In her late teens, “Little House on the Prairie” star Melissa Gilbert would live life in the red-carpet fast lane, dating Rob Lowe and becoming an alcoholic. But when she started acting in “Little House on the Prairie,” she was just a “dork,” she once told the Today show.
Gilbert was actually the same age as the character she portrayed on television. She was just 9 years old as the show launched. And she said while she was not one of the cool kids, she did have a stable home life.
“By child-actor standards, mine was probably the best experience that you could have,” she said. “I had a fairly grounded home life. In fact, I was the opposite of what you would expect a child star to be: I was a total dork.”
Gilbert Was a ‘Dork’ During ‘Little House on the Prairie’
Gilbert was childishly unstylish and proudly so, she recounted.
“I was the girl in the one-piece bathing suit with cotton pajamas over it and a hat, eating a bologna sandwich with mayonnaise dripping down my hand, and I was like 15 years old at that point,” Gilbert told Today.
But her innocent days were not to last. As Gilbert recounts in her memoir, “Prairie Tale,” she eventually descended into a whirlwind of drugs, alcohol and affairs with Hollywood playboys. By the time she was 20, she had gotten three nose jobs.
Her “Little House on the Prairie” co-star Michael Landon became a sort of surrogate father figure to her after she lost her own father to a stroke. But Gilbert implied he didn’t exactly set the healthiest example all the time.
“As a kid, I didn’t know he sipped vodka from his coffee mug,” she wrote. “But I’m sure he’s one reason why, as a young adult, I almost always picked men who smelled like alcohol.”
Still, Landon was “an amazing man, an amazing talent, an incredible director, actor, writer, a great boss, an incredible human being,” she added.
Melissa Gilbert Post-Sobriety
Gilbert has previously admitted that when she was younger, she underwent extensive cosmetic procedures. Not just the nose jobs, but also breast implants and Botox.
“I had my breast implants removed [in 2015] and I’m no longer doing fillers or Botox,” she said more recently. “I’m a 53-year-old woman and I’m trying to embrace this process of aging.”
Gilbert also started attending Alcoholics Anonymous and is now sober after spending years as an alcoholic. And she’s in a better place in her life. She and husband Timothy Busfield moved from Michigan to New York City, where she had the opportunity to return to theater.
“In other places, particularly in Los Angeles, there is such pressure on women to stay young,” Melissa Gilbert told Parade. “Youth is a commodity. But women get stronger as they age. I feel more centered and valuable now than I did when I was in my 20s. To have the chance to play a different range of roles and continue working is a joy.”