Who Shot JR: Dallas’s biggest mystery turns 40

83 million people tuned in to see JR’s shooter unveiled on 21 November 1980

Isobel Lewis
Saturday 21 November 2020 07:07 GMT
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Hagman as JR Ewing in ‘Dallas'
Hagman as JR Ewing in ‘Dallas'

It’s been 40 years since one of the biggest TV events of the 20th century took place, as millions of people around the world tuned in to find out who shot JR on Dallas.

Airing from 1978 to 1991, Dallas revolved around a wealthy Texas oil family, the Ewings, with JR (Larry Hagman) becoming the soap’s resident villain and break-out star.

However, viewers were left astounded by the season three finale “A House Divided”, which saw JR shot in the chest by an unknown figure.

The season was left on a cliffhanger, with viewers forced to wait eight months before the show returned and gave them an answer. During that time, the question of “Who shot JR?” quickly became a national catchphrase in the US.

It was also not an easily solvable question. JR’s unsavoury behaviour – The New York Times once described him as “the nastiest man on television” – meant that any of the show’s characters could have had the motive to stage the attack.

Hagman and Mary Crosby, who played JR’s sister-in-law Kristin

The culprit was finally revealed during the fourth episode of season four, titled “Who Done It”. An estimated 83 million viewers tuned in to find out the answer after months of suspense, with the episode airing on 21 November 1980.

While JR’s wife Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), whom he had threatened to reinstitutionalise due to her alcohol addiction, was the prime suspect, the culprit was finally revealed to be her sister Kristin Shepard (Mary Crosby), with whom JR was having a long-term affair.

Kristin then revealed that she was pregnant with JR’s child, leading him to not press charges against her but instead send her away from the town.

“Who Shot JR” became a pop culture phenomenon in the summer between seasons three and four of Dallas.

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In the build-up to the 1980 presidential election, Republicans produced badges reading: “A Democrat shot JR”, while president Jimmy Carter also joked that he would be able to finance the campaign if he knew who did it. The Queen and Queen Mother were also reportedly intrigued.

Many people around the world bet on the outcome, but actor Hagman claimed that neither him nor the cast knew who had actually shot JR when the finale aired.

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