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Little House On The Prairie Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

"Little House on the Prairie" is a beloved television drama that ran on NBC from 1974 to 1983. Often cited as a definitive example of wholesome family-oriented television, "Little House" is based on the best-selling book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her experiences growing up in the late 1800s.

Michael Landon was already a well-known TV star from "Bonanza," but he became the lead actor of a hit series of his own when he took on the role of Charles Ingalls. He also directed 89 episodes of "Little House." 

The show has a memorable opening credits sequence where Charles and Carolyn Ingalls, played by Karen Grassle, are riding together in a covered wagon while their children run in a grass field to the sweeping "Little House" theme composed by David Rose. As fate would have it, "Little House" came during a troubled time in American history where they country was trying to recover from the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam war. Partly as a result, millions of viewers looked to the Ingalls family for a comforting image of old-timey simplicity. 

Like a few other classic TV shows, "Little House" experienced a spike in popularity during the 2020 pandemic. Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls, told CBS Sunday Morning, the series "is a reminder of when things were simpler for us. 'Little House' was a reminder of what we went through when we started this country, and how difficult that was ... The show's values were a reflection of Michael Landon. He was that man. He believed that people really were good at heart."

Considering "Little House" ended roughly four decades ago, you might assume at least a few members of the cast are no longer among the living, but some might surprise you. Here's a list of "Little House on the Prairie" stars you may not know have passed away.

Michael Landon

Rugged, handsome, and square-jawed with a full head of thick dark hair, Michael Landon had remarkable career on television starring in three big series: the long running western "Bonanza," "Little House on the Prairie," and "Highway to Heaven."

Born in Queens, New York, Landon's real name was Eugene Maurice Orowitz. Landon came from a family of actors and was a straight-A student in grade school. In high school, Landon's talent for javelin throwing earned him an academic scholarship from USC, but several injuries ended his potential career in sports, and he left college in his freshman year.

He then went on to acting school and changed his name to the memorable and easier to pronounce Michael Landon. He reportedly found the name Michael Landon in the phone book.

Landon first broke through in the low budget B-movie "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" (the trailer promised: "Michael Landon in a powerful performance"), which was hilariously lampooned on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Eventually, he landed role of Little Joe on "Bonanza," at a point when Westerns were the most popular genre on television. "Bonzana" was number one in the ratings from 1964 to 1967 and ran for a remarkable 14 years.

After his successful stints on "Little House" and "Highway to Heaven," Landon announced he was suffering from pancreatic cancer in April of 1991, and he was reportedly the first public figure who did this, sharing with the world that he was suffering from one of the hardest cancers to treat. Landon told the Associated Press he wasn't afraid to die, but he was going to "fight like hell" to live. Three months after announcing his illness, Landon died July 1, 1991, at the age of 54

Victor French

A native of Santa Barbara, Victor French was another actor best known for Western roles. French was a distinctive character actor with curly dark black hair and a mustache, and he worked his way onto two of the biggest Westerns in TV history — "Gunsmoke" and Michael Landon's original claim to fame, "Bonanza."

French was often cast as villains, but it was Landon who saw him as more than a bit player and capable of bigger roles. French recalled (via AP), that when casting "Little House on the Prairie," NBC "wanted a name actor, but Michael stood by his guns. That role changed my career. Michael is really my 'angel.'"

On "Little House," French played farmer Isaiah Edwards, a gruff man who had a good heart underneath. French also directed 18 episodes of the show. French left "Little House" in 1977 to star in his own sitcom, "Carter County," which lasted until 1979, but he came back to "Little House" in 1982. After that, Landon and French did "Highway to Heaven" together, where French played Landon's sidekick Mark Gordon. Landon and French both directed a number of episodes of that show as well.

French died on June 15, 1989, at the age of 54.

Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen is one of a number of football players who went into acting following their athletic careers. At 6 feet 5 inches and nearly 300 pounds, he was All-American at Utah State and a first-round draft pick for the Rams in 1963. Along with his teammates Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy, and Rosey Grier, Olsen was part of a group nicknamed the Fearsome Foursome. Olsen played for the Rams for 15 years, and not only was he considered one of the greatest tackles in NFL history, but he also earned a master's degree in economics at Utah State.

In early 1977, Olsen signed a deal with NBC, and he soon joined up with "Little House on the Prairie" as Jonathan Garvey. Olsen was raised in a Mormon home, which could be why he leaned towards starring in wholesome entertainment. In the early '80s, Olsen had his own show, "Father Murphy," which ran on NBC from 1981 to 1983. In his later years, he was best known as a sports broadcaster. 

Olsen died of cancer, on March 11, 2010, at the age of 69.

Katherine MacGregor

There are two characters on "Little House on the Prairie" that viewers love to dislike — Nellie Oleson, one of the biggest brats in the West, played by Alison Arngrim, and her mother Harriet Oleson, who was played by Katherine MacGregor.

A Southern California native, Dorlee MacGregor was born in 1925, and grew up in Colorado. She got her start in acting as a member of the drama club during her stint at the University of Denver.

After college, she moved to New York and studied under the legendary acting coaches Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner. She had a small role in the Marlon Brando classic "On the Waterfront," and also got good reviews for a touring production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

When MacGregor moved back to California, she landed supporting roles on shows like "All in the Family" and "Emergency!" but was finding the Hollywood life unfulfilling. She was ready to leave the business before landing the role of Harriet Oleson, who was often a thorn in the side of the Ingalls family.

MacGregor was on "Little House" for the entire run of the series and retired from acting after the show finally went off the air. She died while living at the Motion Picture & Television Fund's retirement home on November 13, 2018, at the age of 93.

Robert Loggia

A native of Staten Island, Robert Loggia originally planned to play football until he studied acting with the famed Stella Adler, who also taught Marlon Brando. Like many actors, Loggia started out performing in stage plays, then worked his way into small movie and TV roles.

While he played the character of Thomas Stark on "Little House on the Prairie," his turn in one of the series' darkest episodes is hardly what Loggia is most famous for. He also appeared on "The Untouchables, "Gunsmoke," "Columbo, "Rawhide," "The Bionic Woman," and many more series. 

It's possible that Loggia is best-known for playing Tony Montana's drug lord boss Frank Lopez in 1983's "Scarface," and he also had memorable roles in "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Prizzi's Honor," the sci-fi blockbuster "Independence Day," and the comedy "Big," where he danced out the music for "Chopsticks" and "Heart and Soul" on a giant keyboard with Tom Hanks. As demonstrated by his performances as Mr. Eddy in David Lynch's "Lost Highway" and as Feech La Manna in "The Sopranos," Loggia had a knack for playing mobsters. Ironically, he received the highest honor of his career for a character from the other side of the law, as his role as a grizzled private detective in "Jagged Edge" earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.  

Loggia died on December 4, 2015, at the age of 85 after fighting Alzheimer's for five years.

Ernest Borgnine

A prolific TV and film actor, Ernest Borgnine played plenty of tough guys and lovable lugs, and he was versatile enough to tackle a wide variety of roles and genres that defied stereotyping.

A native of Connecticut, Borgnine studied theater after serving in World War II. He was very prolific on TV, with over 200 credits to his name. He had regular roles on "McHale's Navy" and "Airwolf." On "Little House on the Prairie," Borgnine appeared on the two-part episode, "The Lord is My Shepherd."

On the big screen, Borgnine starred in many classic films including "From Here to Eternity," "Bad Day at Black Rock," "The Dirty Dozen," "The Wild Bunch," and "The Poseidon Adventure," among many others.

One of Borgnine's most legendary roles was playing the title role in "Marty," the story of an average lug looking for love, hoping it will brighten his unspectacular existence as a butcher. The performance earned Borgnine an Academy Award for best actor. He died on July 8, 2012, at the age of 95.

Billy Barty

One of the most legendary little people in Hollywood history, Billy Barty stood 3 feet 9 inches, and his career ran from his toddler years to his 70s.

Barty broke into the business through his father who was a machinist for Columbia Pictures. When he was 3 years old, Barty was given a bit role in the movie "Wedded Blisters" and went on to play babies in a several films including "Gold Diggers of 1933," and the 1934 version of "Alice in Wonderland." Barty also worked with another pint-sized star, Mickey Rooney, in the "Mickey McGuire" series, as well as "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Other notable films that featured Barty include "W.C. Fields and Me," the Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn comedy "Foul Play," and the disastrous comedy "Under the Rainbow," loosely based on the behind-the-scenes shenanigans during the making of "The Wizard of Oz," also starring Carrie Fisher.

Barty did a lot of TV work right when the medium started to take off, making guest appearances on "Peter Gunn," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," children's shows like "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters," and of course, "Little House on the Prairie," where he played two different characters in two different episodes — Lou Bates in 1982's "Little Lou" and Owen in 1979's "Annabelle," respectively.

In addition to his acting career, Barty was the founder of Little People of America, which helped people with dwarfism. He also helped draft the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

Barty died on December 23, 2000, at the age of 76.

Dub Taylor

Considering he starred in Westerns for 60 years, Dub Taylor was a natural fit for an appearance on "Little House on the Prairie." Known for his wild white hair, which he usually kept under floppy hats, Taylor first broke into show business as a vaudeville performer, then he landed small roles in "You Can't Take It with You," and "Carefree," starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

In the late 1930s, he began starring in a long string of Westerns including "Taming of the West," and "Tumbleweeds." Eventually he became a regular actor for legendary director Sam Peckinpah, and he starred in the Peckinpah classics "Major Dundee," "The Wild Bunch," and "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid."

But Taylor wasn't limited to Westerns. He also performed in movies as diverse as the gritty contemporary thriller "Crime Wave," the Air Force comedy "No Time for Sergeants," the Paul Newman drama "Sweet Bird of Youth," and the gangster romance "Bonnie and Clyde."

Taylor made a number of TV appearances throughout his career including, playing Houston Lamb in multiple episodes of "Little House," as well as appearances on "McMillan and Wife," "Father Murphy," "Hardcastle and McCormick," and "Designing Women," among others.

He died on October 3, 1994, at the age of 87.

Moses Gunn

An acclaimed actor with a deep voice who often played intimidating characters, Gunn first gained notice off Broadway in a play called "The Blacks," written by Jean Genet. Gunn would also go on to cofound the Negro Ensemble Company, and he starred in a number of the organization's plays including "The First Breeze of Summer."

Gunn made a name for himself on the big screen in the quintessential blaxploitation hit "Shaft" where he played crime boss Bumpy Jonas. Other notable film roles include "The Great White Hope," the big screen version of "The Iceman Cometh," "Rollerball," and "Ragtime" where he played Booker T. Washington. Of course, Gunn also appeared in five episodes of "Little House on the Prairie" as semi-retired prize fighter Joe Kagan.

In addition to his role on "Little House," Gunn also appeared in "Roots," and on "Good Times" as Carl Dixon, the man who marries Florida Evans and finally gets her family out of the Chicago projects.

Gunn died on December 16, 1993, at the age of 64.

Richard Jaeckel

A well-known character actor who starred in many movies, TV shows, and low budget films like "Grizzly," "Day of the Animals" and "The Dark," Richard Jaeckel first started out doing deliveries for 20th Century Fox and he made his film debut as a teenager in "Guadalcanal Diary." 

Jaeckel's best known credits include the John Wayne World War II film "Sands of Iwo Jima," "The Dirty Dozen," "A Town Without Pity," and John Carpenter's "Starman." Jaeckel also starred in several Paul Newman films including "Sometimes a Great Notion," which earned Jaeckel an Oscar nod for best supporting actor, and "The Drowning Pool." Jaeckel, like many character actors, also appeared in several notable Westerns including Robert Aldrich's "Ulzana's Raid," and Sam Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid."

In addition to several appearances on "Little House on the Prairie," Jaeckel had featured roles on shows that didn't last long, like 'Banyon," "Firehouse," "Salvage 1," and "At Ease." He also had a recurring role on the first season of "Baywatch." Jaeckel died on June 14, 1997, at the age of 70.

Royal Dano

A veteran character actor who was active for four decades, Royal Dano starred in over 100 movies and TV shows. Like many character actors, he often played villains.

Dano first started acting when he was in the Army during World War II. When he left the armed forces, he started performing onstage in New York, and he first appeared on Broadway in the musical "Finian's Rainbow."

Once he started acting in films in the late '40s, he kept on working, making appearances in "The Red Badge of Courage," the big screen adaptation of "Moby Dick" with Gregory Peck, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "The Outlaw Josey Wales," and "The Right Stuff."

In addition to appearing in three episodes of "Little House on the Prairie," Dano also made TV appearances on "Night Gallery," "Adam-12," "Quincy M.E.," and "Fantasy Island," to name a few. He died on May 15, 1994, at the age of 71.

Richard Bull

On "Little House on the Prairie," Richard Bull played Nels Oleson, patriarch of the Oleson clan, and he was on the show from the beginning to the end.

Bull was a native of Illinois, and even though he loved movies, he said he got into acting by accident (via Little House on the Prairie.com) A friend suggested he attend the Goodman Theater School, and he got hooked on performing. He also met the woman who would become his wife of 66 years, Barbara Collentine, at the Goodman.

Bull loved to perform on stage, but he quickly took to acting on TV shows like "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," "Gunsmoke," "Mission: Impossible," and more. He also starred in the films "The Stalking Moon," "The Andromeda Strain," and "High Plains Drifter."

Once he officially came to work on the set of "Little House," according to the Little House of the Prairie website, Bull said, "This series is especially nice...As a director and producer, [Landon] knows what he wants and he get it..He understands actors' problems since he's an actor himself."

Bull died on February 3, 2014, of complications from pneumonia at the age of 89. In his memory, Arngrim said the man who played her father "was just as kind, intelligent, thoughtful, and reasonable as you'd expect Nels Oleson to be."