‘Bonanza’: Here’s What Actually Happened to Little Joe

by Emily Morgan

Fans will always remember “Bonanza” as one of the most popular TV westerns from television’s golden age. It quickly became an unmatched show when it tackled tough subjects like racism and bigotry. 

The lineup also included a long list of talented actors, from Lorne Greene to Pernell Roberts. After running for fourteen seasons, it still enjoys success and has gained younger fans in its syndication. 

“Bonanza” actually was incredibly nuanced when it came to the challenging subject of death — a topic many usually stayed away from depicting. 

With this, the show cleared a path all its own. It was the first major series to address the death of a significant character. 

In the role of Little Joe was a young Michael Landon. Landon got his start in Hollywood as an aspiring singer and teen heartthrob. His charm and mischief allowed him to portray the young rancher perfectly, and fans fell in love. 

During filming, Landon grew more comfortable with his role and eventually started writing and directing episodes. 

In later episodes, his character also experienced several on-screen tragedies, including the death of his wife and unborn child in season fourteen.

Little Joe Makes It To The Final Season Of ‘Bonanza’

Despite the on-screen tragedy, fans fortunately never endured the pain of watching little Joe Cartwright die. 

Little Joe was one of the few characters who made it to the final days of “Bonanza.”

However, Hoss, another Cartwright, was written out of the show the actor who played him, Dan Blocker, died in the 14th season. 

According to Mental Floss, the show referenced that Hoss had died, making it the first time a major TV show had addressed a character’s death. 

Although Little Joe is forever immortalized in television history, Landon, unfortunately, didn’t receive the same fate. 

Landon died in 1991 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. As reported by Los Angeles Times, Landon was only 54 at his time of death. 

Landon revealed his diagnosis in April 1991 and passed away just three months later. Millions worldwide were heartbroken since fans had grown up with him every time they turned on their televisions. 

However, Landon’s memory and legacy lives on through his portrayal of his timeless characters.