For the younger generations, Larry Hagman may be a very unfamiliar name, but he was one of the top TV stars of a generation. He was J.R. Ewing (an oil tycoon) in the show “Dallas,” which ran from 1978 to 1991. He was also Major Anthony Nelson in the sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie” (one that I actually watched, and loved, as a kid).

But those in the solar industry know something else about Hagman — he was a true solar hero.

I have to admit that I didn’t know who Hagman (or Ewing) was until just a couple years ago, when Hagman started appearing in solar ads (as J.R. Ewing). Well, I recognized his face from I Dream of Jeannie, but that was about it.

But as I learned more about him, I found out that Hagman was not just a paid solar evangelist for SolarWorld (which is now a bit more famous — or infamous, depending on who you ask — for something else). Hagman was an actual solar power lover, and a solar power pioneer.

Hagman installed a 94-kilowatt, $750,000 solar photovoltaic array on his home in Ojai, California, one of the largest in the nation. Reportedly, this cut his electricity bill from $37,000/year to $13/year. (It might sound like Hagman was extravagant with the electricity, which he might have been, but he actually grew a lot of vegetables and had 200 avocado trees on his estate.)

Hagman was also a board member of Solar Electric Light Fund. Sounds harmless enough, right? Well, it was more than harmless — the nonprofit “brings solar systems and Internet access to poor people in remote corners of the globe.” Heartwarming.

I never met the guy, but I’ve seen him speak at a leading national solar conference, and he seemed like quite the decent and thoughtful guy. He apparently did his best to help the world in his final days… and many days before those. I remember him distinctly focusing (off script, it seemed) on the solar industry (and all us solar supporters) needing to really get involved in politics and fund support for solar in DC in order to move forward. He was adamant that, “as an oil tycoon” from Texas, he knew what influenced energy policy in DC — money — and we needed to put more money into advocating for what the world needs — more solar-supportive policies and politicians.

Hagman, who was born in Fort Worth (TX), was back near his roots when he died. Perhaps very aptly, he died in Dallas on November 23, 2012, from complications with throat cancer.

I’m not sure what to say with such an announcement, but I am extremely grateful for Mr. Hagman’s accomplishments, strong personal initiative, love for solar, and hard work promoting solar. We have a tendency to love TV stars, movie stars, star athletes, etc. But we should really love those who work to make the world a better place. Mr. Hagman was certainly one of those people. It was touching to learn his story, and to review it again today. And it is truly sad to see that he has gone. But this is life, and let’s all hope the best for him wherever he has gone.

From the folks at SolarWorld (h/t Solar Power World), who had a bit more of a chance to interact with Mr. Hagman, here’s a nice tribute to the humanitarian, solar champion:

With deep sadness, SolarWorld mourns the death of Larry Hagman. Hagman was a vocal advocate for solar energy in America and around the globe. Contrary to his popular image as ruthless oil baron J.R. Ewing on TV’s Dallas, Hagman owned one of the biggest private solar energy systems in the United States. He also participated in several philanthropic solar projects, including the electrification of hospitals in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. For SolarWorld, Hagman acted in numerous television advertisements in the U.S. and Europe.

“I have nothing more to do with oil. I am producing my own energy… Solar energy,” Hagman proclaimed in one of the ten television spots he made for SolarWorld in recent years. With the slogan “Shine, Baby, Shine!” Hagman played off the oil industry’s rally call, “Drill, baby, drill,” to promote solar technology.

“We are grateful to Larry Hagman for his commitment to building a solar world,” said Kevin Kilkelly, president of SolarWorld Americas in Camarillo, Calif. “His charisma and example encouraged thousands of people to go solar. We will miss him, but we will always remember his talent and his dedication to the promise of solar energy.”