‘Little House on the Prairie’: What Bothered Michael Landon the Most About the Way His Cancer Was Covered by the Press

Little House on the Prairie star Michael Landon was diagnosed with cancer in April 1991. He died on July 1 of that year. The big star that he was, Landon’s illness was closely followed by the press. During one of his last interviews with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, he spoke about what aspect of the press’ coverage of his illness irked him the most.

Close up of Michael Landon on 'Little House on the Prairie'
Michael Landon | Bruce Birmelin/NBCU Photo Bank

Michael Landon invited the press to his home to break the news about his diagnosis

Shortly after Landon was diagnosed with cancer, he invited the press over to his house to deliver the news and say he was determined to fight it. Melissa Gilbert, who played his daughter on Little House on the Prairie, wrote in her memoir, Prairie Tale, that it “was so characteristic of him to deliver the news on his own terms and try to keep the tabloids from printing rumors.”

Gilbert watched the press conference at home on her TV. To her, he looked good, just like the last time she saw him.

Michael Landon on ‘The Tonight Show’

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In May, Landon appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

“I’d heard he was going on to tell off the tabloids for the sensationalized and inaccurate coverage of his illness,” she wrote. “If one were able to give the middle-finger salute on television, he would’ve done it. Instead, he came out and said, ‘It didn’t do a helluva lot of good to hold the press conference.’ His good friend Johnny Carson agreed.”

What bothered the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ actor the most about the coverage of his cancer

Landon revealed in his interview what bothered him the most about the reporting on his illness. There was one story going around that stated he wanted to have another child so his wife would have something to remember him by.

“I have nine kids, nine dogs, three grandkids, one in the oven, three parrots—and my wife, Cindy, needs something to remember me by?” he asked.

Melissa Gilbert thought Michael Landon looked ‘completely different’ on ‘The Tonight Show’

Carson told Landon that he looked good and the Bonanza actor replied that he felt good. But Gilbert “didn’t buy it.”

“Though, in a turquoise shirt and khaki pants, he was as handsome as always, and he even professed to still work out, he looked completely different,” she wrote. “His big, strong chest was gone. His voice was also thinner. Even his humor seemed forced to me, and that wasn’t Mike, though I did laugh when he acknowledged his alternative therapies included coffee enemas.” 

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Carson complimented Landon’s har.

“I had my roots done yesterday,” said Landon.

“You’re kidding,” replied Carson.

“For this show?” said Landon. “Sure. Two blood transfusions and my roots done.”

The ‘most poignant moment’ of Michael Landon’s interview on ‘The Tonight Show,’ according to Melissa Gilbert 

The moment that stuck out to Gilbert in the interview came just before the episode wrapped up.

“I thought the most poignant moment of the show came at the end when Johnny invited his other guest, George Foreman, back after his next fight in August and Mike said he would also come back then,” she wrote. “I nearly burst into tears because I realized that Mike knew there was no chance he would be back then. Whatever he was doing to fight the Big C, as he called it, he knew he was going to die.” 

Before Landon died, Gilbert went to his home for a proper goodbye.