The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Had Kristin Shepard been a better shot, few characters on the 1980s prime-time soap opera Dallas would have mourned the death of J.R. Ewing. Indeed, many of us spent the summer of 1980 trying to figure out who hated J.R. enough to pull the trigger.
There were a lot of options.
But the derision certainly never extended to the man who played him, Larry Hagman, who died Friday from complications of throat cancer.
Hagman himself was celebrated as a best friend by two of the people he tormented most on Dallas: Linda Gray, who played his long-suffering wife, Sue Ellen, and Patrick Duffy, who played his brother Bobby. Both were at Hagman’s bedside when he died, and both released lovely statements about their friend. Gray called him her “best friend for 35 years,” and said, “He was an original and lived life to the fullest.”
We could see that in his jovial, honest demeanor in interviews and at events, and the sheer joy he took in creating a character who made the show what it was.
Indeed, Dallas was supposed to be an ensemble drama focused on the rivalry between the Ewings and the Barneses, brought to a boil when Bobby married Pamela Barnes (Victoria Principal). But Hagman’s J.R. soon stole the show, doing dirty deeds with a wink and a tip of his cowboy hat, confident that his wealth would shield him from any real consequences. He popularized the notion that “greed is good,” well before Michael Douglas won an Oscar saying it.
You can sum up in two letters — J.R. — the reason Dallas was one of the longest running prime time dramas in television history in two letters.
When TNT brought Dallas back this summer, it was supposed to focus on J.R. and Bobby’s sons, John Ross and Christopher, and their rivalry. But as the season went along, J.R. came more into focus, and again, his schemes were an integral part of the season-ending cliffhanger.
Now the cliffhanger will be how the show handles Hagman’s and J.R.’s passing — we presume no one would be stupid enough to try to re-cast J.R. Ewing — when it starts its second season in January. The show was in production, and Hagman had shot several episodes before his death.
When J.R. dies, we are not sure which characters will shed tears, if any. But for fans of great TV and wonderful personalities, Hagman’s passing is a sad event.
The ink had barely dried on Wednesday’s Herald-Leaders with the obituary of former Kentucky Theatre ticket seller Lee Overstreet when word of Gatewood Galbraith’s death bolted through the newsroom.
We’re only four days into the New Year and we already know Lexington will go through it two characters poorer. In their own ways, Galbraith and Overstreet were some of the folks that made Lexington a richer, more enjoyable place to live.
By her mere presence, Overstreet presented you with something you did not expect when visiting the hip downtown movie house: an octogenarian selling you your tickets. Not only that, but a delightful woman who might be wearing a crown if The Queen was playing and always had a friendly smile and kind words for the theater’s customers.
And this is just what you knew from purchasing a movie ticket. When Herald-Leader writer Vicki Broadus profiled Overstreet in 2008, she found a woman who had been a pioneering member of the Women’s Army Corps and the Peace Corps, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and flew airplanes. Not only that, she attended her first midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture show at age 88 wearing underwear – fully-visible underwear.
And then there was Gatewood, the perennial candidate who had no qualms about saying whatever was on his mind. I’m happy to say I got to see Galbraith in rare form last year helping to cover the Fancy Farm Picnic when he tore into Gov. Steve Beshear, one of his rivals in the gubernatorial election, for evading the politics of the event and instead talking about his visit to Kentucky troops serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait.
I know I took a step back when Galbraith bellowed, practically to the Governor’s face, “You go over there and try to hide behind the bodies of our young men and women in the military. I was highly offended.”
While Galbraith was never elected in his five tries for governor as well as other offices, a lot of people found things to like in the independent philosophies of Galbraith, who was also known for hanging out with country star Willie Nelson.
The really great thing was that in this little big town – or big little town – where you can easily bump into the mayor in line at a coffee shop, Overstreet and Galbraith were people you’d regularly see walking down the street. That is, you’d see them until this year, a year that sadly will have a little less character in Lexington.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich