Michael Landon came up with the concept for his spiritually inspired TV series Highway to Heaven while he was stuck in traffic on his way to pick up his children.
He remembered that there was a lot of honking and cursing going on. “I believed it would be beneficial to create a show that allows people to witness the positive impact of leading a kind and considerate life.”
Throughout his extensive career on television, Michael consistently supported those who were less fortunate, celebrated the joys of family life, and emphasised the importance of kindness as a valuable trait. He had triumphed over a difficult upbringing and developed a deep belief in the inherent goodness of every individual, despite occasionally facing challenges in embodying his own principles. “He provided us with his utmost effort, and his capabilities were quite impressive,” expressed stepdaughter Cheryl Landon.
Michael was born Eugene Orowitz to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, and he had a childhood in southern New Jersey. “We were one of two Jewish families in a working-class town that had its share of individuals with prejudiced views,” shared Michael, who faced bullying until he discovered the strength of humour. “He began to display a more humorous side in class, and others started to gravitate towards him,” shared Cindy Landon, his widow. He gained a significant amount of popularity.
Despite his acceptance at school, his challenging home life remained unchanged. Michael’s parents frequently engaged in arguments, and his mother, Peggy, struggled with severe depression. “She made repeated, serious attempts to end her life,” Michael stated. “I remember a time when I was a young child and I would enter the kitchen to discover her with her head in the oven and the gas turned on.”
Peggy also thought that by hanging her son’s soiled bed sheets out the window, it would help with his bed-wetting issue. Michael utilised this memory as the foundation for the 1976 TV movie that he both wrote and directed, titled The Loneliest Runner.
Michael, as an adult, felt a strong desire to establish the loving family he longed for during his childhood. Upon marrying his first wife Dodie Levy-Fraser in 1956, he wholeheartedly embraced his role as a loving father to her son, Mark. In 1960, the couple welcomed another son named Josh into their family. “It’s rather unpleasant when someone refers to them as ‘adopted’,” Michael remarked in 1962. “They are my sons, and I will be their father for as long as they live – or until I pass away.”
Michael had encouraged his parents to remain together despite their unhappiness when he was a child, but when his marriage to Dodie started to deteriorate, he took the initiative to file for divorce. “There’s nothing more challenging than individuals who may not be compatible,” he reasoned.
Michael met his second wife, Marjorie Lynn Noe, also known as Lynn, on the set of Bonanza. In 1963, the couple got married and Michael decided to adopt her daughter, Cheryl. “My dad is always so generous with us,” Cheryl, a teenager during Michael’s Little House fame, remarked.
Michael was dedicated to fulfilling his responsibilities to all of his children. Cheryl’s injuries from the auto accident were severe, prompting him to take a leave of absence from work in order to be by her side.
She later developed a dependency on prescription drugs, which Michael had also gone through in the 1960s. He stood by her side during her two-year rehabilitation journey. “I was his child, and he had a responsibility towards me – it was as straightforward as that,” she stated.
Michael and Lynn had four additional children whom the actor adored. “I have always had a strong bond with my father, and he means the world to me,” shared Leslie, reflecting on their relationship in 1982. I feel comfortable approaching him with any issue. He is not insincere.
Michael made the difficult decision to end his 19-year marriage to Lynn when he realised his heart belonged to Cindy Clerico, a makeup artist on Little House. In spite of the media frenzy surrounding the divorce and the significant financial implications it had, he married Cindy in 1983. “He was absolutely wonderful as a husband and a father,” Cindy, the mother of his two youngest children, expressed. He thoroughly enjoyed educating the children.
Michael was in the midst of preparing to launch a new inspirational TV series, Us, when he received devastating news in 1991. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given a prognosis of only three months to live. “If I were to face death, it would have to face a formidable opponent,” he declared with determination.
He peacefully departed at the age of 54 on July 1, 1991, with Cindy and his nine children by his side in their home.
Supporters who had been moved by Michael’s messages of love paid tribute to a man who consistently strived to do his utmost. “I have faith in God, I hold strong values in family, and I truly believe in the immense strength of love,” Michael expressed. “I fail to understand why I should be afraid of death, and I am not.”