How ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Melissa Gilbert Came to Date Billy Idol

Melissa Gilbert is best known for playing Laura Ingalls Wilder on Little House on the Prairie between 1974 and 1982. For eight years, she was America’s sweetheart, navigating life in Walnut Grove, learning about and embodying good old fashioned family values. So when she started dating notorious bad boy Billy Idol a few years after the show ended, it took many by surprise. Here’s how they met and started dating.

Billy Idol and Melissa Gilbert
Billy Idol and Melissa Gilbert | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Melissa Gilbert met Billy Idol at a club in Los Angeles

Gilbert was out with her friend Katie Wagner when she first met Idol. They were seated in the musician’s VIP section at Tramps when the actor saw Idol for the first time in person.

“My first thought was wow, he is gorgeous,” Gilbert wrote in her memoir, Prairie Tale.

They started talking, having to shout over the loud music. Eventually, Gilbert moved to sit closer to Idol so they could hear each other better.

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Their conversation surprised her. Gilbert knew Idol as a Hollywood bad boy.

“He impressed me as a sweet, gentle, and soft-spoken charmer,” she wrote. “He wanted to know all about Michael Landon and he asked what it was like to grow up on television.”

At the end of the night, before parting, Idol and Gilbert exchanged numbers. A few days later he called and asked her out on a date.

‘The tabloids had a field day trying to figure us out’

An unlikely couple, fans of both Gilbert and Idol, as well as the tabloids of the day, were fascinated with the short-lived relationship. The paparazzi followed them around on every date they went on.

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“The tabloids had a field day trying to figure us out. In the public eye, we were the ultimate odd couple,” she wrote.

Idol himself was aware of their image. He called Gilbert “Priscilla,” as in Elvis Presley’s wife. He saw parallels between himself and Elvis, another musician with a reputation who took to a certain “sweet girl.”

Why Melissa Gilbert and Billy Idol broke up

Gilbert wrote that she never thought of her relationship with Idol as something that would go the distance. But she really started to question what she was doing at a party he threw at the Bel Age Hotel in Beverly Hills where Gilbert “saw serious drug use and people out of control.”

“I stayed until the following afternoon, but afterward I was bothered by the glimpse of darkness I saw that night,” she wrote.

After the party, Idol took the actor to Rick James’s house, which she wrote was “the scariest place [she’d] ever been.”

“I felt a bad vibe as soon as I walked in,” she wrote. “Twenty minutes later, I made him take me home.”

After that, the Gilbert knew she and Idol had to end things.

“That I was even with him shocked the hell out of people, including myself,” she wrote. “But I didn’t want to get involved any further and then have to disentangle myself from something I sensed could turn ugly fast.”