He was a lot of other things, too – and we'll get to them. But before he was a rancher, a pioneer patriarch, or an angel, Michael Landon (who would have turned 76 today) was a teenage werewolf.
I Was a Teenage Werewolf was the first of its kind, and Michael Landon became the first "teen monster" in a series of films that took the horrors of puberty to a whole new level. Landon's portrayal of the troubled-teen-turned-hairy-monster was so effective that he could have easily become typecast in low-budget horror shows. Luckily for us, Landon displayed his versatility with a number of other movie roles, and he soon landed his first long-running TV gig.
From 1959 to 1973, Landon played Bonanza's "Little Joe" Cartwright, a fan favorite who got the most fan mail of all the show's characters… and who, as time went on and his popularity grew, found ever more reasons to take off his shirt. As well as starring in the show, Landon wrote and directed a number of episodes, like season three's "The Gamble."
Just a year after the cancellation of Bonanza came Landon's next great project – Little House on the Prairie. As Charles "Pa" Ingalls, he guided his frontier family through a series of moves and disasters (heartwarming good times, too). Landon once again wrote and directed a number of episodes.
As Landon's career went on, he may not have appeared shirtless as often as he did in Bonanza, but his hair got more and more glorious. By the time Highway to Heaven began its five-season run in 1984, Landon truly had the hair of an angel.
Just two years after Highway to Heaven's cancellation, Michael Landon died following a short battle with pancreatic cancer. He was only 54 years old… not so far removed from those teenage werewolf years. Teen wolf to pioneer to angel, heartthrob to devoted dad, Michael Landon made every role memorable.
Written by Linnea Crowther