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The end of J.R.Ewing, one of TV's great characters

Larry Hagman reprised his role as J.R. Ewing,

Larry Hagman reprised his role as J.R. Ewing, the oilman everyone loves to hate, in the new “Dallas." Credit: TNT

J.R. Ewing is finally laid to rest tonight, ending a "Dallas" run that began over 30 years ago and -- in the bargain -- launching one of the three or four greatest characters in TV history. This is an emotional moment, so this morning, some emotion.

Why did we love J.R. Ewing so much and for so long? I think I have the easy and possibly even accurate answer -- because we loved the actor who played him so very well -- Larry Hagman, who died last fall leaving but one name besides his own on the tombstone. Blue of eye and sharp of tongue, there was a certainly a lot to hate in this character: brutality, misogyny, even deviance. But Hagman brought something entirely unexpected to the villainy of J.R. -- a jarring sense of humanity at the most jarring moments. Just when you hated him the most, he spun you around to the other J.R. -- a brutal truth-teller with heart. Hagman was perfect in the role, creating a cool guy for the so-called cool medium. Rarely hot or cold, he walked the line perfectly without straying into those sudsy places that would demolish the effect of a total cad, most notably melodrama.

So tonight, he's off. You'll learn a few things, and I'm not giving away much to tell you that he died in Mexico. There's a reason for that and tonight's TNT episode, "J.R.'s Masterpiece," explains why. This especially fine send-off is emotional, and you'll be surprised at the well of emotion it summons in you. Two clips below: A quick tease, J.R.'s best quotes, and -- something unexpected -- Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris singing the Townes Van Zandt classic, "Pancho and Lefty." The up-tempo  Nelson/Merle Haggard version is better known but somehow this gently sentimental version about a bandit who met his end down in Mexico where "nobody heard his dying words" seems better suited to J.R.'s last stand.


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