Little House on the Prairie’s Michael Landon passed away in 1991 at age 54, but his children continue to feel his presence. “My father is always in my daily thoughts,” daughter Leslie Landon Matthews tells Closer exclusively. “He was a very smart, very giving father. And he had such a brilliant sense of humor … even when he got sick from pancreatic cancer, he remained so positive about life.”

Michael’s family has been very involved in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), which helps raise awareness about the deadly disease. “We were first introduced to PanCAN many years ago,” Leslie says. “It’s absolutely extraordinary. The services they provide, not only for people who are struggling with pancreatic cancer, but also for their families and the research they provide.”

Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States, with a five-year survival rate of just 13 percent. When Michael was diagnosed in 1991, there were little resources available. “There was nothing to look up,” says Leslie. “My brother Mike and I went to libraries, grabbing books and calling different institutions. It was such a struggle to find information on what was the latest research on pancreatic cancer. What PanCAN does is a one-stop shop.”

Because there is a strong hereditary aspect to pancreatic cancer, the Landon family has gotten “very proactive” in prescreening. “Early detection is key. Grail, for example, is an incredible test that you can take to help screen not just pancreatic but over 50 other cancers,” Michael Landon Jr. tells Closer. “PanCAN recommends anyone with a family history get genetic testing to determine if they have an increased risk.”

The family speaks from experience. Another of their siblings, director Christopher Landon, was diagnosed with kidney cancer in his 40s. “They caught it early, and he’s fine now,” says Leslie. “Once again, it’s really important to stay on top of screenings and be very aware when you have this in your family background.”

Michael Landon cancer death
Getty Images

Recently, the Landon family created “Team Little House” in honor of Michael for PurpleStride, PanCAN’s annual fundraising walk to end pancreatic cancer. To donate, visit For more information on the PanCAN and its urgent mission to save lives, visit or follow PanCAN on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

For more on Little House on the Prairie and its 50th anniversary, including interviews with the cast and memories of Michael, check out the new issue of Closer on sale May 10.