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Larry Hagman, known to millions around the world as oil baron JR Ewing, has died at the age of 81 following a battle with cancer and cirrhosis.

“Larry was back in his beloved Dallas, re-enacting the iconic role he loved most,” said his family in a statement. “He was surrounded by loved ones.”

Long-time friend Linda Gray, who played Sue Ellen, was by his bedside, when he died on Friday.

“Larry Hagman was my best friend for 35 years,” said Ms Gray in a statement released by her agent.

“He was the Pied Piper of life and brought joy to everyone he knew. He was creative, generous, funny, loving and talented and I will miss him enormously.

“He was an original and lived life to the full.”

Original cast member Victoria Principal, who played Pam Ewing, said Hagman had been “bigger than life, on-screen and off”.

“He is unforgettable, and irreplaceable, to millions of fans around the world, and in the hearts of each of us, who was lucky enough to know and love him.”

During 13 years as the most scheming oil tycoon in Dallas, JR in his Stetson became one of the most distinctive faces on television screens across the world.

It quickly became one of the network’s top-rated programmes – with its 356 episodes being seen by an estimated 300 million people in 57 countries – and was revived this year.

Born in Texas, Hagman later moved to Los Angeles where he was cared for mainly by his grandmother.

After a brief period spent working in the fields, Hagman followed his mother – stage and screen actress Mary Martin – into showbusiness and even toured and played in musicals with her.

Moving into television, he played astronaut Tony Nelson in the 1960s television comedy I Dream of Jeannie.

Hagman reportedly owned more than 2,000 cowboy hats

He first performed as JR Ewing in 1978 and became its highest-paid star, as the programme came to define 1980s excess.

The actor himself owned more than 2,000 cowboy hats, his character’s trademark.

When Dallas finally finished in 1991, Hagman went on to appear in hit films Nixon and Primary Colors.