‘Little House on the Prairie’: This Star Died Days Before His Final Episode Aired

Little House on the Prairie entertained and comforted fans for nine seasons. Throughout the years some of the stars of the show have died. One Little House on the Prairie cast member died just days before his final episode aired.

This cast member died days before his final episode

Kevin Hagen as Doctor Hiram Baker, Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls, Richard Bull as Nels Oleson, Karl Swenson as Lars Hanson, Wayne Heffley as Mr. Kennedy, and Jonathan Gilbert as Willie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie.
Kevin Hagen, Michael Landon, Richard Bull, Karl Swenson, Wayne Heffley, and Jonathan Gilbert | George Hurrell/NBCU Photo Bank

There was one recurring cast member who didn’t have a chance to see his last episode when it aired. Karl Swenson, who played Lars Hanson on Little House on the Prairie, died eight days before his final appearance.

Swenson died on October 8, 1978, after having a heart attack. He was 70 years old. In his final Little House episode (titled “There’s No Place Like Home Part II”), his character, Lars Hansen, the founder of Walnut Grove, dies.  

In Swenson’s final episode, his character, Lars, is very sick and about to die. According to commentator Dave Sundstrom, Michael Landon and the creative team didn’t plan to have Lars die in this episode. However, according to Sundstrom, Swenson let Landon know he was ready to retire. Consequently, the episode was adjusted to include his character’s death.

Karen Grassle says Karl Swenson was her ‘favorite’

In her autobiography Bright Lights, Prairie Dust, Karen Grassle (she played Caroline Ingalls) described meeting each of the Little House on the Prairie cast members. She says she enjoyed how Swenson played his character, Lars Hanson (the founder of Walnut Grove). Grassle describes Swenson’s character as one of the father figures of the town.

“The civil authority was represented by Mr. Hanson, the owner of the mill and Pa’s first employer,” says Grassle in her book. Grassle says Swenson’s character is one of the first introduced in the series and in the book By the Banks of Plum Creek.

According to Grassle, Swenson looked just like the character was supposed to look. She says he portrayed Lars Hanson just as he should. Grassle says his “tidy gray mustache and twinkly eyes” were the perfect fit for the role.  

Swenson’s character, who was the town’s founder, had an air of authority. Grassle says Swenson also possessed an authoritative demeanor. According to her, he was the most seasoned and intellectual out of all the cast members, so this role came naturally to him. Grassle says Swenson was her favorite supporting cast member.

Karen Grassle looked forward to the days Swenson was on the set

Karl Swenson on Happy Days.
Karl Swenson on Happy Days | ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Grassle also writes about how much she enjoyed Swenson’s company. She describes being “buoyed by his days on the set.” Grassle says Swenson liked to learn new things and he had a variety of interests.

Grassle says she could always go to Swenson for “stimulating conversation.” One of her favorite topics of discussion was politics. Grassle jokes they had a good time because they often agreed. She says they were “two liberals in a sea of conservatism.”

Karl Swenson’s movies and TV shows

One of Swenson’s early acting roles was on a radio show titled The Mercury Theatre on the Air. He made his film debut in the 1957 movie Four Boys and a Gun. Some of Swenson’s other acting roles include appearances in Bachelor Father, Have Gun—Will Travel, Perry Mason, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Lassie.

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