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Dallas Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

Believe it or not, it's been 30 years since the primetime soap "Dallas" graced television screens. The epic 14-season series following the trials and conflicts of the Ewing family ended on May 3, 1991. Its finale episode shows the villainous J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) all the ways he had negatively affected the people around him — in a plot that twisted the main conceit of "It's A Wonderful Life" — and culminates in a shot that implies J.R. takes his own life.

He hadn't, of course, as proved by later reunion shows. But his death was just one that took place on "Dallas" over the years, and not even the first to be reversed. (Anyone who watched television in the '80s will remember the infamous way Bobby (Patrick Duffy) came back after his death in Season 9.) 

Unfortunately, in real life, death is a bit more permanent than it has proved to be on television. With "Dallas" three decades behind us, it's inevitable that some of the actors have since passed away.

Larry Hagman

Larry Hagman may have played the devious and downright dirty Stetson-wearing J.R. Ewing in "Dallas," but he was "fun and generous" in real life, his on-screen wife, Linda Gray, said following his death in November 2012 (via the Hollywood Reporter). She claimed that death held no fears for him. "In his life, he was very open about having done LSD, and he'd say: 'I'm not afraid of dying. I've gone to the other side, and I know it's wonderful.' And maybe that's the way it worked out," Gray said.

Hagman died at the age of 81 from complications stemming from a battle with cancer, ABC News reported. The BBC noted that the actor also had cirrhosis of the liver, which resulted in several life-saving operations, including a liver transplant and another surgery in 2003. Fortunately, he was able to have his family and friends — including Gray — at his bedside in the days before his death. As he was starring in the "Dallas" reboot at the time, J.R. died too.

The actor was very well-known for another part he played: the much more upstanding Major Tony Nelson in "I Dream of Jeannie," opposite Barbara Eden. Hagman was born in 1931 and started acting in the 1950s. His guest roles included parts in shows like "The Streets of San Francisco," "The Rockford Files," "MacMillan and Wife," "McCloud," "Police Woman," "Nip/Tuck," and dozens of others. He also played J.R. Ewing in "Knot's Landing," in the 2012-to-2013 remake of "Dallas," and a couple of reunion TV movies that aired in the '90s. He reportedly owned more than 2,000 Stetsons that he wore to public outings and talk shows. Basically, Hagman is forever J.R. Ewing, and his fans will always think of him that way.

Barbara Bel Geddes

Barbara Bel Geddes was a well-established actor before "Dallas" came along and made her an even bigger star. On "Dallas," she played the Ewing family matriarch Miss Ellie, J.R. and Bobby's mother. Bel Geddes wasn't in every episode, though, and that was because she suffered health issues during its long run. If you were watching the show back then, you may remember that Donna Reed took her place during the 1984-1985 season while Bel Geddes was undergoing heart surgery (via the New York Times).

Bel Geddes was already in her 50s by the time she was the first cast member to be signed for "Dallas," according to her official website, and she was an outsized influence on the show even before it started. Her co-star Larry Hagman revealed to the Associated Press (via the Tampa Bay Times), "The reason I took the show, they said Barbara Bel Geddes is going to play your mother, and I said, 'Well, that's a touch of class, you know,' so of course I wanted to work with her. She was the rock of 'Dallas.' Just a really nice woman and a wonderful actress. She was kind of the glue that held the whole thing together."

Bel Geddes was actually the only "Dallas" cast member to individually receive awards for her work on the show, winning the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Drama and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 1980 (via IMDb). She retired from acting in 1990, after a prolific and well-regarded career spanning decades on screen and on stage, and died of lung cancer in August 2005 at age 82, as reported by the New York Times.

Ken Kercheval

Ken Kercheval, who played J.R. Ewing's foil Cliff Barnes on "Dallas," died in 2019. Alongside Larry Hagman, Kercheval had the distinction of being the only actor to remain for all 14 seasons of the show's run, and he also appeared in the reunion specials and the 2012 revival. His character Cliff was Bobby Ewing's brother-in-law through his sister Pam (Victoria Principal) and a huge part of a family that feuded with the Ewings over with Cliff considered their rightful oil fortune and led Cliff to constantly try to take control of the business.

Kercheval — who once said that Barbara Bel Geddes was his best friend, and who was also said to be good friends with Hagman, according to the Chicago Tribune – told the Dallas Decoder that he sincerely liked his character, which is probably a rarity on "Dallas" given all the shenanigans taking place throughout the years. "I thought he was a nice guy too. J.R. was coming after my a** all the time, so I was always had to defend myself," he said. "If I did something that wasn't quite right, it's because I had to." Of course, Cliff Barnes often came out on the wrong end of any dispute.

The actor, an Indiana native, was also known for guest roles in "Diagnosis Murder," "ER," several "Perry Mason" mystery movies, "Murder, She Wrote," "Matlock," "Hotel," "Starsky and Hutch," "Kojak," and "The Love Boat." Kercheval also starred in the reunion movie "I Still Dream of Jeannie," which featured his friend Hagman. 

Kercheval was diagnosed with cancer in 1993, which resulted in him having a lung removed. He died at age 83 in April 2019, reportedly of pneumonia, after a long illness (via the New York Times).

Jim Davis

Actor Jim Davis, who played Ewing patriarch Jock for four seasons of "Dallas," was 71 when he died in April 1981, during the show's run (via the New York Times). (Many outlets reported at the time that he was 65 years old at the time of his death.) It was a tragic event that affected his co-stars deeply. Davis' decline in health could be seen on-screen, and alternative plans were made for the series to take his illness into account. Jock and Miss Ellie reconciled after having marital issues and went off on a second honeymoon, and later, it was revealed that Jock had died in a helicopter crash. Following Davis' death, the crew of "Dallas" decided not to recast his role.

”We're all terribly sorrowful,” Hagman shortly after Davis' death (via the New York Times). ”Jim was a great guy to work with, and he will be greatly missed. He is irreplaceable as both a friend and a coworker.” Producer Leonard Katzman revealed that Bel Geddes was also quite upset by the development (via TODAY). "It was like losing her own husband again. It was a terribly difficult and emotional time for Barbara," he noted.

Davis was previously known for roles in TV shows such as "Gunsmoke," "Death Valley Days," "Wagon Train," and Western films like "The Big Sky" and "Brimstone." The New York Times reported that Davis had surgery for a perforated ulcer not long before his death. A site dedicated to the actor notes that the ulcer was a complication of a brain tumor, and it initially looked like he would recover. However, he died in his sleep on April 26, 1981.

Howard Keel

While Jim Davis' "Dallas" character wasn't recast following his death, the Ewing family did get another patriarch thanks to Miss Ellie's second marriage. Howard Keel played Clayton Farlow, Miss Ellie's new husband, from Season 4 onward. Clayton was actually introduced to the Ewings through his adoptive son Steven "Dusty" Farlow (Jared Martin), who was romantically involved with Sue Ellen (Linda Gray). Despite having a crush on Sue Ellen at first, Clayton eventually married Miss Ellie.

Actor Keel was another showbiz veteran with numerous live theater credits and movie roles starting in the 1940s. He was in films like "Annie Get Your Gun," "Showboat," and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," but his career was in a slump when "Dallas" came along and revitalized it. Davis even started a solo recording career at this point. "The show was enormous," Keel said in 1995 (via Variety). "I couldn't believe it. My life changed again. From being out of it, I was suddenly a star, known to more people than ever before. Wherever I went, crowds appeared again, and I started making solo albums for the first time in my career."

At the end of the series' run, Keel and on-screen wife Barbara Bel Geddes mostly disappeared. The actor died from colon cancer on November 7, 2004 at his home in Palm Desert, as reported by MSNBC. He was 85 years old.