LOS ANGELES, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Actor Larry Hagman gained fame playing the sleazy J.R. Ewing for 13 seasons on the primetime soap opera, "Dallas" -- but in his new autobiography Hagman portrays himself as a man of unconventional spirituality.
Hagman became an international star playing J.R., the character everyone loved to hate on the top-rated CBS series from 1978-91 -- and in several made-for-TV movies that brought the characters back for more backstabbing, double-dealing and other forms of personal and professional treachery at the Ewing spread in the heart of Texas.
J.R.'s apparently limitless appetite for bad behavior made him the antithesis of Tony Nelson, the good guy astronaut Hagman played on "I Dream of Jeannie." The comedy, which paired Hagman with Barbara Eden, ran on NBC from 1965-70.
Hagman's new book, "Hello Darlin'," describes his life as the child of Broadway star Mary Martin, his hard knocks apprenticeship in the theater and his rise to fame. Although Hagman covers most of the significant events in his life -- including his alcoholism, illegal drug use and liver transplant -- he acknowledges he left out a lot of details.
"We had to knock out tons and tons of stuff," he said. "But it's enough for this book anyhow."
One thing Hagman did not want his memoir to be is a "kiss-and-tell," a form of autobiography that has gained currency among celebrities in recent years.
"I don't like those books," he said. "Not my kind of thing."
Although "Dallas" was by far his biggest hit, Hagman said in an interview with United Press International that in his travels around the world, lots of people still know him from "I Dream of Jeannie."
"I had two little girls come up to me the other day," he said, "maybe 15-years-old, and they asked me, 'Were you Major Nelson?' I said, 'Yeah.' One of them said, 'Boy you used to be really hot.'"
Still, it was "Dallas" that became a No. 1 show for CBS, and that attracted a record audience, at the time, for the Nov. 21, 1980, episode in which viewers finally found out "who shot J.R." in the final episode of the 1979-80 season. Nielsen reported that 80 percent of all viewers in the United States on that night were tuned in to the show.
To this day, Hagman swears he does not know what made "Dallas" tick.
"I'll never understand the appeal of that show," he said. "But I'm not going to question it now. It wasn't anything ultra-ultra-special."
Aaron Spelling -- who had success producing "Dallas"-like shows including "Dynasty" -- often suggested that the appeal lay in the average person's satisfaction in seeing rich people have problems of their own. Hagman supposed there's something to that.
"Also," he said, "it was a period of time when we were in a recession and people wanted some glitz and money, and it was on a Friday night when people didn't have anything else to do."
Considering the current state of the economy, Hagman suggests "Dallas" could be a hit if it came on today.
"I think it's time for another 'Dallas,' to tell you the truth," he said. "Or it will be soon."
On tour to promote his book, Hagman said he has noticed signs everywhere that economic times are hard.
"Boy, I've been to London and the hotel occupancy is off by 60 percent. Same thing in New York, Dallas, Dublin, Belfast -- everywhere. You can really feel it."
But he said book sales are good.
"Very nice," said Hagman. "I did about 1,000 autographs yesterday."
He also said meeting the public is something that actors -- and politicians -- should do more often.
"How many people in Washington, those guys that have charge of our lives, they never go anywhere, they never see anything," he said. "Same thing in Hollywood. You go on a tour like this, you meet a lot of people here their gripes. I love it. I think it makes you a better person."
Although he just turned 70, Hagman still keeps an eye out for good roles, but he isn't very interested in most of the roles he gets offered.
"I get bad guy scripts but I don't want to play bad guys," he said. "If I got an interesting bad guy script I'd do it."
Hagman's most recent movie role was in "Primary Colors" (1998).
"It's not the time for old farts like me," he said. "Everybody says what do you really want to play? I say God or Santa Claus. Santa would be easier. I'm not sure God is a man, or white or anything."
Hagman's observation about the nature of God is grounded in an unconventional spirituality that he's been developing since his youth -- and that he took to new levels when he started using illegal drugs.
In the book, Hagman reveals that Jack Nicholson turned him on to marijuana in 1964 while they were filming "Ensign Pulver." He writes that after he took his first acid trip -- with a little help from Peter Fonda and David Crosby -- his life was changed forever.
"Sometimes the answers are thrust upon you whether you want them or not," he said. "My first acid trip was spiritual. It wasn't fun, but it was spiritual. It took the fear of death out of life. I repeated in when I had my liver transplant. I went to the same place or a very similar place."
After his liver transplant in 1995, Hagman became involved as a spokesman for the National Kidney Foundation. He said he was recently asked to help the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publicize a new survey on organ donations, but he isn't sure how that's going to turn out.
"I've never worked with the government before," he said, "so I'm sure it's going to be frustration."
He wants his fans to know his health these days is excellent.
"I still work out every day," he said, "watch my diet, walk a mile or two in the morning on a treadmill."
And he said former "Dallas" cast member Linda Gray is in pretty good shape herself, judging from what he saw when he caught her performance in London recently in a stage version of "The Graduate."
"She had a two minute nude scene," he said. "Can you believe it? She's 61 and has the body of a 40-year-old woman."
Hagman swears he had never seen Gray "that way" in all the years they've known each other.
"No, I haven't," he said. "Twenty-five years, and I had to wait to see her at the same time that 2,500 other people saw the same thing."