One of the actor's co-stars revealed that Landon used to wet his bed as a child because of stress, and his mother would hang it on the window for everyone to see and embarrass him.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on March 5, 2021. It has since been updated.
Michael Landon was an iconic actor, producer, writer, and director who starred in shows like Bonanza, Highway to Heaven, and most popularly in Little House on the Prairie. Lucille Ball was the only one who broke Landon's record of featuring on the cover of TV Guide 22 times. In 1995, he received a spot on the Television Academy's Hall of Fame.
With his good looks, luscious locks, and playing Charles Ingalls, a father many fans of the show wished they had, Landon won the hearts of the American people and his costars with his jokes as well as interesting anecdotes. However, according to Grunge, under all the happiness and humor was a dark past that only those close to him knew about.
Behind his confidence was a troubled childhood. Born Eugene Maurice Orowitz, the actor's parents didn't have a great relationship with each other. While his father was an actor and a publicist, his mother was an actress and a comedian but had difficulties managing her depression, according to INSP. His mother's suicidal ideations inflicted so much stress on the young actor that he wet his bed well into his teen years.
Landon's Bonanza co-star and good friend, Kent McCray described the actor's childhood to Medium as "a very sad home life" as "he would go out and play by himself in the surrounding, wooded areas.” McCray added that The Loneliest Runner actor "lived in a fantasy world of his own. Those experiences fast-forwarded to what he became.”
Unfortunately, Landon's mother was a huge factor in the actor's tragic life. According to Landon's daughter Cheryl, Landon had "one of the most abused childhoods" as his mother was "mentally unstable" and “often tried to commit suicide in front of him.” As a result, the actor became a bed-wetter because of the stress. His mother didn't care much about him and would "hang his urine-soaked sheets for everyone to see," according to Chicago Tribune.
Another co-star of the actor, Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson on the Little House on the Prairie wrote in her book Confessions of a Prairie B*tch that his mother hung the bedsheets on the window “knowing the school bus pulled up right in front of their house" to embarrass him. Landon who was very young at that time used to wake up early just so he could "take the sheets down the street to the local Laundromat and wash them, then get back home without his mother knowing.”
According to one of his co-stars, Landon's childhood was “utterly miserable,” as per Cheat Sheet. He once saved his mother from taking her own life as well. Cheryl mentioned in her book, I Promised My Dad, that after one of his parents' arguments, his mom walked towards the beach. Through his house's window, Landon saw his mother going deeper and deeper into the water. Landon rushed to save his mother, but what's more terrifying is that the actor didn't know how to swim back then.
His past never reflected too much on his success but it sure had left its stamp of a "traumatic childhood" on his adult life as well. Even though he was depicted as a family man on his popular shows, his personal life was far from perfect. He married thrice in search of a settled life.
Controlling everything that he could, paired with anger issues, was another downside of his tumultuous childhood experiences. Melissa Sue Anderson, who was the co-star of the father-of-nine, wrote in her memoir, The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House, “Mike was a great father from everything that I saw but at work, he was controlling, and he could be mean at times. He would single out certain people and tease them publicly and relentlessly."
She added, “I’ve said that Mike was insecure. Perhaps The Loneliest Runner explains why … He grew up in an environment fraught with anxiety and cruelty… I directly attribute this behavior to the way he grew up. I certainly don’t think anyone comes out of a childhood like that unscathed and without serious trauma to the psyche.” The actor finally opened up about his past in his TV movie, The Loneliest Runner.
If a lifetime battle with substance alcohol abuse issues wasn't enough, Landon was diagnosed with cancer in April 1991. While talking about it with the Associated Press, he said that he believed in God, ″So I don’t see why I should fear death - and I don’t. I don’t want to die, and I’m going to fight like hell not to, but I’m not afraid to die." He passed away at the age of 54 in July 1991 leaving behind a lot of heartbroken people.
Melissa Gilbert who shared a lovely relationship with the late actor just like their on-screen father and daughter persona said, "He was an amazing man, an amazing talent, an incredible director, actor, writer, a great boss, an incredible human being."
Cover image source: Getty Images | (L) & (R) Photos by NBC Television