April 16, 2024

Charlene Tilton reveals ‘Dallas’ co-star Larry Hagman, church saved her from temptations of fame

Charlene Tilton was just 17 when she began filming “Dallas” – one of the most popular shows on TV – and her co-stars made sure she was well prepared to tackle overnight fame.

“I was planted in a really good church when I was on β€˜Dallas,’” the actress and star of “Heaven Sent,” told Fox News Digital.

“I also had great people around me,” she said. “There were other people in the church that were successful in the entertainment industry, like Donna Summer. They were all wonderful examples. And my β€˜Dallas’ castmates, even though everybody had their own faith and different religion, they were all protective of me. I was just blessed. Especially in the β€˜80s, there was a lot of trouble that you could get into if you wanted to… I was fortunate I didn’t spiral down.”

Tilton, best remembered as Lucy Ewing, had a tumultuous upbringing. The now-64-year-old lived in foster care from ages 5 to 8 while her mother was institutionalized for mental illness. By age 15, she found herself on her own in Hollywood. She soon found roles in hit shows like “Happy Days” and “Eight is Enough.” However, her time on “Dallas,” where she played the niece of ruthless Texas oil tycoon J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) had a profound impact on her life.

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“I asked [Larry] one time early on, β€˜How do you deal with all of this [stardom] so seemingly calm?’” Tilton recalled. “He said, β€˜Well, on “I Dream of Jeannie,” I just took everything so seriously. That made me have a nervous breakdown.’ I go, β€˜Yeah, funny.’ And he goes, β€˜No, no really. That’s a part of my life I wasn’t really proud of.’”

“But he learned from himself, and he really became a shining example to all of us on-set,” Tilton said. “He used to always say, β€˜Don’t worry, be happy.’ And he lived by that. He had an infectious laugh. He just got so much joy out of everybody. He was eccentric and joyful. I loved that he was never too big to talk to anybody, as big of a star as he was.”

Tilton said the cast remained incredibly close over the years, even after Hagman’s death in 2012 at age 81.

“I was just with [co-stars] Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray for Comic-Con in Germany,” she said. “The three of us were just reminiscing. Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman always went to great lengths to prank us and make us laugh. We worked very, very hard, but they were like two naughty little boys, just always cracking everybody up. We were a family on-screen but off-screen as well. We spent a lot of time together off-screen. The whole experience of being with them and becoming a family was the best.”

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Tilton is still amazed she overcame the temptations of stardom in an era of decadence. During the height of her fame in “Dallas,” Tilton appeared on more than 500 magazine covers and posters. A whopping 65 million viewers also watched her TV wedding.

In 2021, Tilton told Page Six that during an outing at Studio 54, she was served cocaine to her dismay when she really asked for “Coke” – Coca-Cola.

“I will tell you honestly, God had his hand on me,” she explained. “He was protecting me. And I was with a great group of people. The cast had a stellar work ethic. Even though I was young, they expected me to be as professional as them. You always show up early, you know your lines, you’re prepared. Larry Hagman started that from day one. No divas, no prima donnas. We’re all in it together.”

“I learned the importance of having a really stellar work ethic with those people,” Tilton continued. “And it has served me well because every producer and director I have ever worked for, I worked for them again. I’m blessed. And that is because of those people [from β€˜Dallas’] that kept me so grounded.”

β€˜DALLAS’ STAR CHARLENE TILTON SAYS CASTMATES β€˜PROTECTED’ HER FROM BEING A DRUG β€˜CASUALTY’ OF THE β€˜80S

Over the years, Tilton has relied on her faith to cope with tough times. In 2009, on the day before Christmas Eve, Tilton’s fiancΓ©, Cheddy Hart, died unexpectedly of heart failure. The cinematographer was 56. Tilton, overcome with deep depression, turned to heavy drinking and smoking.

“I was engaged to be married,” Tilton said. “My fiancΓ© was not feeling well. Something was wrong and we rushed him to the emergency room. … He died right then and there. I was in shock. I was devastated. I just laid on my couch and smoked and drank.”

During her grief, Tilton said she received an unexpected wake-up call.

“One day, I just heard God say to me, β€˜You’re going to just lay down here and join Cheddy or you’re going to get up and live the life I have for you? I have a purpose and a plan for your life, you know that,’” said Tilton.

β€˜DALLAS’ STAR CHARLENE TILTON SAYS FAITH HAS KEPT HER OUT OF β€˜DARK PLACES’ DURING CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

A shaken Tilton called a pal who was involved with Actors for Autism, a nonprofit organization dedicated to training those on the autism spectrum. Tilton had previously been asked if she wanted to teach some classes. She felt the experience would help her heal – and it did.

“When I got there and met these young kids, I didn’t really see where they were on the autism spectrum,” she explained. “I just saw their unique talents and gifts. … Some of them were nonverbal when we started. Some of them couldn’t really go out in certain social settings. But after being with them for nine years, they blossomed. Some of them have gone on to work in animation. Some of them have made their own videos or movies. Even though I’m not teaching them anymore, I do keep in touch with them and their families. They have been a blessing in my life. And their parents are just so grateful for any help.”

“It was God’s way of helping me help somebody else,” Tilton continued. “Everybody needs to work. Everybody needs a sense of purpose. Sitting around on a couch and not doing anything doesn’t do you any good. … You’ve got to be productive.”

Tilton has continued acting. Her most recent film on Pure Flix, “Heaven Sent,” explores how a grandmother (Karen Abercrombie) and a widowed pastor (Leon Pridgen) navigate love with the help of faith and a little technology.

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“I loved the script because my character has a best friend and we had a hit song back in the β€˜80s,” she chuckled. “We were like a one-hit-wonder. … I’m trying to convince her to go find love. … [This script] didn’t make these church people caricatures. These are real people. They love the Lord, but they also have issues. … There are second chances. … We get a second chance at love and happiness, but with twists and turns that are cute and funny.”

These days, Tilton’s proudest role is that of grandma.

“I have a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old grandson,” she said. “I am with them every day. They are the joys and loves of my life. They just keep me so happy. I’m fortunate that I get to be on a set and work. But being a grandmother is the thing that gives me the most joy.”

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