On This Day: ‘Dallas’ Resolved One of TV’s Biggest Cliffhangers ‘Who Shot JR?’

by Megan Molseed
(Photo by Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

It was one of television’s most iconic mysteries. A mystery that people still talk about to this day. Forty-one years ago, to the day in 1980, the popular prime-time soap opera Dallas pulled in 350 million viewers as they gathered around television sets to finally find out who shot J.R. Ewing…the character that Dallas fans absolutely loved – to hate.

As the previous season of Dallas came to a close months earlier on March 21, the villainous Dallas tycoon, J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) had been shot.

This moment has since become one of television’s most memorable cliffhangers of all time.

‘Dallas’ Leaves Fans Stumped

As fans of the popular primetime drama tried to solve the unexpected Dallas plot twist, the media even joined in and began exploring the multiple answers to the famous question: who shot J.R.? America was stumped – and incredibly intrigued.

The culprit? J.R.’s sister-in-law and the tycoon’s former mistress, Kristin Shepard.

In a bit of an extra twist, the storyline also reveals that Kristin is pregnant with J.R.’s child.

Dallas first premiered on CBS in 1978. The series became a smash-hit almost instantly and the night-time soap series went on to air for a total of twelve seasons.

The popular series was the first of its kind bringing soap opera-style television into the primetime spots. Of course, Dallas also paved the way for a variety of our favorite serial drama series that would follow, even to this day.

The popular CBS series centers around the relationships among two Texas Oil families, the Ewing family, and the Barnes family.

The patriarchs of each family, J.R. Ewing and Digger Barnes had previously been partners. However, the families are stuck in a bitter years-long feud as Digger believes Ewing had stolen multiple oil fields from him.

The wildly popular drama series starred Patrick Duffy as J.R. Ewing’s younger brother, Bobby. Victoria Principal portrays Digger Barnes’s daughter, Pam. The drama in the series becomes even more complicated as Bobby and Pam have married – bringing the two feuding clans even closer together causing multiple levels of the drama that continuously intrigued viewers.

Patrick Duffy’s Shocking Return

The mystery of “Who Shot J.R.” wasn’t the only major – and incredibly memorable – plot twist that the series gave their fans.

Six years after J.R. Ewing’s shooter was revealed, fans were shocked when the series essentially erased one entire season almost completely.

In a September 1986 Dallas episode, fans were shocked when it was revealed the entire previous season, in which Bobby Ewing had died, was just a bad dream had by Pam.

According to reports, Duffy had previously told Dallas showrunners that he planned to exit the series, so the writers killed the character off.

However, the actor later agreed to return to the series. Dallas writers began to scramble, coming up with storylines to bring back a character after his death.

And, turning everything into a dream was the perfect way to do this. However, the writers chose to give fans another months-long cliffhanger with this twist. In the show, Patrick Duffy stands in the shower on the season-ending cliffhanger of Dallas that season.

The explanation for the character’s sudden reappearance didn’t come until the new season premiered later that fall.