'Dallas' fans head to Southfork to pay respects to Larry Hagman

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PARKER, Texas -- J.R. Ewing was a ruthless oilman and cheating husband in the hit show "Dallas." Millions of Americans gathered around their televisions every week to watch the drama.

Some of those millions flocked to Southfork Ranch on Saturday, bringing flowers in memory of Larry Hagman, the actor and North Texan who brought the character to life.

“My whole family we watched 'Dallas' -- my mom, dad, sister," Risa Rivers said.

Hagman died in Dallas on Friday at age 81 due to complications from his battle with cancer.

Around the world, people knew Hagman as J.R., and 41 million viewers watched to find out who shot the conniving businessman in November of 1980.

“We couldn't wait to find out who," Rivers remembered.

Southfork, a ranch north of Dallas, was known to millions of viewers as the Ewing family home. Exterior shots of the house and pool were shown when the series aired from 1978 to 1991, although the show wasn't filmed there. Now, Southfork is a museum and tourist attraction that sees more than 100,000 visitors each year.

Each room of the house has a theme for each character. On Saturday, J.R. Ewing's room had flowers and a card for tourists to sign.

Rhonda Pettway brought her family Saturday. She was an extra on the show and recalls meeting Hagman.

“I was sad, because I remember that time when I was on 'Dallas' for those three seconds on film," Pettway said. "How gracious he was and what a sweet guy he was. You heard rumors he was a mean guy, but he's the nicest man you ever want to meet."

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said Hagman was "a North Texas jewel that was larger than life and will be missed in Dallas and around the world."

Saturday at Southfork they brought out pictures of Hagman in his famous role.

"Today is about Larry Hagman and his family," said Janna Timm, a Southfork Ranch & Hotel spokeswoman. "He was such a wonderful person, and we will really miss him."

Joan Manganello is a tour guide. She said it wasn't unusual to see Hagman hanging around the ranch.

“He loved sitting in Miss Ellie's Kitchen having his breakfast, walking around the ranch all by himself. No bodyguard," Manganello said.

"Dallas" was recently revived on TNT this summer, and all of the scenes were filmed at Southfork or other places in the Dallas area. Hagman had revised his role as the scheming oilman who would even double-cross his own son.

Linda Sproule of Peterborough, Ontario, had been traveling through the U.S. the past couple of weeks and heard about Hagman's death Friday while in Dallas. She said she didn't know where Southfork was but wanted to come because she was a fan of the show in the 1980s.

"I remember on Friday nights we watched it, and J.R. was bigger than life in some ways," she said after taking the Southfork tour Saturday morning. "This ranch is beautiful. Being here is kind of emotional in a way."

Barbara Quinones and her husband were in town for their daughter's soccer tournament and had already planned to visit Southfork when they heard news of Hagman's death.

"We loved him because he was so ruthless," said Quinones, of Albuquerque, N.M. "This is a sad day, but I'm glad we're here."

Some of the show's stars, including Hagman, came to Southfork for the series' 25th anniversary. The Fort Worth-born actor also had visited several times before the show was revived.

"He was definitely a gentleman, a class act," said Jim Gomes, vice president of resorts at Southfork Ranch & Hotel. "He loved the fans as much as they loved him."

J.R. Ewing the character and Larry Hagman the star may have died, but they will live on here deep in the Heart of Texas.

WFAA and Associated Press reports were used in this story

E-mail rlopez@wfaa.com