Larry Hagman’s quit smoking story.

Larry Hagman

This article was originally published in Stop! Magazine and it provides an interesting insight into the changes in attitudes around smoking.

TV star, Larry Hagman became a national favourite when he played ruthless Texas oilman, J.R. Ewing in the hit series, Dallas. But success led to excess for Larry, whose smoking and drinking nearly killed him.

My father smoked and so did my step-mother and my step-father. It was accepted completely back then. For my 16th birthday, my mother gave me a carton of cigarettes and a cigarette case! I guess she thought if I was going to do it anyhow, she’d help me get started! I was 14 when I had my first smoke, and I was going out with a 16 year old girl. I really wanted to come across as a man not a boy. She said, “I’ll tell you what, if you take a drag of my cigarette I’ll let you put your hand on my breast!” That was it. I took that first drag, got my reward and then went on to smoke for the next 20 years!’

I was 30 and was making films, when I got the lead role in ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ with Barbara Eden. The show was a big hit and established me as a TV star. It was then that I read about the Surgeon General’s new report on Smoking and Health; it was big news. I read about it in Time magazine and thought, “Gee that sounds just like me, I must be addicted to cigarettes.” I tried to stop straightaway but soon discovered that it was very difficult.

I was doing a film in Italy, when I first started to worry about what smoking might be doing to my health. I had a really terrible cough, so I went to a local doctor for a check up. I couldn’t speak any Italian and the doctor couldn’t speak any English. When he showed me my X-rays, they had scary looking arrows drawn all over them. Struggling to find the right words, he said, “Morte, Morte!” I thought he was telling me that I was about to die, but looking back, I think he was really saying that I had to quit smoking soon. It really got to me.

I made a number of attempts to quit or control my smoking, none of which were very successful. Usually I’d manage to last for a day or two but then I’d be right back where I started. I tried switching to pipes, cigars and chewing tobacco; I tried all kinds of stuff but none of it worked. At most I could go for maybe two weeks without smoking and then … oh God was I miserable to be around! In the end I stopped cold turkey. I threw all my cigarettes away and hung on in there until the cravings went away. There were no treatments around to help you quit back then so I didn’t have much choice really.

Larry’s top three tips:

I’d recommend keeping a diary of when you smoke, so you can analyse your smoking habits and prepare to quit. Just the physical thing of writing it down will remind you of what you’re doing.

You have to stop using all forms of tobacco. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that light cigarettes or pipes or cigars will be any less harmful. Tobacco’s tobacco and it’ll kill you.

Don’t worry, be happy and feel good. As an ex-smoker and an ex-drinker I have more chance of feeling good for longer. As a matter of fact, I feel like I can walk on water!