Michael Landon: Biography and Career

Michael Landon was born October 31, 1936, in Forest Hills, New York, U.S., and died July 1, 1991, in Malibu, California. He was an American television actor, director, and producer.  He is known for his roles as Little Joe Cartwright in Bonanza (1959–1973), Charles Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie (1974–1983), and Jonathan Smith in Highway to Heaven (1984–1989). Landon appeared on the cover of TV Guide 22 times, second only to Lucille Ball.

michael landon

Michael Landon’s Life and Career

In 1941, when Landon was 4, he and his family moved to the borough of Collingswood, New Jersey. His family recalls that Landon “went through a lot of hassle studying for the big event, which included bicycling to a nearby town every day in order to learn how to read Hebrew and recite prayers.”. He spent most of his childhood keeping to himself, reading comic books, and taking long walks alone. When Eugene was in high school, he participated, and did very well in track and field, especially javelin throwing, and his athletic skills earned him a scholarship to USC.

Michael Landon's javelin throw

He set a national high school record in javelin-hurling with a toss of 211 feet, 7 inches, but he graduated second from last in a class of 301. His track performance more than compensated for his dismal academics, earning him an athletic scholarship from USC. In his freshman year, unfortunately, he lost 50 feet off his best record. He then injured ligaments in his arm by trying to make up his shortened distance. He then landed a place in the acting school instead of his friend and changed his name to Michael Landon after finding the name in a phone book. Four months later, Landon was cast in a starring TV role in the show Telephone Time.

Michael Landon soon became one of the more popular and enduring young actors of the late 1950s, making his first appearance in The Mystery of Casper Hauser. Other parts came: movie roles in I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Maracaibo (1958), High School Confidential (1958), the notorious God’s Little Acre (1958), and The Legend of Tom Dooley (1959), as well as many roles on television, such as Crossroads (three episodes), The Restless Gun (pilot episode aired on Schlitz Playhouse of Stars), Sheriff of Cochise (in “Human Bomb”), and many others.



In 1959, at the age of 22, Michael Landon had his first starring TV role as Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza, one of the first TV series to be broadcast in color, which became the No. 1 show on television from 1964 to 1967. In 1968, after almost ten years of playing Little Joe, he wanted an opportunity to direct and write some episodes of the show. Roberts left Bonanza in 1965, but the popularity of the show, now with only two sons, remained undiminished. However, the unexpected death of Blocker in 1972 left a bigger hole, and Bonanza ended one season later. Michael decided to go back to work, revisiting his own character in a two-part episode called “Forever.”

Michael Landon landed another successful role that most TV audiences of the 1970s would thoroughly enjoy, his second TV western, for NBC, Little House on the Prairie (1974). He played the enduring patriarch and farmer Charles Ingalls. He served as the producer, writer, director, and executive producer. By the end of its eighth season in 1982, Landon decided to step down from his role. he didn’t have to wait too long before Highway to Heaven (1984) came along. By the end of the fifth season in 1989, French was diagnosed with lung cancer and died in June of that same year. Landon was devastated by the loss and pulled the plug on Highway to Heaven (1984).

Illness and Death

michael Landon death

On April 2, Michael Landon was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of pancreatic cancer known as exocrine adenocarcinoma. The cancer was inoperable and terminal. Landon admitted his smoking and drinking caused his pancreatic cancer, and tried to quit smoking. On May 9, he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson to speak about cancer and condemn the tabloid press for its sensational headlines and inaccurate stories, including the claim that he and his wife were trying to conceive another child. Landon promised to fight the disease and asked his fans to pray for him.

Twelve days after his appearance on the show, he underwent successful surgery for a near-fatal blood clot in his left leg. On July 1, at age 54, Landon died in Malibu, California, at 1:20 p.m., with his wife at his bedside. Michael Landon was buried in a private family mausoleum at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, in Culver City, California.

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