Larry Hagman, star of the massive TV soap opera Dallas and at one time the highest-paid actor on television, passed away on Nov. 23. He had roles on the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie and went on to appear in movies including Nixon and Primary Colors. But he’s indelibly identified as the actor behind John Ross “J.R.” Ewing, Jr., one of entertainment’s most enjoyable bad guys, whose mysterious shooting during Dallas’ 1980 season finale epitomized the TV cliffhanger and prompted a question — Who Shot J.R.? — that has entered the cultural canon. It was an attack as drenched in mystery as the assassination of JFK, but (eventually) had a more definitive answer.* Here’s everything you need to know about Hagman’s most famous creation, the swaggering oilman whose fictional escapades propelled Dallas through the shoulder-padded, hair-teased world of 1980s high-society Texas.
- Ewing was born and raised on the fictional Southfork Ranch in Texas, where much of Dallas’ action took place. He married his first wife Sue Ellen (their first of two marriages to each other) on the ranch in 1971.
- Dallas’ season 2 finale “House Divided” ended with an unseen assassin shooting J.R. twice, spawning the “Who shot J.R.?” phenomenon. This, however, was not Ewing’s only brush with death—the character would end up being shot at four times over the series’ 14 seasons.
- Ewing was as fertile as he was greedy. He fathered one child with each of his two wives, and nearly had a third with mistress Kristin Shepard. Shepard miscarried during season 4. He is reported to have had 29 sexual partners during the show’s 1978-1991 run.
- Dallas’ screenwriters originally intended J.R. Ewing to be a supporting role, but he became the show’s breakout star. He is one of just two characters to appear in all 14 seasons and the only one who appears in all 357 episodes.
- Every one of Ewing’s six-plus cars carried a custom “EWING 3” license plate.
- The man knew how to avenge his own demise. Though the series ended in 1991 with J.R. in despair after losing both Southfork and Ewing Oil, he returned from a five-year stint in Paris to reclaim the company from rival Cliff Barnes in a reunion movie.
- Ewing’s signature outfit was a crisp suit topped with a 10-gallon cowboy hat. One of them is now in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History collection.
- Ewing’s favorite drink: bourbon and branch water.
- As President of Ewing Oil, he cycled through 17 different secretaries throughout the course of the show.
“Revenge is the single most satisfying feeling in the world.”
“Honey, if you wanna hear your answer, you gotta ask the question at the right time; that’s from J.R. Ewing’s handbook.”
“The world is littered with the bodies of people that tried to stick it to ole J.R. Ewing.”
“I don’t why she would have any problem with your family. Outside of J.R., everyone is pretty normal.”–Clayton Farlow (to Bobby Ewing)
“Joan of Ark would have been a drunk if she’d been married to you.”–Sue Ellen
“There might be some laughs, watching J.R. choke over me being a partner. I can just see his face. That sleazeball would turn every color in the rainbow. Might kill him.”–Cliff Barnes
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*Kristin Shepard was revealed as the trigger-puller in the “Who Done It?” episode, which aired on Nov. 21, 1980. Kristin, J. R.’s sister-in-law and mistress, shot him out of rage. But Ewing did not press charges, as Kristin claimed she was pregnant with his child. It was the highest-rated episode of Dallas at the time.