courtesy Melissa Gilbert
"Today is the 31st anniversary of the death of one of the most influential people in my life and I am so, so sad," the 58-year-old actress writes in a tribute essay for PanCAN, a charity that funds research, provides patient/caregiver support, conducts community outreach and advocates for increased federal research funding for those affected by the disease.
"You would think that I would have been feeling this kind of sadness last year, on the 30th anniversary," the actress notes. "After all, 30 seems like more of a landmark number than 31. Yet here I am, feeling the grief and loss deeply today. Grief and loss don't care about landmark numbers. In my experience they creep up and hit you when you least expect it."
"Like today," she continues. "Today I am missing my mentor, my acting partner, my favorite director, father figure, friend, and boss. Today I am missing my Pa. Today I am missing Michael Landon. So much so, I can feel it in my chest, in my heart. I am aching for him."
courtesy Melissa Gilbert Melissa Gilbert acts alongside her TV dad, Michael Landon.
Little House on the Prairie found acclaim from 1974 to 1983 with its heartwarming portrayal of the Ingalls family's simple farm life in Plum Creek, Minnesota, during the 1800s. Then just 10 years old Gilbert made her debut as second-oldest daughter Laura, who served as the show's narrator. The actress's off-screen bond with Landon grew throughout his eight-season stint as Ingalls family patriarch Chris.
"Mike was a principled, honorable man who believed, first and foremost in the power of love, tolerance, compassion and understanding," Gilbert writes of Landon, who executive produced, wrote and directed the show's final installment, Little House: A New Beginning. "He was a fierce warrior for human rights, and he was just that magical bit better at telling those stories than anyone else."
courtesy Melissa Gilbert Melissa Gilbert smiles on the set of 'Little House on the Prairie' with Michael Landon.
In addition to helping Gilbert perfect her craft as an actress, Landon also helped guide her off screen.
"He was my mentor and one of the greatest influences on my life," she shares. "Mike was also a husband, brother, father, grandfather and friend when he died those 31 years ago. His death left an enormous hole in the lives of those of us who knew him personally as well those who simply admired his work."
courtesy Melissa Gilbert Michael Landon poses with his television daughter, Melissa Gilbert.
Gilbert ends her essay with a plea to help cure pancreatic cancer, which kills approximately 50,000 people every year.
"So I'm asking you today on this anniversary of the death of my Pa, Michael Landon, to please make a contribution to PanCAN. Do it in Mike's name. You can help end this disease and it's horrid, indiscriminate destruction today. Please, please help in whatever way you can."
She signs the tribute with a touching nod to Landon's pet name for her: "Thank you and bless you. With love (and the nickname he gave me all those years ago, Halfpint (Melissa Gilbert)."