Thanks to his performance as Cartwright in Bonanza and Charles Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie, Michael Landon became a certified on-screen legend.
When he passed away from cancer in 1991, his funeral had over 500 guests in attendance, including a former U.S President.
However, not everyone attended Landon’s funeral; his second wife, Lynn Noe, chose not to, to the obvious surprise of many.
So why did she opt to stay at home? …
Few actors have ever reached the lofty heights that Michael Landon was able to. Born October 31, 1936, he went to Hollywood in search of an acting career in his teenage years. As fate would have it, a chance meeting at a gas station he worked at would change his life forever.
Michael Landon – marriage to Lynn Noe
Michael Landon’s portrayal of Charles Ingalls on Little House on the Praire is one of the most legendary in American TV history. Based on the children’s novels written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the series became a huge success. Michael, like his character, became extremely popular with the American public.
In 1984, Landon was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He also won the Bronze Wrangler Award, also known as the Western Heritage Award, which honors artistic contributions in television, music, film, and literature.
Landon was married three times, fathering a total of nine children. He wed first wife Dodie Levy Fraser in 1956, and the couple welcomed two children together. He then married his second wife, Lynn Noe, in 1963 and had four more children; Leslie Ann, Michael, Jr., Shawna Leigh, and Christopher Beau.
However, their marriage of 19 years ended in unfavorable circumstances. While still married, Landon began an affair with Cindy Clerico, who would later become his third wife. She was 20 years younger than Michael.
For many of Landon’s co-stars on Little House, the end of the marriage between he and Lynn Noe was a sad thing. It was tough, especially for the child actors – including Mellisa Sue Anderson.
“We speak without talking”
“For us, as kids, it was a real blow,” Melissa, who played Mary Ingalls, said. “Although we knew he could be difficult at times and had his flaws, we never dreamed he was capable of inflicting that kind of pain on his real family. For me personally, I had held him up to a higher moral standard. He had really let me down.”
Cindy and Michael’s subsequent union became the talk of the town. In a 1985 People Magazine interview, he was forced to defend his third marriage.
“You don’t dissolve a relationship to go to bed with someone 20 years younger. You have to have major differences and a deep-rooted need to stop a relationship after as many years as I was married,” he said.
“I would have done anything to make that relationship continue, but I could not. It’s not just difficult for the wife. It is painful for the husband too. But it is far better than letting it stay the way it was.”
Landon added that his ex was a “much happier person now than she was.” And in fact, Noe agreed.
“I was too busy being the kind of wife he wanted me to be. I lost myself little by little, I made Michael my god,” she said.
“We speak without talking. Our conversation consists of, ‘When will you pick up the children?” Noe added, saying that she wasn’t angry with Cindy. “If it hadn’t been Cindy, it would have been somebody. He had reached that point in his life.”
Michael Landon – cause of death
Michael Landon and Cindy tied the knot just a year after his divorce with Lynn.
“I looked at this man, and I just thought he was the most extraordinary man I had ever seen,” Cindy recalled in a 1998 interview.
“It was not just his look, but there was something about his personality, about how he carried himself. There was a charisma about him and a strength that was just incredible.”
She worked on the Little House series for three years before becoming Landon’s wife. The couple walked down the aisle on February 4, 1983.
Michael and Cindy would go on to have two children. She gave birth to Jennifer Rachel Landon in 1983, while son Matthew was born three years later.
“People thought he was extremely serious, but that wasn’t Michael at all,” Cindy told Closer Weekly in 2019.
“He was excited about his work, but he always came home happy. He was a fantastic father who was curious about everything and loved to teach the children.”
Sadly, Michael Landon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1991. He passed away just three months later, aged 54.
Michael Landon’s last days
In an interview with People, his family spoke about his last days. After Michael Landon shared the news about his cancer, his wife Cindy revealed how people were devastated.
“I could feel every nerve in my body,” Chris, one of his sons with Cheryl Lynn, said. “Like it was all lit up.”
Landon underwent chemotherapy and adopted an organic lifestyle that involved a vegetarian diet and acupuncture.
However, in just a month, the tumor on his pancreas had doubled in size. Doctors shortly afterward told him that the cancer had spread to his liver.
“I was the father, and he was the son, I had to help him up the stairs. I am sad sometimes…when I think that I never said, ‘Sorry.’ I never looked at him and told him that I was sorry he was losing his life,” Chris recalled in an interview with People in 1992.
In his last month on Earth, Michael – along with his wife Cindy – had to start preparing their children for what was to come.
They started reading a book called Butterflies, and Michael explained that his body would be like a cocoon, with his spirit becoming a butterfly that would look down on them.
Last words before passing away
A nurse visiting who visited Michael and Cindy’s house at the end of June told them he only a day to live. Cindy called the children, who rushed to the ranch. There, they had to make their goodbyes to a beloved father and husband.
In the early afternoon on July 1, 1991, Michael Landon passed away with Cindy by his side.
His last words were: ‘I love you.’
“I think it was watching him go through the whole process that prepared her,” Leslie Landon, daughter of Lynn Noe, said in an interview with People.
The funeral for Michael Landon was held on July 5, 1991, at the Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Culver City, California. Over 500 guests attended the funeral service, including former U.S President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.
Landon actually had one wish regarding his funeral service. According to Alison Arngrim – who played Nellie on Little House – it was supposed to be a time to celebrate good times rather than grieve for him.
“Michael had insisted his funeral be funny, and he got his wish,” she wrote in her book Confessions of a Prairie B*tch, Alison Arngrim.
“Some people had wondered if Michael would have a religious funeral when he died. He did. It was Jewish.”
Lynn Noe didn’t attend his funeral
“But even the rabbi made fun of him: ‘Michael was not religious, in the traditional sense of the word,’” she added. “He spoke of Michael’s response when the doctors told him that the chemo treatments would destroy his beautiful mane of hair. He said, ‘I’m rich, I’ll buy a hat.’”
As previously stated, some 500 guests attended Landon’s funeral service. One person in particular, though, was not among them: his second wife, Lynn Noe. According to IMDB, Noe told her children that she didn’t go to Landon’s funeral because her divorce from the actor “had already been like a death to her.”
In an interview with Closer Weekly, Jennifer Landon spoke about her father, Michael. Even though she’s seen him in many legendary roles, the best one he had in her eyes was that of her father.
“He was just the best! That doesn’t mean we had free rein. There was a tremendous amount of respect and discipline that was implemented in our house — but my dad always made things so fun, too,” Jennifer said.
“He had this ability to make you feel like something magical could happen or that you were on the edge of a discovery,”
Michael Landon had a successful acting career that spanned more than 30 years. Of course, his passing in 1991 was heartbreaking for his family, but Cindy was committed to making sure his legacy lived on.
Keeping Michael Landon’s legacy alive
These days, Cindy’s the president of the Michael and Cindy Landon Foundation. She’s also been involved in events for Doctors Without Borders and Free Arts for Abused Children, as well as an advocate for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Michael Landon was a loving man and husband, always helping people and giving money to charity. In February of last year, Cindy took a walk down memory lane, posting a photo of the two with their children, Jennifer and Sean.
“Wow, I took this photo many years ago. I found it going through my storage .. it ended up in a coffee table book,” she wrote.
Decades after his death, there’s no doubt that fans, friends, and family all still love, remember and miss Michael Landon for the loving figure he was.
Michael Landon will forever be remembered as a true Hollywood legend. Even though he’s not with us anymore, his spirit and legacy will always be present. Watching Little House, Bonanza, or any of his other great projects always gives me great joy.
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