‘Little House’ Star Michael Landon Ignored Health Before Cancer Battle

‘Little House’ Star Michael Landon Ignored Health Before Cancer Battle

Michael Landon, the beloved star of “Little House on the Prairie,” was known for his dedication to his family and his ability to bring joy to millions. However, his daughter, Leslie Landon Matthews, recently revealed that her father often neglected his own health, a decision that had tragic consequences.

Leslie shared with Fox News Digital that her father had a stubborn streak, particularly when it came to scheduling regular health check-ups. “The one thing that I know was part of my dad’s personality was his stubbornness,” she explained. “And I don’t think staying on top of his health was a priority. I think he put it aside.”

She recalled how her mother frequently struggled to get Landon to attend his physicals. “Getting him to his physicals was always a feat,” she reflected. It wasn’t until Landon experienced severe, uncontrollable stomach pain while on vacation that he finally sought medical attention. He flew home early from Utah to see his doctor, unable to ignore the pain any longer.

At the age of 54, Landon was diagnosed with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. He publicly announced his diagnosis and tragically passed away just three months later. “I think if my dad was alive today, he would say, ‘Boy, I blew it,’” said Leslie. “I really should have been staying on top of my health every year and making sure I was getting full checkups.”

Leslie emphasized the importance of regular health check-ups, especially for those who are caretakers. “If you’re a caretaker, you’re taking care of your kids and your household, you [do] get busy and distracted,” she said. “And of course, your main priority is your family. So, it’s very easy to put your health on the back burner. You need to schedule [your checkups] just like you would for anything else in your life and make it a priority.”

Determined to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer, Leslie participated in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s (PanCAN) largest annual fundraiser, PanCAN PurpleStride. This event, which took place nationwide across nearly 60 cities, united survivors, loved ones, and supporters in the fight against this deadly disease.

According to PanCAN, pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States, with a five-year survival rate of just 13%. There is no standard early detection test and few effective treatment options, making awareness and proactive health measures crucial.

“Pancreatic cancer does carry a hereditary aspect to it,” Leslie noted. “For other people out there who’ve had family members with pancreatic cancer, there are some pre-screening tests that can be done now. And [my family] has all taken the blood test.” She shared that her brother Chris, in his early 40s, was diagnosed with kidney cancer, a diagnosis that came as a big surprise. Thankfully, he survived and now gets tested regularly. “You need to be proactive about your health and not put it off,” she urged.

Landon’s final months were marked by his unwavering focus on his family. Despite the aggressive nature of his illness, he continued to prioritize his loved ones, drawing strength from their support. “I think deep down he might’ve known that he wasn’t going to survive that particular cancer,” Leslie said. “There really wasn’t a lot back then. We’re talking over 30 years ago. I know that he tried some experimental treatments. He really, really, really tried to beat this cancer, especially because he still had little ones to raise.”

Before his passing, Leslie and her siblings created a “goodbye book” for their father, filled with messages of love and support. “Each of us had a couple of pages, and we had put on a beautiful plexiglass cover,” Leslie recalled. “And the cover of it said ‘Dad’ . . . it was all of our little heads making up the letters. We wanted to let him know that, no matter what, we are all here for him, that we cherish him, we love him, but we also wanted to let him know that we were all going to be OK if he wasn’t going to survive. We were all going to be able to love each other and stay together.”

The family faced additional challenges from the media during Landon’s final months. “It was very hurtful,” Leslie admitted. “People, the photographers, would hide in the trees around my dad’s house. We had to destroy part of our fence to be able to get my dad’s body out of the house in privacy. So there was a lack of respect, which I think continues for many people who are in the limelight, unfortunately.”

Reflecting on her childhood, Leslie described it as “a magical one,” despite the challenges her family faced. By the time she was born, Landon was already famous for his role in “Bonanza.” “It’s not to say that families don’t go through tough times,” she said. “My parents divorced when I was a senior in high school, and that was a devastating time for all of us. But we continued to love our dad and cherish the time that we got to have with him. You walk through stuff, you have forgiveness. He [was] a human being. We’re human beings. And you keep that communication going.”

Leslie even had the opportunity to work alongside her father in an episode of “Little House on the Prairie” when she was just 11 years old. She played a child dying from the plague, a role that was emotionally challenging for both her and her father. “I remember driving to work with him – I was so excited,” she gushed. “We had a scene, and it was just the two of us. I remember my dad had to do the scene a couple of times because he was getting too emotional, seeing me dying. He needed to pull back the emotions a bit.”

Leslie went on to play various guest roles in the series, including schoolteacher Etta Plum in the final two seasons. “Little House on the Prairie” aired from 1974 to 1983, leaving a lasting legacy that continues to resonate with fans.

PanCAN’s efforts to support families impacted by pancreatic cancer give Leslie hope. Her faith in God also provides her with strength as she works to keep her father’s legacy alive. “I have a very strong faith in God,” she said. “That brings me a lot of peace. It’s been an important part of raising my kids, my marriage with my husband and obviously, with my dad.”

Recently, Leslie attended the 50th anniversary celebration of “Little House” with her brother and sister, where she felt her father’s presence. “It was incredible to see the love and devotion that people have, not just towards the show, but for my dad and what he represented to them,” she said. “You can’t help but feel overwhelmed in your heart and just have such an overwhelming respect for what my dad did during his life, the shows that he created and the message that he tried to get out about loving people, loving family. That’s how we feel his presence, too.”

Michael Landon’s legacy continues to inspire, but his story also serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of prioritizing one’s health.

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