Actor Larry Hagman appeared in one of the most memorable moments in television history when the world wanted to know who shot J.R. Ewing back in 1980.
It’s hard to put into words just how popular Larry Hagman was back in 1980 after the third season cliffhanger of Dallas called “A House Divided” that had everyone asking, “Who shot J.R.?” When it comes to memorable events in scripted television history, it doesn’t get any bigger or more popular.
Although Larry Hagman was equally as famous for his hard-nosed contract negotiations on Dallas, the question of “Who shot J.R.?” was THE most talked about event around scripted drama in 1980. Even President Jimmy Carter made reference to the question during the 1980 presidential run after Republicans distributed campaign buttons that read “A Democrat shot J.R.”. The same year, Hagman also appeared on the cover of Time magazine underneath the question, “Whodunit?”
With T-shirts and contests as part of the marketing frenzy, betting houses around the world were also taking money on the shooter before the fourth season of Dallas began.
At the time, it was J.R. mania. Like I said, it’s hard to put into words just how popular it was back in the day.
To say the least, Larry Hagman was the biggest star in television in 1980 thanks to the storyline around “Who shot J.R.?” And after contract negotiations prior to season four of Dallas, Hagman also became the highest paid actor in TV at the time at $100,000 per episode not to mention royalties from J.R. related merchandise.
So, who really did shoot J.R.?
When the “Who Done It?” episode of Dallas aired on November 21, 1980, it was revealed that Kristin Shepard (Mary Crosby), J.R.’s sister-in-law/mistress was the shooter who fired in a frenzy of anger after learning she was pregnant with J.R.’s lovechild.
Although J.R. Ewing was a character that everyone loved to hate, the entire world wanted to know who shot J.R..
In an interview with EmmyTvLegends.org, Larry Hagman recalled the popularity of the season three cliffhanger.
“We did a thing at the Palladium”, said Hagman, “and the Queen Mother, it was her 80th birthday. I came backstage to meet her and she said, ‘I don’t suppose you could tell me who shot J.R.?’ I said, ‘No, ma’am, not even for you.'”
But that’s how popular Larry Hagman was in 1980. When the Queen Mother wanted to know who shot J.R., the popularity was global.
Larry Hagman played J.R. Ewing for 13 seasons on Dallas from 1978 to 1991 before the series was canceled. However, Hagman returned to the role for two made-for-TV Dallas movies in 1996 and 1998 before reprising J.R. in the new reboot of Dallas on TNT.
Although Larry Hagman passed away on Friday at the age of 81 after losing his battle with throat cancer, he’ll never be forgotten.
Do you remember “Who shot J.R.?” What were some of your favorite Larry Hagman moments from Dallas?