The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Larry Hagman’s epitaph: ‘Evil does good’

Larry Hagman, left, as J.R. Ewing and Patrick Duffy as his nice-guy brother Bobby in the TV series “Dallas.” (Zade Rosenthal)
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DALLAS – The invitation beckoning donors to a glittering launch party for the Larry Hagman Foundation  just last month lived up to the hype that preceded it.

“Evil Does Good’’ were the words emblazoned alongside the iconic image of Hagman, aka J.R. Ewing, in  the cowboy hat and bushy eyebrows that defined his signature role as an actor.

Given the timing, less than two months before his death Friday at age 81, Hagman could well have guessed those words would become his epitaph.

Indeed, another famous Dallas resident (hint: 43rd POTUS) might have called J.R. an “evil-doer.’’ But Hagman made the most of the J.R. persona for the past three decades, moving into the Dallas social circles inhabited by the city’s top business, political and philanthropic leaders.

The soiree last month, which drew a bunch of Dallas A-listers, was hosted by Lisa Blue Baron, a prominent lawyer and widow of national Democratic powerhouse Fred Baron.

Baron, who was the founding board member of the Larry Hagman Foundation, said in an e-mail Saturday that “Larry told me he always wanted to give back to the city that made him famous.

“His focus was the combination of underprivileged kids and the arts,’’ Baron said. “I truly believe Larry felt this was one of the most important things he did before his death.’’

Indeed, as he reprised the role of a ruthless oil baron on the reboot of TV’s “Dallas’’ this season, Hagman seemed to have embraced the persona of J.R. full-time.

What might have started as a parody of a back-stabbing Texas oilman in the 1980s had arguably become a part of Hagman, who made numerous appearances around North Texas in full J.R. regalia.

He was in Dallas for Thanksgiving with his family, and he was here when he passed away.

“Larry was back in his beloved Dallas re-enacting the iconic role he loved most. Larry’s family and close friends had joined him in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday,’’ said a statement on his Web site Saturday. “When he passed, he was surrounded by loved ones. It was a peaceful passing, just as he had wished for.”

Hagman had a legitimate claim to Lone Star heritage, noted one obituary, as the “Texas-born son of Broadway actress Mary Martin.’’

What a fitting tribute it would be if the real oil barons in Texas spent their final days not only doing work they love, but also creating a pathway for disadvantaged kids to enter their profession, as Hagman did with his foundation.

Baron called the actor  “the kindest, most compassionate person I ever met. ‘’ And that, of course, is the best epitaph of all.