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During his decades in television and film, Michael Landon was a rancher, a pioneer and an angel. But when we first published this story in October 2012, we couldn't help remembering him in one of his hairier roles…
For more than three decades, Michael Landon was one of the biggest stars on television. Meanwhile, the movie and TV actor was also busy behind the scenes, as a writer, director and producer. But before he was a rancher, a pioneer or an angel, Michael Landon – who died 22 years ago 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 received the most 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, as well as heartwarming good times. Once again, Landon 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 on July 1, 1991 following a short battle with pancreatic cancer. At only 54, he was 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