11 Surprising Things About Michael Landon Even His Biggest Fans Don’t Know

February 4, 2017

On July 1, 1991, the world lost one of its most beloved entertainers: Michael Landon.

After decades of success on television, he tragically died of pancreatic cancer at just 54 years old. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t look back and celebrate all of the amazing moments from his career. After all, Michael was like a second father to most folks who tuned into Little House on the Prairie and took his humble life lessons to heart.

But there are some things about the actor that even his biggest fans might not know. As open as he was in his public life, there are always things that slip through the cracks.

Take a look below to learn more about Michael’s life on and off screen.

Do you know any interesting tidbits about the beloved actor that we missed? Let us know in the comments at the very bottom, and be sure to SHARE with your friends!

1. He Chose His Stage Name From The Telephone Book

1. He Chose His Stage Name From The Telephone Book

Born Eugene Maurice Orowitz, he admitted that he simply chose the new moniker by flipping through the white pages. Ironically, his first starring appearance as an actor was on a show called Telephone Time.

2. He Was A Record-Holding Athlete

2. He Was A Record-Holding Athlete

Michael broke the record for javelin throwing while still in high school in 1954 and went on to earn an athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California. Unfortunately, he had to drop out after torn ligaments in his shoulder ended his ability to participate in the sport.

3. Chuck Norris Taught Him Karate

3. Chuck Norris Taught Him Karate

The notorious martial artist and star of The Way of the Dragon counted Michael among his famous students, which also included Priscilla Presley, Steve McQueen, and Bob Barker.

4. He Did Poorly In School Despite A High IQ

4. He Did Poorly In School Despite A High IQ

His focus on athletics in high school had a detrimental effect on his grades after being a straight-A student in elementary school. Though his IQ was an impressive 159, he graduated third from the bottom of his class.

5. His Hair Was Naturally Gray

5. His Hair Was Naturally Gray

It began graying when the actor was still in his 20s, so he relied on over-the-counter dye to cover it up himself. When those products started leaving a violet highlight that showed up while filming scenes out in the sun, Michael sought assistance from a professional colorist to keep his brunette mane.

6. He Had A Falling Out With Melissa Gilbert

6. He Had A Falling Out With Melissa Gilbert

The young actress had become close with Michael as her surrogate father after losing her own at the age of 11.

However, she was heartbroken when he later fell in love with the show’s makeup artist, Lynn Noe, and left his first wife to marry her. Melissa reportedly refused to acknowledge him outside of what was necessary for work. The pair ultimately reconciled when the actress heard of his failing health and became one of his caretakers.

When she gave birth to her son in 1995, she named him Michael in his memory.

7. Johnny Carson Was One Of His Closest Friends

7. Johnny Carson Was One Of His Closest Friends

The longtime friends reportedly relied on each other as confidantes throughout their careers, which is why Michael felt comfortable discussing his battle with cancer on Johnny’s show just two months before his death.

8. He Spent 34 Years At NBC

8. He Spent 34 Years At NBC

Starting with his early guest roles on Westerns back in 1956, Michael continued to frequently appear on NBC more than any other network throughout his career, including his most notable roles on BonanzaLittle House on the Prairie, and Highway to Heaven.

9. He Saved His Mother’s Life As A Child

9. He Saved His Mother's Life As A Child

Before starting her family, Peggy Kathleen O’Neill Orowitz had a career as a dancer and comedian. Sadly, she also suffered from clinical depression, something that haunted Michael throughout his childhood while worrying about her.

On one family vacation, she reportedly attempted to drown herself until her young son intervened.

10. He Wrote And Directed Two Semi-Autobiographical Films

10. He Wrote And Directed Two Semi-Autobiographical Films

Both The Loneliest Run in 1976 and Sam’s Son in 1984 featured characters dealing with the embarrassing habit of wetting the bed later in childhood, something Michael suffered himself.

In fact, the scenes in the first film where the young character’s mother would hang the stained bedsheets out the window in an effort to shame him (causing the boy to race home to keep his schoolmates from seeing) was something his own mother reportedly did.

11. He Wrote The Poem Charles Reads In Season Two

11. He Wrote The Poem Charles Reads In Season Two

In the sixth episode of the season, Pa recites a short poem during the eulogy for Julie Sanderson which Michael penned himself. Later, Melissa Gilbert read the very same words at her fictional father’s own funeral:

“Remember me with smiles and laughter for that’s the way I’ll remember you all. If you can only remember me with tears, then don’t remember me at all.”

Did we miss your favorite fact about the beloved actor? Let us know below, and be sure to SHARE with your friends!