Have you wondered about what’s up with actress Melissa Gilbert these days? You may remember her as Laura Ingalls Wilder from The Little House on the Prairie. Well, she’s all grown-up now and has quite a few stories to tell.
Like many child stars, Melissa Gilbert had to deal with the burden of fame at a vulnerable age. She had a more stable life with a grounded family, but eventually the fame and superficiality of show business took its toll on her.
She turned to drugs and alcohol as a crutch. She also had a string of relationships that never worked out.
Things seemed like they were going downhill for Melissa Gilbert. For many years, she kept her troubled life to herself.
However, she wasn’t going to accept defeat. She wanted to make changes in her life…
But what exactly did Melissa Gilbert do to change her fortunes?
Let’s first start at the beginning. Melissa Gilbert was born in 1964 in Los Angeles. It seemed inevitable that she’d pursue a career in show business, after all, she was born in the heart of the American entertainment industry. Her father was the TV and film actor Paul Gilbert. She was also the granddaughter of screenwriter Harry Crane.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, she had a few bit parts on some of the most popular TV shows at the time, including The Dean Martin Show and Gunsmoke.
Then, in 1974 she won the role of a lifetime as Laura Ingalls Winder in the show The Little House on the Prairie. The show depicted the simple life of an American family, living in the Midwest in the 1800s. It remains one of the most popular shows in the history of American entertainment.
Even today, one can look back at Melissa Gilbert’s portrayal of Laura Ingalls Wilder and feel nostalgic about simpler times. While the show reflected the essence of simplicity, the cast all became huge stars.
Melissa Gilbert certainly wasn’t spared the stardom. While she must have appreciated the fame, it also took its toll on her. Fame is a hard pill for most of us to swallow, but it seems to harm child stars more.
American entertainment is full of horror stories of child stars who couldn’t sustain their careers once they became adults. These same former child stars also end up making poor life choices and destroy their lives forever.
Sadly, Melissa Gilbert also began indulging in drugs and alcohol as her fame grew. In the moment, one would have wondered whether she’d go down the same tragic path as other child stars…
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Before she turned 12, Melissa Gilbert’s father Paul died suddenly from a stroke. This took its toll on the Gilbert family and was especially difficult for young Melissa who didn’t have a father figure to guide her.
Her TV father Michael Landon became her mentor and took her under his wing. He helped kept her grounded and she would go back to him when she experienced any difficulty in her life.
At age 17, she began dating actor Rob Lowe and their relationship would make headlines. It seemed as if Melissa Gilbert had falling head over heels for him. Despite the fact that their relationship had infidelities on both sides, she accepted his proposal in 1986 when she was 22.
Eventually Melissa Gilbert found out she was pregnant with Rob Lowe’s child. While she was happy about it, Rob Lowe wasn’t happy at the time to be a father. In fact, he wasn’t even ready to be a husband.
Their relationship ended and shortly afterward, Melissa suffered a miscarriage. The miscarriage and break-up greatly affected Melissa and made her turn to alcohol as a crutch.
She would later marry actor Bo Brinkman and had her daughter, Dakota with him. While this might have seemed to turn things around, Melissa still continued binge drinking. She recalls that there would be times where she would drink two bottles of wine per night.
This caused a huge strain in the marriage and the couple eventually divorced. Unfortunately, this didn’t help Melissa cut down on her drinking.
She would later marry actor Bruce Boxleitner but continued drinking throughout her marriage. Her career hadn’t slowed down, but they mostly consisted of appearances in unpopular TV shows and films. In fact, the once famous child star was now dubbed “The Queen of made-for-TV movies.”
But she wanted her life to change. She knew that the alcohol was hurting her personal life and her career. She knew that she had to become sober.
She found help from a therapist and later attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. It took her some time, but she eventually became sober.
Once she became sober her personal life was back in order. But she also knew that she had to get her career back in order. She couldn’t keep appearing in small-time made-for-tv films.
She made her comeback in 2008 appearing in a The Little House on the Prairie musical – this time as the character “Ma.” The show was a huge hit and showed that Melissa Gilbert was back in town!
So, what has she been doing since then? In 2015, she ran for becoming a member of the House of Representatives representing Michigan’s 8th congressional district. She didn’t win but managed to garner a lot of support. Unfortunately, her running for office also came with a lot of negative publicity.
She was labeled as a “tax cheat,” by her opponent and it came to light that she owed over $300,000 in taxes. She eventually dropped out of the race due to health reasons.
However, these setbacks haven’t managed to hold Melissa Gilbert back from pursuing her passions. Since The Little House on the Prairie musical, she’s made several appearances in TV shows and TV films. She also had a role in the feature film When We Last Spoke, released in 2019.
Not only is her acting career back, but it seems as if she’s expanding her horizons. She’s begun producing films, starting with the short film One Smart Fellow in 2015. She later produced the TV movie Tenure in 2017. In 2019, she produced the feature film Guest Artist based on the original play by actor Jeff Daniels.
She’s also been looking after herself and inspiring others to do the same. She spends a lot of time on her farm in New York, which she thinks of as “The Little House in the Catskills.” Here she can spend time in nature and with her farm animals.
It also gives her a chance to exercise to look after her health. In recent years, she had serious back problems. She experienced serious and relentless pain and had to undergo 4 spinal surgeries for the pain to finally cease.
She also has spent time counseling many women who’ve been in tumultuous relationships. She’s helped many people escape the crutches of alcohol and drug use. She seems much happier with her life now and she’s ready to continue to entertain us for years to come.
We’ll perhaps always remember her though, for her role as Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Little House on the Prairie, and it’s something she doesn’t feel bad about! In a 2020 interview about her life and career, she told journalist Mo Rocca about why the show still means so much to Americans, decades later.
She talked about how the show always reminds Americans of a simpler and happier time in the country’s history. The show debuted in 1974 which was when America was experiencing an oil crisis as well as a recession. To top it off, there was also the Watergate scandal.
In the midst of such hard times, people want to watch something that takes their mind off their troubles. That’s what The Little House on the Prairie did for American audiences. The series of novels were adapted into a TV show that became a phenomenon and brought families together.
While the entire cast was loved, the protagonist of Laura Ingalls Wilder was especially loved. Melissa Gilbert’s portrayal of the character will always be remembered as one of American television’s best performances.
It’s perhaps because of this fact that audiences continue to wish Melissa Gilbert well. Many child stars not only lose their fame but also lose their appeal with audiences. As tastes change, new generations lose interest in watching shows of yesteryear.
But this hasn’t happened with The Little House on the Prairie. In 2020, Americans faced lockdowns, the pandemic, riots, civil unrest, and an election. Needless to say, we could have all used some light entertainment.
And what better for light entertainment than seeing our favorite Melissa Gilbert living life on the prairie?
It’s clear that Melissa Gilbert will always have a special place in our hearts. She’s had a tough adult life, but we’re glad that she’s managed to turn it around. She released her drama Prairie Life, to recount her life and career and to serve as an inspiration for others facing difficulty in her life.
We also expect that she’ll continue acting in TV shows and films. With the success of Guest Artist, we might even see her have a successful career as a producer.
So, what do you think about Melissa Gilbert’s life and career? Do you think she can serve as an inspiration for other former child stars? Or are we still likely to see many tragic child star stories in years’ to come?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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