on the
"If there hadn't been any side-effects
on my health, I would have been happy to go on," he admits.
"I never was drunk. It just gave me that little click.
My wife never minded. We were making so much money at the
time that $50,000 a year on champagne really didn't matter."
But though Hagman is enjoying his new
lease of life, death holds no fear for him. He recently turned
down the offer of a second liver transplant.
"I said to the doctors: 'No, I
don't want another liver. I don't want to deprive other people.'
I have already had my one, even if it means I could die. Who
gives a s**t, honey?
"It doesn't scare me. You are
going to die eventually anyhow. I wouldn't have it even if
it meant I had another 20 years. Well, I am 72. I don't think
I'll be 92." Part of his fearlessness stems from the
fact that he has seen the "next level" of existence.
During his recent operation, he says, he had an out-of-body
"It is so common, it sounds corny,"
he says. "I was euphoric and I was having a wonderful
time listening to the doctors, playing music and joking below
while they operated on me. Then suddenly some-one or something
wanted me back. I didn't want to go."
But it was what he "saw"
during the 16-hour transplant nine years ago that really changed
his views on living and dying.
"I got a look over the edge and
it is a wonderful place - full of love," he says. "I
remember feeling this huge matrix of electromagnetic energy
like the Aurora Borealis.
"It's as if you join a huge curtain
of energy and it takes all fear of death away."
Since his last surgery just before
Christmas, his liver has already grown back half an inch.
The illness has taken a lot out of him, but he is working
out again and gradually feeling his strength returning, though
he is now diabetic.
Every morning, he still says thank
you to his original liver donor, whose picture he has posted
next to his shaving mirror.
SUDDENLY pulling a JR voice out of
the hat, he bellows: "I say: 'Good morning, Bill, how
ya doing? Thanks, you little rascal.'"
Born in Texas in 1931, Larry decided
to follow his mother, Broadway legend Mary Martin, into show
business as a teenager.
By his early 30s he was a household
name as Captain Nelson in I Dream Of Jeannie, one of the most
popular TV shows of the 60s. Then came Dallas. It was screened
here from 1978 to 1991, and 25 million viewers watched the
episode revealing who had pulled the trigger on him.
Today, as we talk in the opulence of
his Santa Monica home, his lugubrious face is dominated by
a pair of huge aviator shades.
The hair is thinner and the face greyer
and the Texas accent more muted. But the swagger returns as
soon as he puts on his cowboy hat for the pictures.
Women are the only indulgence he turned
down, he says. He has been married to his wife Maj for nearly
50 years - they have two children - and says he was never
tempted to stray.
Maj recently persuaded him to give
up the high-powered motorcycle he used to ride on 400-mile
trips through the desert. But he still skinny-dips in the
rock pools at the ranch in Ojai, which he calls Hagman Heaven.
The real heaven can wait.
"I had 18 years in two of the
most successful TV shows ever, so who could top that?"
he says. "I mean, I have done enough to be remembered
by. I don't want to win an Oscar."
Then, in true JR style, he adds: "All
I care about is money - and I have enough money to live like
this until my life is over."
Does he have any idea how long that
might be? "Today. Tomorrow? Who knows?
"Take it one day at a time. That's
the lesson that Alcoholics Anonymous teaches you."
US Editor, in Santa Monica