Michael Landon played Melissa Gilbert’s father on Little House on the Prairie for the better part of 8 years. Both on and off the screen, the Laura Ingalls actor considered Landon to be a father figure. When she learned from Leslie Landon (Michael’s daughter) that the Pa Ingalls actor had cancer, she couldn’t help but think back to the last time they spoke.
Leslie Landon’s wedding
The last time Gilbert saw Michael was at his daughter’s wedding.
“Like me, Leslie had grown up considerably since our last days on Little House,” wrote Gilbert in her memoir, Prairie Tale. “She had earned a master’s in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University and practiced marriage and family counseling. I was so proud of her. And her wedding to Brian Matthews, held at a church in Westwood, was a beautiful affair.”
The first person Gilbert saw there was her former Pa.
Half Pint and Pa reunited at last
It had been quite a few years since the actors had seen each other, but Gilbert and Landon greeted each other with “hugs and kisses.”
“It felt so good to have his strong arms wrapped around me again and to breathe in that familiar Mike smell, and I was filled with warm memories,” she wrote. “He asked about Dakota [Gilbert’s son] and said, ‘You know, Half Pint, in the weird world of Hollywood, he’s kind of my grandchild.’”
Landon asked Gilbert when he was going to get to meet Dakota and she told him they’d make plans. He wanted her to bring Dakota over to his house.
“Like a parent, he gave me a stern look and said he needed to see me more often,” she wrote.
Leslie Landon broke the news about Michael Landon’s cancer to Melissa Gilbert
Gilbert and Dakota never got around to visiting Landon before the Laura Ingalls actor received a call from his daughter.
“Leslie called and said she wanted me to hear some news directly from her before I heard it on TV,” she wrote. “I stopped and braced myself for I didn’t know what.”
She told her that her father had “inoperable cancer of the pancreas and liver” and that “he’s going to fight.”
A few days later, Landon invited the press to his home to break the news of his diagnosis. Gilbert couldn’t help but think back to their last conversation at Leslie’s wedding.
“It was so characteristic of him to deliver the news on his own terms and try to keep the tabloids from printing rumors,” she wrote. “I watched the press conference on TV. To me, he looked the same as he had at Leslie’s wedding. Maybe he was a little thinner. If he was, it was a negligible difference, perhaps the result of healthier eating and more exercise, which I thought might indicate he was winning his fight.”
But as his health declined, Gilbert and Dakota finally made it over to visit the Charles Ingalls actor to say goodbye. Michael Landon died on July 1, 1991.
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