Born in 1938 in Dallas, Texas, John Ross Ewing Jr. is the namesake of his father and oldest of four children, Gary, Ray (half-brother with a different mother), and Bobby. His mother Ellie Ewing (nee: Southworth) was raised on their massive family ranch, Southfork, located in Braddock, north of Dallas. Jock, as his father was commonly known, vanished in a helicopter accident in 1981 and was declared dead within a year. The loss was very emotional for J.R. who idolized his father. J.R. married beauty queen Sue Ellen Shepherd who had graduated from the University of Texas and had represented Texas at the Miss America pageant with the title Miss Texas in 1967. It was at the pageant where J.R. a pageant judge, met the future Mrs. J.R. Ewing and they were married three years later. However their marriage was not smooth due in no small part to J.R.'s heavy womanizing and obsessive focus on his first love: the oil industry.
J.R.'s primary focus throughout remains the oil industry, taking specific pride in Ewing Oil.