Larry Martin Hagman (1931-2012), www.larryhagman.com, was an actor best known for playing the ruthless oil baron, J. R. Ewing, in the 1980’s television show “Dallas“, and the astronaut Major Tony Nelson in the 1960’s sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie.” His television appearances also included guest roles on dozens of shows spanning from the late 1950s up until his death, and a reprisal of his signature role on the 2012 revival of Dallas. He also worked as a producer and director on television. Hagman was the son of actress Mary Martin. He underwent a life-saving liver transplant in 1995. Although Hagman was a member of a 12-step program, he publicly advocated marijuana as a better alternative to alcohol. He died on November 23, 2012, from complications of acute myeloid leukemia. The following article was written by John L. Griffin, PhD for the former World University of Ojai, California about Larry Hagman’s experiences with LSD and NDEs.
Larry Hagman’s Life-Enhancing Near-Death Experiences
by John L. Griffin, Ph.D.
Actor Larry Hagman’s perspective on life is the polar opposite from that of his famous character, J.R. Ewing, on the popular, long-running Dallas television series. He sums it up at the end of his recent autobiography when he states:
“The only answer is love.”
Although he credits his solid marriage and his family for helping shape his love-centered worldview, he also believes that he has been positively transformed into a more compassionate, loving human being by his near-death-like experience or, rather, experiences.
An NDE is considered to be where someone “dies” – meaning the person would be considered clinically dead and without vital signs – but resuscitates and comes back to life. Research with people from various cultures has established that these experiences are usually truly life changing and that the NDErs often feel that they have a mission to be as loving and caring as possible. They want to be helpful and their methods of doing so are sometimes quite creative.
Larry believes he not only had one experience of this type – but two – and they have both been enormously life changing and enhancing for him. Both experiences contain classic NDE elements but they also share similarities with what I like to call Threshold-of-Death Experiences (TDE), more commonly known as Deathbed Visions (DBVs). These occur when a person is either approaching death or is just about to die. Concerns of the world are slipping away and innate psychic sensitivity comes to the fore so that visions are seen of what clearly appear to be the other world of the after-life. Sometimes other witnesses share these visions. These TDErs may be medicated with drugs but in most cases are not. The remarkable consistency of these experiences, established by research studies, provides one of several persuasive presentations of evidence in the online course I teach, Evidence of the After-life.
Although Larry lives in the small, coastal mountain town of Ojai in Southern California, where I live and teach at World University, I never had occasion to meet him until recently. In the latter part of 2001, I happened to see him on television on the Larry King Show where he mentioned, in passing, having had an NDE. Actually, there had been two experiences in his opinion, as his serious experiment with LSD in the sixties had produced a psychic journey remarkably similar to his later medical NDE.
I thought at the time that I should try to interview him about these experiences and turn it into an article for my online Thanatology course on the World University website. Our mission at World University is, of course, to educate people and to do that you must get their attention. Many of the visitors to our website are drawn there from an innate interest in education and our particular spiritually and globally aware educational approach. But, as we all know, for a variety of reasons the general public’s attention is particularly drawn to what a celebrity has experienced. Aside from being an intriguing “local interest” story, Larry’s celebrity status may help draw attention to this incredibly important and profound experience whereby a person seems to gain not only a preview of the after-life but a key to the most important qualities to manifest while living in this world.
Not long after Larry disclosed his NDE on television, I learned that he would be at the Local Hero Bookstore in Ojai for a book signing. I stopped by to find a diverse group of people in a friendly and almost festive atmosphere in the large patio behind the store. And there was Larry, jovially signing away. I waited my turn in a rather long line and then was face-to-face with an open and engaging man who seemed a lot more like Major Nelson in I Dream of Jeannie than J.R. Ewing on Dallas. Still, there did seem to be a bit of a Texas persona, but a genuinely friendly, down-to-earth one. I got right to the point and asked if I could arrange an interview about his NDE. After briefly explaining World University’s Thanatology Program in terms of care for the dying, bereavement counseling, and conscious living and dying – particularly in light of the implications of the NDE – he understood and agreed to meet with me. Taking a ten thousand dollar bill from a stack next to him, he wrote his phone number on it, saying “Give me a call.” On the face of the bill was a picture of Larry in a ten gallon Stetson hat underneath a banner proclaiming, “The United State of Texas.” Alongside was a declaration in smaller letters: “This note isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.” On the reverse was the motto, “In Hagman We Trust” over a picture of the Southfork Ranch from Dallas. Also included was a reminder to make arrangements to donate our organs: “This is printed on recycled paper. Why not recycle yourself? To receive an organ donar card, please call 800-622-9010.” As a liver transplantee, Larry works diligently to motivate more donors to save more lives.
Before following up and calling to arrange an interview time, I read Larry’s book, Hello Darlin’. I first came across his account of his LSD induced NDE-like experience.
LSD had been recommended to him and he finally decided to try it. Well aware of the potential hazards of such a powerful drug and treating it quite seriously, he took it under the best controlled conditions he could arrange. Under the guidance of a friend with LSD experience, in the comfortable and secure environment of his home, and wearing a hooded monk-like robe made by his wife, Larry began his LSD adventure.
The trip began with a strong buzz just below his navel (the basal area of the kundalini energy of yoga). He was reminded of the term vibrations, which he had often heard used by his friends who had become part of the higher consciousness crowd. Never really knowing what they were referring to, he suddenly thought he experientially understood – they were happening to him! Then the visions began.
The entrance to a cave appeared across the room from him, guarded by two octopus-like creatures accompanied by two entities that looked like feathery lions (reminding me of mythological Griffins, who are sometimes described as guardians of treasure). Turning his head, he saw his grandmother – who had died when he was a child – hovering above him with a wonderful, comforting smile on her face. She assured him that it was all quite natural. He was at the gate of all new experiences and, despite the guards, he need not worry. Her advice was: if pulled, don’t resist and if pushed, don’t fight it; go with the flow (a dictum very much like the essential principle of the Chinese art of Tai Ji). Then a deep understanding dawned on him. Larry had been attending lectures and reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead and books about Eastern mysticism. Their meaning had eluded him, but now he felt that he could finally grasp it. It was all basically summed up in what his Grandma had told him. The constrictive ego could be put aside and the unitive flow of life embraced.
The interview with his Grandmother ended and the cave claimed his attention. Moving toward it and reaching its entrance, he was sucked inside and rocketed down a tunnel, at the end of which was a light. He emerged into a place of bright and diffused light where he saw a person of indeterminate sex who called out to him without speaking. In typical out-of-body and near-death fashion, the communication seemed to be telepathic, as the being informed him that:
“This is a glimpse of where you’ve been, where you’re going, where you are all the time.”
Put into the terms of yoga psychology:
“You are That” and “That” is our true nature.
Despite the deep insights he had already experienced, it was too much for Larry to fully comprehend. The person seemed to recognize this in giving him this message:
“You don’t have to go any further – Having seen this is enough for now.”
This interview also over, he was pulled back out through the tunnel. The guards at the cave entrance were asleep and he could not see his Grandmother, whom he wanted to thank for taking him through the entrance. He reflected that, although he hadn’t thought of her in a long time, she had been there when he needed her.
With that part of the experience obviously concluded, he got an orange from the kitchen and broke it open. Its cellular structure was pulsing and it looked to him as though the cells were alternating between life and death, which seemed perfectly natural. Looking up from his scrutiny of the pulsating orange, he saw his reflection in a mirror on the wall. He too, was pulsating. Cells were dying, while others were in the process of being reborn. An intricate picture, every cell was in constant motion and he realized that he was a constant flow of energy as, indeed, everything was. The scope of realization widened with his conviction that:
“I was part of everything, and everything was part of me. Everything was living, dying, and being reborn.”
The friend, who had not taken LSD with him, drove Larry around Beverly Hills equipped with a sixteen-millimeter camera with which he could zoom in on plants, flowers, and people. Their cells were also pulsating and changing.
This experience shares a number of similarities with near-death, out-of-body, and certain shamanic experiences. These are usually intensely transforming and empowering, and Larry’s was no exception. Besides self-insight, he also saw much deeper into people’s emotions and how they were expressed through body and facial language. But most importantly, his view of life and death were profoundly altered. So-called dying was actually only a transformation into another expression of the vast creative energy that underlies everything. He concluded that:
“Death was just another stage of our development and that we go on to different levels of existence.”
He believed he had an understanding of God consciousness. Fear of man-made concepts of heaven and hell dropped away and he quit worrying. He felt at home in the cosmos. It was all so clear and so familiar.
Toward the end of the book, Larry relates his second NDE-like experience, which occurred in the hospital Intensive Care Unit following his liver transplant operation. Although heavily medicated, he was conscious enough to focus on what he calls his “celestial song” which he believes each of us uniquely has, just waiting to burst forth:
“Everyone has their own unique song, an inner melody that fuses each of us to the deep, modulating, harmonious hum of the celestial orchestra that’s the collective energy of everything that’s ever lived and ever going to live. It’s our life force. The power of the universe.”
Shamans discover their sacred songs during their vision journeys. An anthropologist friend of mine completed a Vision Quest under the direction of a Chippewa medicine man many years ago. He attained his vision, was given messages, and learned his sacred song. Larry experienced his own vision journey, propelled by the cocooning conditions of the hospital and the medications but most importantly by his meditation on his song. He had turned his isolation in the ICU into a context similar to the isolation of a shamanic journey or vision quest where a ceremonial, meditative practice is enacted. It gave him:
“…a feeling that was ecstatically happy and familiar – and it confirmed what I’d always suspected, that every one of us living creatures is part of a collective energy that is also ecstatically happy and familiar. The culmination of that energy is love. It’s with us now, it always has been, and it always will be. Every one of us has this familiarity. We know it. The problem is, we bury it under so much apprehension and worry.”
As with his LSD experience of years before, he:
“…glimpsed over the edge of this level into the next, and there was that person again…”
The same being, who had welcomed him into the light from his travel through the tunnel under LSD, welcomed him again. But he understood that it was “not yet time to cross over.” He was also allowed a deep insight and understanding:
“This was not the end. There were more levels, an infinite number of levels, of existence, each one adding to the hum of the cosmic orchestra, as if we’re always spiraling upward until we reach a state of atomic bliss…”
It occurred to Larry that every religion he knew of had tried to figure out the meaning of life and had essentially reached the same conclusion – the meaning of life is love. The chapter of the book containing this account of his second NDE-like vision ended with his assessment:
“Don’t worry. Be happy. Feel good.”
When I reached the end of the book and realized that he concluded with the same exhortation, I felt that this indeed summed up Larry Hagman’s life, although he resolved that he wasn’t going to give in to the urge to do this with his autobiography. As he states, he’s “still playing the game…”
Whether Larry’s hospital experience might have been a true NDE, in that he briefly slipped over the line between life and death and then returned, or was more in the nature of a Threshold-of-Death Experience where he came close to death but did not die, it had the kind of life-enhancing impact usually associated with these powerful events.
It was early January, 2002, when I met Larry at his mountain-top estate in Upper Ojai. Accompanying me was Nourhalma Reyes, a daughter of the founders of World University in Ojai and a member of the Board of Trustees. Nora, as she is generally known, has had out-of-body experiences since she was a small child. Her father and mother, who shared this ability, treated it as a normal experience and encouraged her. In 1983, as a result of a horrendous highway accident, she had an NDE herself which her father mentions in his book, Conscious Dying. She had watched, outside of her body, as her mother knelt over her “dead” body and pleaded with her to come back to it. Only her mother’s distress persuaded her to return to a badly injured and extremely painful body.
Larry greeted us warmly in the spacious circular parking area of his Texas-sized estate. Leading us down the entry hall, he stopped to admire a fresh bouquet of red roses. As he extolled their beauty, I was struck by his genuine childlike sensitivity and love for the beauties of life. When we reached his study, we seated ourselves around a large coffee table piled with books and video tapes. As we were served refreshments, Larry had to excuse himself briefly to get something in another part of the house. While awaiting his return, Nora and I were drawn to the large windows looking out over green valleys, flatlands, distant cities, beaches, the Pacific Ocean, and two of the Channel Islands. On this mild, sunny and clear mid-winter’s day, there could be no doubt why the Hagmans call their home “Heaven.” Soon, Larry was back and we had seated ourselves again. I mentioned that Nora was an NDEr herself and Larry wanted to hear all about it. For the next two hours we talked about life and death, altered states of consciousness, various religions and spiritual traditions, karma and more. Larry was remarkably animated and totally interested in the various, but related, subjects we discussed.
We loved the visit and Larry said that he enjoyed it, too. But he had other matters to attend to, so our time together came to a close, but not before I had a chance to ask what he had learned from his NDE. Although I had read his reactions in his book, I was interested in a personal, off-the-cuff summation. He first referred in passing to his positive mind-altering LSD experiment, with its pronounced near-death elements. Then, cutting past the details of his medical related NDE, he concentrated on the most important thing about it: what it meant in his life.
He summed it up by saying that it had made him so much more aware and appreciative of everything about life. Our interconnectedness continues to be so apparent and this has made him more compassionate. Wanting to help others and the world is a definite force in his life. Still, he knows that he can only do so much, so he chooses to aid causes he not only believes in but which also interest him and give something back in a kind of symbiotic energy exchange. But Larry and his wife have involved themselves in many community service projects of various kinds. The “crossing over” altered-state of consciousness experiences, whatever they may be termed (perhaps “near-death-like experiences” is the best description), gave him a belief that life continues, that the show goes on in ever varied and unfolding settings, and that love abounds, with its feelings of ecstasy and deep bliss. I was reminded of the concepts of Prema (unconditional divine love), Leela (the divine play of consciousness), and Ananda (divine bliss) from the spiritual tradition of India. It was now late afternoon and as he walked us down the long hallway to the door, the low mid-winter sun was coming in through the west-facing windows and softly flooding across the colorful Spanish floor tiles. Larry bade us stop and enjoy this vision for a time before proceeding to the parking area. It was indeed a glorious sight – the type we may find right before us but too often hurry by.
Copyright John L. Griffin, PhD for World University of Ojai, California
Read more about LSD and Near-Death Experiences here