‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Melissa Gilbert Was Adopted, Later Found Out How Adoptive Father Died

by Clayton Edwards

Melissa Gilbert was very young when she started on Little House on the Prairie. Millions of people watched her grow from a little girl into a young woman. To many, including Gilbert herself, to an extent, she was Laura Ingalls. In fact, when looking back on her childhood, she once said that she felt as though she grew up in the 1800s. However, the young actress had a very real and complicated life behind the scenes.

Melissa Gilbert discussed her early life and time on Little House on the Prairie in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning last summer.

Melissa Gilbert on Her Biological Father’s Death and Little House on the Prairie

Actors Paul Gilbert and Barbara Crane adopted Melissa Gilbert the day after she was born. At the age of eleven Gilbert learned that her adoptive father died of a stroke when he passed. That, however, wasn’t true. It was over thirty years later when the former Little House on the Prairie star learned what really happened to her father. He had committed suicide.

Gilbert said that her father’s suicide was a “deeply hidden secret,” from nearly everyone in her life. Interviewer Mo Rocca asked her if she thought it was a good thing that it was hidden from her. Gilbert said, “You know what? I think It’s my thing that it was hidden from me. Not like it’s my fault. That’s what I’ve been dealt.”

The former Little House on the Prairie star isn’t bitter about the secret. However, she says that’s not how she would approach it if put in the same position. Because, she adds, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”

Looking back at her time on Little House on the Prairie, she says that she absorbed so much from her fictional childhood in Walnut Grove than she ever realized at the time. During her time as Laura Ingalls, she learned important life lessons.

The show taught Gilbert about family, community, and tolerance. She learned the lessons that Laura Ingalls and, by extension, the audience learned while she was portraying the character. Her time on the show helped to instill strong values in the young actress. She carries those values with her even today.

The values of Little House on the Prairie, Melissa Gilbert says, came directly from Michael Landon. At the same time, she looked at Landon as a father figure both on-screen and behind the scenes.