Ken Kercheval, J.R. Archrival Cliff Barnes on ‘Dallas,’ Dies at 83

A veteran of the stage, he spent 14 seasons on the hit primetime soap opera, then returned for the show’s reboot.
Ken Kercheval, the stage-bred actor who portrayed Cliff Barnes, the oil tycoon who was repeatedly bested by Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing, on the long-running CBS primetime soap opera Dallas, has died. He was 83.

Kercheval and Hagman were the only two castmembers who were on Dallas through its entire 1978-91 original run, from pilot to finale. He appeared on 342 of the Lorimar series’ 357 episodes in its first incarnation — and directed a pair of installments as well — before returning as Cliff for a 1996 telefilm and for TNT’s 2012-14 reboot. 

Kercheval and Hagman were the only two castmembers who were on Dallas through its entire 1978-91 original run

Kercheval was originally cast as Jock Ewing’s illegitimate son Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly eventually played that part) but won the more pivotal role of Cliff Barnes, the brother of Victoria Principal’s Pamela Ewing. His character always got trounced and humiliated by J.R. — until the 14th and final season, that is.

“J.R. was coming after my ass all the time, so I always had to defend myself,” he said in a 2012 interview. “If I did something that wasn’t quite right, it’s because I had to.”

Before and after Dallas, Kercheval appeared on other series like Kojak, The New Mike Hammer, Starsky & Hutch, L.A. Law, Crossing Jordan, Diagnosis: Murder and ER.

A two- or three-pack-a day smoker, Kercheval had a part of his lung removed in 1994 after he was diagnosed with cancer. (He also said he was a “practicing alcoholic” for 20 years before he gave up drinking.) 

Kercheval said that Dallas viewers over the years often asked him when Cliff was “finally going to get J.R.” His answer, delivered with all sincerity — “This Friday night!” — surely got them to tune in.

Watch a classic scene with Ken Kercheval and Larry Hagman below:

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