It has been 32 years since the headlines screamed out “Who Shot J.R.?” and created a cultural phenomenon that shook the world. It was an advertising dreamtime for CBS and its Dallas TV series, a nighttime soap opera that was for a time the biggest thing around. Back in 1980 there was no way anyone could have escaped the mania involved with the shooting of one of the nastiest villains ever to appear on television screens.
To his credit Hagman made J.R. more than a villain. In a time when Darth Vader could be seen as cinema’s worst bad guy, there was something very sterile about him, almost robotic. Not so with John Ross Ewing Junior as played by Hagman. He was a complicated fellow, with internal and external conflicts that would rival the title characters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Othello. J.R. loved his mother Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), had a love-hate relationship with his wife Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), craved his father Jock’s (Jim Davis) approval, despised his brother Bobby’s (Patrick Duffy) wife Pam (Victoria Principal), and had an equally evil nemesis in Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval). There were plenty of opportunities for dysfunction at every turn at the sprawling Southfork Ranch where the family lived, and the audience loved it for fourteen seasons (1978-1991).
By the time J.R. seemed to get his comeuppance with a bullet that ended season three, the frenzy about learning the name of his assailant reached juggernaut proportions. There were stories in newspapers, magazines, and on TV about it, and the Dallas cast kept the secret extremely well. I remember having friends overseas at the time and even they were caught up in the mania. By the time the shooter was revealed to be his mistress and sister-in-law Kristin Shephard (Mary Crosby), everyone was surprised and delighted. Of course, J.R. made a full recovery and got quickly back to his dastardly ways.