“Little House on the Prairie” and “Bonanza” star Michael Landon’s death at age 54 of pancreatic cancer was a tragedy. But right before he died, he went on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” to have a few laughs.
Michael Landon’s Sense of Humor
The May 9, 1991 appearance came roughly two months before Landon’s death that July. He died at home in Malibu with his family at his side.
His performance on “The Tonight Show” showcased his tremendous energy and durable sense of humor.
“By the way, arsenic paint is the paint that is used in the green rooms,” Landon announced at the beginning of his appearance. At that point, Carson cracked up. Landon then clarified that that’s not how he got sick.
Carson began the interview by noting that Landon had been open with the press about his cancer diagnosis. He had held a press conference about it that April.
“Didn’t do a hell of a lot of good to call a press conference,” Landon went on to observe. “Did you see all the stuff that came out after that?”
He took particular aim at the claims that he and his third wife were trying to have a tenth child. The tabloids claimed that was so she would have something to remember him by. Landon pointed out that he already had nine kids, nine dogs, and three grandchildren.
“I feel pretty darn good, actually,” Landon said at the time.
Battling Cancer: ‘Every Moment Gets a Little More Important’
Then Landon explained that after he held a press conference to announce that he had inoperable cancer of the liver and pancreas, the suggestions came pouring from the public in via snail mail. They ran the gamut, from more conventional suggestions to drinking carrot juice and swimming with a dolphin.
Landon had decided to fight the cancer – albeit with doctors, not dolphins. He told the gathered reporters at his press conference that he was determined to live every remaining moment fully, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Every moment gets a little more important after something like this,” Landon said. “Live every moment, guys.”
Then he added, “I want my agent to know that this shoots to hell any chance of doing a health food commercial.”
That summer, upon learning of Landon’s death, Carson spoke up for Landon’s sensitivity and strong character.
“This has been a devastating week for me and my family,” he said, referring to the recent death of his son Richard in a car accident. “Michael called last Monday expressing his deepest sympathy on the death of my son Ricky. The courage and sensitivity he showed in our conversation, in comforting me while he was in great pain, attests to the quality of this man and his character.”
Watch the Johnny Carson interview here: