Michael Landon was one of the most beloved TV actors of all time for his role Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza opposite Lorne Greene and Pernell Roberts in the classic western show, which followed the Cartwright family on the Ponderosa Ranch. Following that success, he played Laura Ingalls' father Charles Ingalls on the TV show adaptation of Little House On The Prairie opposite cast members Karen Grassle, Melissa Sue Anderson and Melissa Gilbert. He even got so famous he was making his own TV series to star in, like his '80s series Highway to Heaven.
When Landon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he decided he didn't have time for the Hollywood rumor mill. He invited the press over and told them the news straight from the source. Though talk shows all over town wanted to bring Landon on to discuss the sad news, he turned to his buddy Johnny Carson and ended up making his final appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in May of 1991.
With the breaking news of his inoperable cancer, you might not expect the actor to approach it with a sense of humor, but that's exactly what Landon does. While Carson laughs, he addresses tabloid rumors that his wife Cindy Clerico wanted him to have another child with her before he died.
"One thing I want to clear up right away is the tenth child business. There's a big headline in one of these incredible magazines about the fact that I want to have a tenth child so my wife will have something to remember me by. I mean, I got nine kids, nine dogs, three grandkids, one bun in the oven, three parrots, and my wife Cindy needs something to remember me by?"
Landon hilariously goes into detail describing some of the suggestions his biggest fans wrote him to potentially cure his cancer. Some of the most surprising things people wrote included having more sex and swimming with a dolphin. Though he confesses that a couple of the suggestions he's following are drinking mass quantities of carrot juice and taking organic coffee enemas. But most importantly, he's seen laughing and keeping his sense of humor intact. He also calls out the tabloids for printing dismal headlines about his diagnosis, calling them "cancer in our society."
Carson explains that while we know the actor Michael Landon, he's actually quite the prankster and told the audience about an experience he had with Landon after leaving a Malibu restaurant together a few months prior.
"As we left that night, I was backing out of the parking lot and a cat hangs around out there. I don't know if its a pet of the restaurant or the owner's cat and I hear this kind of squeal, and we drove home. This man calls me the next day and says 'You know the owner called me and you backed over his cat and killed him.'"
When Michael Landon pulls funny pranks, he really goes all out. Carson explained a month later they went back to the restaurant and Landon went so far as to have "Tureen of Tabby" written into the menu, served in motor oil. A total of three dishes were all cat-inspired and Carson immediately knew he hadn't killed the poor cat.
Carson goes on to show a clip from the CBS pilot Us that was meant to be Landon's new hit, but sadly he lost his battle to cancer just two months after this appearance on NBC. His gravestone in Southern California has an incredibly fitting description of the late star: "He seized life with joy. He gave to life generously. He leaves a legacy of love and laughter."
You can watch part two of this interview here.
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