When We Finally Found Out "Who Shot J.R.?"

Thirty years ago today, the mystery of "Who Shot J.R.?" was solved. CBS News anchor Katie Couric looks back on the cliffhanger that kept everyone guessing:


There's nothing like a good Texas barbecue. But along with Miss Ellie's homemade chili and a stiff Bourbon & Branch, the dish most often served on "Dallas" was the one best served cold...

... Revenge.

And no one had it coming more than J.R. (a.k.a. Larry Hagman).

"Everybody had a jerk like this in their family, a father or a cousin, uncle or somebody like that," he said.

If TV shows were oil wells, "Dallas" was a gusher. And in the spring of 1980, CBS ordered it uncapped.

"We had done, I think, 22 shows and CBS was making so much money, they wanted to extend it for four. And our producers said, 'Well, we don't have a Bible for that.' So they couldn't think of anything.

"So they said, 'Let's just shoot the SOB and figure it out later!" Hagman laughed. "And they did!"

The end of the third season left J.R. bleeding on his office floor - with a list of plausible suspects as long as the Lone Star State, from any number of bamboozled oil barons like Vaughn Leland ("I'll get you for this if it's the last thing I do") to his neglected, long-suffering wife, Sue-Ellen:


SUE ELLEN: "Tell me, J.R., which slut will you be staying with tonight?"

J.R.: "Whoever she is, she's gotta be more interesting than the slut I'm looking at right now!"


The "Who Shot J.R.?" frenzy was front page news - gracing the covers of magazines from TV Guide to Time.

It was also big business - from bumper stickers to board games to beer.

Even an incumbent U.S. president tried cashing in. "I came to Dallas to find out confidentially who shot J.R.," said President Jimmy Carter back in 1980, "and if any of you could let me know that, I can finance a whole campaign this fall!"

Couric asked Hagman, "At this point, what was bigger, your ego or your paycheck?"

"It was about half-and-half," he laughed.

But both were about to get bigger.

Hagman decided to play a game of Texas Hold 'Em, and hold out for a Texas-sized raise.

He left Los Angeles for London, threatening not to return.

He also made sure he was photographed a lot in London.

"Oh yeah! I went to all the places, like Ascot," he recalled. "I went to five days at Ascot - Good lord yawn ! And we were presented to the Queen Mother, and she says, 'I don't suppose you could tell me who shot J.R?' I said, 'No ma'am, not even you!'"

By the time CBS got Hagman got back on the ranch, he was television royalty.

And on Friday, November 21, 1980 - eight months after those shots were first fired - our long national nightmare was over.

In an episode aptly named "Who Done It?", J.R.'s saucy sister-in-law (and one of his many mistresses) was revealed as the would-be assassin.

"I think my favorite comment that a fan gave to me after it came out, she said, 'You shoulda shot lower!'" said actress Mary Crosby, who played Kristin Shepard.

Crosby is the daughter of the legendary Bing Crosby. But she's probably best known for playing the tramp who pulled the trigger.

"Being the one who shot J.R. made me a trivia question," she said. "And I'm really big in really small countries!"

Speaking of trivia, "Who Done It?" was, at the time, the most-watched TV episode ever - with a whopping 76 share, and an estimated audience of 350 million people worldwide.

Indelibly linked with a place in TV history, Hagman and Crosby's off-screen friendship lasts to this day.

"I tease Larry," Crosby said. "I say he ruined my reputation, but then he made me an honorable woman, because he walked me down the aisle. Larry and Maj are godparents to my children. So the best thing that I got from 'Dallas' was that Larry is a beloved part of my family."

Meanwhile, a "Dallas: Next Generation" TV series is in the works at TNT.

Predictably, Hagman says he'd gladly reprise his legendary role - for the right price.

Does he ever get tired of J.R.?

"Never. Never. It was always a challenge, always fun. And being at work that long was fun. How many actors get a chance to do that?"
  • Katie Couric

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