Melissa Gilbert Honors 'Little House on the Prairie' Patriarch Michael Landon on Milestone Anniversary

Little House on the Prairie star Melissa Gilbert is paying homage to her TV dad Michael Landon 31 years after he died from pancreatic cancer. Landon was 54 years old when he died in 1991. Landon starred as Charles Ingalls on the show, with Gilbert as one of his daughters, Laura. The show aired from 1974 to 1983 and followed the Ingalls family's simple farm life in Plum Creek, Minnesota, during the 1800s. Gilbert was just 10-years-old when she began playing on the show and served as the show's narrator. Their father-daughter relationship was just as close off-screen.

"Today is the 31st anniversary of the death of one of the most influential people in my life and I am so, so sad," the 58-year-old actress writes in a tribute essay for PanCAN. The charity funds research provides patient/caregiver support, conducts community outreach, and advocates for increased federal research funding for those affected by pancreatic cancer. She continued: adding it hasn't gotten easier losing her dear "Pa" as the years have gone by. "You would think that I would have been feeling this kind of sadness last year, on the 30th anniversary," she notes. "After all, 30 seems like more of a landmark number than 31. Yet here I am, feeling the grief and loss deeply today. Grief and loss don't care about landmark numbers. In my experience, they creep up and hit you when you least expect it."

Gilbert added: Today I am missing my mentor, my acting partner, my favorite director, father figure, friend, and boss. Today I am missing my Pa. Today I am missing Michael Landon. So much so, I can feel it in my chest, in my heart. I am aching for him."

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Aside from Little House, Landon is known for his roles as Little Joe Cartwright in Bonanza (1959–1973) and Jonathan Smith in Highway to Heaven (1984–1989). He was beloved, appearing on the cover of TV Guide 22 times, second only to I Love Lucy star Lucille Ball.