She became a star on ‘Dallas’ – take a deep breath before you see her today, at 82

Linda Gray became a household name through her portrayal of Sue Ellen Ewing on the hit soap opera Dallas.

She appeared in over 300 episodes, enjoying a successful career, though she faced numerous personal struggles.

This is the story of Linda Gray, who continues to thrive at 82 years of age.

Throughout the history of television and film, we’ve witnessed countless extraordinary performances. In those truly remarkable performances, it often seems as though the actors were born for the roles they played.

For instance, can you imagine anyone other than Michael Landon portraying Charles Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie? Or would Mary Poppins have been as enchanting if someone other than Dick Van Dyke had played Bert?

Linda Gray as Sue Ellen Ewing
There are many such examples, but let’s focus on one more. Personally, I can’t envision watching the iconic series Dallas without Linda Gray as Sue Ellen Ewing. Many would agree that she was perfect for the role.

Linda Gray’s life has been quite eventful, akin to a roller coaster ride. She has battled life-threatening illnesses, addiction, and endured a challenging marriage.

Despite these hardships, she has always emerged stronger, determined to live life to the fullest and maintain a successful career.

On Dallas, Gray starred alongside Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy. She now shares her experiences of working with Hagman and the secrets behind their on-set chemistry.

Linda Gray’s Early Life
Linda Gray was born on September 12, 1940, in Santa Monica, California.

As a child, Gray faced a significant challenge when she was diagnosed with polio.

Her grandfather had already been diagnosed with the virus, and her parents were devastated. For Linda, however, it was less daunting.

“They didn’t know what it was when he was 17, and he was always in a wheelchair,” she recalled. “When I was diagnosed, everyone went crazy in my family, but I wasn’t. I thought I could have a wheelchair like Grandpa.”

Gray grew up in Culver City, California, where her father owned a watchmaker shop. Performing was in her blood from a young age, as she entertained neighbors on her street. At Notre Dame Academy in Los Angeles, Linda starred as Cinderella in a school production.

Her father provided stability, though not much emotional support.

“He didn’t offer emotional support though,” Linda Gray wrote in her 2015 book The Road to Happiness Is Always Under Construction. “He was just kind of there, like a piece of furniture, but then this was a different time.

“You didn’t go to Dad with boyfriend problems. God forbid. But he was supportive of my career.”

Their mother, Marge, a former artist and ballerina, was the opposite.

Troubled Childhood
Marge was a heavy drinker, and soon, the two young sisters had to take control of their home.

“She wasn’t falling down drunk, there was never any yelling,” Linda wrote. “She wasn’t mean – she was just blurred, in her own world. She would forget to buy food so I started doing the cooking. My sister and I didn’t like her.”

Eventually, Marge joined Alcoholics Anonymous and stopped drinking. Linda believes her mother’s drinking stemmed from disappointment and suppressed creativity. Determined to avoid a similar fate, Linda pursued her career fervently.

“I felt that if I didn’t pursue my career the same thing could happen to me,” Linda Gray explained.

Her path in life was fraught with challenges, beginning in her 20s.

Nightmare Marriage
Growing up near Hollywood, Linda Gray often hung around film studios with friends, collecting autographs from stars like Tyrone Power and Spencer Tracy.

Initially, she wanted to study medicine, but proximity to the film industry shifted her focus, and she decided to become an actress. In her teens, Gray worked as a model for beauty companies and airlines.

At 21, she married photographer Edward Lee Thrasher. However, the marriage was difficult for Linda.

Her career aspirations were put on hold as she embraced her role as wife and mother. In 1960, the couple welcomed their son, Jeff, and six years later, daughter Kehly was born.

Linda felt emotionally abandoned in her marriage, which she described as emotionally cold.

“It tore me apart but I just thought, ‘Well, I can make this work somehow,’” she explained. “It took me 21 years to leave my marriage.”

Despite her husband Ed’s desire for her to avoid part-time jobs and maintain a luxurious home lifestyle, Linda seized the opportunity to break into show business through television commercials.

Linda Gray’s Career
Linda had uncredited roles in the 1963 films Under the Yum Yum Tree and Palm Springs Weekend.

At 27, she was paid $25 to be Anne Bancroft’s body double in the poster for The Graduate (1967), starring Dustin Hoffman. Her legs appear in the iconic image, and she later played Mrs. Robinson in the 2001 West End production of The Graduate.

Despite early rejections, such as a letter from Glamour Magazine in the early 1960s, Linda persisted.

“It was so funny that I kept that letter,” Gray said. “I realized that we all have rejections, and it was her opinion when I was 20 years old. I could have let it devastate me. But, I didn’t. This feisty streak came out – ‘Oh, yeah? I’m gonna show you!’ With great love and humor, I kept that letter. It motivated me.”

Linda loved being a mother but was frustrated by not pursuing her career. When she decided to take acting classes, her husband disapproved.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you become an actress when the children are in college,’” she recalled.

At 37, Linda went her own way, taking acting classes alongside younger students. Actor Dennis Weaver recognized her talent and helped her land her first acting role on Marcus Welby, M.D. in 1974.

Soon, everything changed for the better.

Linda Gray on Dallas
In 1978, Linda Gray landed the role of Sue Ellen Ewing on Dallas. Initially a guest role for the five-episode first series, she quickly became a regular cast member.

Dallas centered on corruption, betrayal, lies, affairs, and scandals at the Southfork Ranch. Gray’s performance was lauded by critics, and alongside Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy, she achieved enormous success.

Gray became a sex symbol on Dallas, and her chemistry with Larry Hagman was palpable.

Executives at CBS recognized the magic happening before their eyes, though the reality wasn’t built on sexual chemistry.

“He was the bad big brother that I never had,” Gray said. “He loved to do things just to make me crazy. I’d say, ‘Don’t eat that. You don’t need that much sugar, and stop drinking.’”

“I was a pain in the neck – and he loved it,” she continued. “He would do things purposely to get me fired up. Directors thought we were crazy teenagers, but when they said action, we became J.R. and Sue Ellen. It was seamless. We felt blessed.”

Dallas was a hit with audiences, breaking several viewing records. On November 21, 1980, an estimated 80 million people tuned in to discover who shot J.R. Ewing, making it the most-watched television program in America at the time.

Gray received two Golden Globe nominations and a Primetime Emmy nomination for her role on Dallas.

During her successful run on the show, she divorced her husband Ed Thrasher in 1983. Her son Jeff followed in her footsteps, becoming a director and earning an Emmy nomination in 2018.

Tragedy with Son Jeff Thrasher
Tragically, in 2020, Jeff passed away after a battle with leukemia. Linda paid tribute to him on Instagram.

“A celebration of my son Jeff’s life. He was the kindest, funniest, sweetest human being… he brought the world such love and was loved by everyone! May his journey be a magical one,” she wrote.

Linda Gray Today
Linda Gray starred in a total of 308 episodes of Dallas. After the show, she continued appearing in various television series and returned to her role as Sue Ellen Ewing when Dallas was renewed for two seasons in 2012. She was honored with a Special Award at the 2014 USA Film Festival.

Today, at 82, Linda Gray remains as stunning as ever.