It’s been over 40 years since the world was introduced to Sue Ellen Ewing, the alcoholic former wife of the despicable J.R. Ewing on Dallas. Linda Gray played the character to primetime soap perfection in over 300 episodes from 1978 to 1991 (and later reprised the role in ’90s TV movies and a 2010s reboot of the series), and will forever be associated with the iconic drama. Today, Linda Gray is still going strong at 83.
And while she’s not much of a diva in real life, the eternally glamorous actress will soon be returning to the small screen in the deliciously nostalgic Lifetime Christmas movie, Ladies of the ’80s: A Divas Christmas.
In the feel-good holiday rom-com, Gray plays soap opera star Lauren Ewing, and Dallas fans definitely won’t want to miss the juicy role. The movie premieres on Saturday, December 2 at 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. CST, and will be available to stream on Lifetime’s site the next day.
Read on to learn more about Gray’s newest Christmas movie and see what she has to say about her long career.
Linda Gray in Ladies of the ’80s: A Divas Christmas
Ladies of the ’80s: A Divas Christmas provides a showcase for five actresses who came up playing ultra-glam women in ’80s prime-time soaps. In addition to Gray, the cast includes Loni Anderson, Morgan Fairchild, Nicollette Sheridan and Donna Mills (who’s currently on the cover of our sister magazine, FIRST for Women!).
When Gray’s character and her fellow soap stars get together to share the spotlight and shoot the final Christmas episode of their long-running daytime drama, old rivalries resurface, threatening to cancel the entire production before it’s even been filmed. The movie isn’t just about diva hijinks, though — there are also sweet moments of romance and friendship, and it’s sure to boost your holiday spirit.
Gray’s enthusiasm for the movie is infectious. “I loved playing my character in the film,” she tells Woman’s World. “She was different from any woman I had ever played before… a little quirky, and totally adorable.”
Surprisingly, Gray hadn’t previously crossed paths with her costars. “I never worked with any of them before, and I loved interacting with the other women on a daily basis,” she says. There were no diva attitudes on set. Rather than being filled with drama, Gary says that the experience was “always fun, completely engaging and totally entertaining — who could ask for anything more?”
Celebrating Linda Gray’s long career
Before she was in Dallas, Gray was already lighting up the screen. Starting out as a model in the ’60s, her image quickly became iconic, even if it wasn’t immediately recognizable as her — it’s Gray’s leg and not Anne Bancroft‘s that’s featured in the famous seduction scene in The Graduate (1967). The image also appeared on the 1967 movie’s poster, and years later, in 2001, things would come full circle as Gray played the character onstage.
As Gray made the transition from model to actresses, she racked up guest roles in TV shows like Marcus Welby, M.D.; McCloud and Emergency! and appeared in a variety of TV movies. She also had a stint playing a transgender fashion model in the 1977 soap opera spoof All That Glitters.
Then came the Dallas phenomenon, which made her a global star. Gray’s performance as a vodka-swilling, long-suffering wife brought acclaim and launched her as an ’80s sex symbol. Dallas kept Gray busy for over a decade, and in the ’90s, she acted in films like Oscar (appearing opposite Sylvester Stallone). In 1994, Gray returned to the nighttime soap world with several appearances on Melrose Place as the mom of Heather Locklear‘s character. The role led to a short-lived spinoff, Models Inc.
As a veteran actress in the ’00s, Gray continued to appear on TV, and had a six-episode run on The Bold and the Beautiful. She also appeared in a variety of plays, and later joined the cast of the rebooted Dallas, bringing Sue Ellen to a new generation of viewers.
Linda Gray on aging
Gray’s staying power is particularly impressive when you consider how often the entertainment industry discards older actresses. She’s kept a refreshingly positive attitude through all the ups and downs. “You get to this age and honestly, you take wonderful breaths,” Gray says. “You’re not critical anymore, you’re not judgmental. I dropped all that diva-like stuff. I giggle more and don’t get hung up on things.”
Now in her 80s, Gray looks back at her career with an immense sense of gratitude. The actress overcame a terrifying bout with polio as a child, and recognizes that every moment is precious. “I feel very blessed,” Gray says. “I like to do a 45-minute gratitude walk… I realize I have to be grateful for every body part, every tree I see, the sky, the clouds…I know it sounds lightweight but I don’t care.”
Gray has found strength in her struggles, and she’s always brought that strength to the screen, whether she’s playing Sue Ellen or spreading holiday cheer. “We all have speed bumps in life — some are more simple than others, some are more tragic,” Gray says. “I don’t dwell on the negative — my sister dying of cancer, having polio as a child, having an alcoholic mother — there are a lot of things that happened to me that happen to others.”
Gray admits that growing older in the public eye can be challenging. “When you’ve been visible a lot during your life and people remember you when you were 35 years old — well things change, skin gets looser,” she laughs.
Despite these challenges, she remains admirably positive. “I think I look pretty good,” she says. “My smile, the light in my eyes and my positive attitude are the results of a life well-lived.” We can’t help but agree!
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