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Former 'Dallas' star tackled health scare off-screen

By Kat Carney
CNN Headline News

These days, actor Larry Hagman takes care of himself, and his new liver, by eating right and exercising.

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(CNN) -- In 1980, nearly 350 million fans tuned in to see who shot J.R. on the television show, "Dallas." But soon Larry Hagman, the man behind J.R., would face a real life brush with death.

When I caught up with Hagman at his home in Santa Monica, he recounted how he nearly drank himself to death.

"I was doing 'Dallas.' I'd start drinking about 7:30, after make-up open a bottle of champagne, have a little orange juice with it, get my vitamins, and I'd consume about five bottles a day."

For years, Hagman never missed a beat on the set of his hit TV show. But the alcohol eventually took its toll. After suffering from an extreme lack of energy, the actor finally sought the advice of a doctor.

"A couple of days later he called me up and said, 'Larry, you having a drink?' And I said 'yes.' And he said, 'Well, it better be your last because you have chronic cirrhosis of the liver.'"

Cirrhosis of the liver occurs when scar tissue replaces healthy tissue in the liver. This prevents the liver from performing crucial functions like removing germs and bacteria from the blood.

Cirrhosis of the liver is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States and is irreversible.


- 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Saturday - 7 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Sunday - 6 p.m., 7 p.m., 8 p.m., 9 p.m., 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.
*all times Eastern

In some cases, treatment can include medication and modifications to diet. For more severe cases like Hagman's, a liver transplant is the only remedy, but Hagman had reservations.

"At first, I said, 'forget it.' I had 65 really good years. I don't think I really want it. My wife said, 'You will have a liver transplant if we can find one.'"

Around the time that Hagman needed his transplant, the median wait time for a new liver was 237 days. But Hagman only waited 36 days before he underwent the 16-hour liver transplant operation that saved his life.

The actor remembers the day.

"They wheeled me into the operating room and they were playing the theme from 'Dallas'."

Today, almost seven years later, Hagman is out of the woods as far as "organ rejection" and has no regrets.

"I feel wonderful! Do I look wonderful?"

These days, Hagman takes care of himself, and his new liver, by eating right and exercising. He is also an active participant in the annual transplant games sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation.

"My motto is recycle yourself. I mean, we recycle everything else -- aluminum, tires, glass, bottles, everything, why not recycle yourself? Cause you ain't going to need it where you're going, that's for sure"

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