TV viewers in the ’60s and early ’70s absolutely adored Bonanza. The show stands as NBC’s longest-running western, and it featured Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, and Michael Landon as members of the Cartwright family.
The cast and crew seemed to generally get along quite well — so when Blocker died unexpectedly before the final season could start filming, it deeply affected everyone, including Landon. Here’s what happened to make Landon break down while talking about his friend and co-star.
Dan Blocker died before ‘Bonanza’ could complete its final season
By Bonanza‘s 14th season, it was facing insurmountable odds to stay afloat. NBC put it in a more difficult time slot for success, as it was in the better time slot years prior. Even so, the show creators and actors were ready to press on. But Blocker’s unexpected death threw a wrench into all of their plans.
Mental Floss reports Blocker died of a pulmonary embolism after gallbladder surgery. The actor was just 43 years old at the time.
“After Dan’s death, I didn’t see how the show could continue,” Greene, who played the patriarch of the family, said. “I said to my wife, ‘That’s it. It’s finished.’”
Greene wasn’t wrong. The show scrambled to rewrite their scripts after Blocker’s death, which proved to be a difficult task. And the publication notes the final season without Blocker’s character has the lowest rating of any season the show ever had.
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Landon did his best to move forward with acting and directing some episodes of Bonanza without Blocker. But it certainly wasn’t easy. Actor Ken Howard played Mark Twain on the show, and he reflected on how Landon tried to keep everyone in good spirits while on the set of the show despite the tragedy. But he knew Landon was hurting from the loss.
“I got there and it was the first show of the season after Dan Blocker died,” Howard said, according to MeTV. “Michael Landon was really funny, he just had this wonderful humor about everything …. He just made everybody laugh all the time.”
Howard also mentioned how Landon got choked up while reciting a speech about Blocker after filming was over. “He broke down during it,” Howard said. “What he was saying to this group, to this crew that had been together forever, was that we all know it’s not the same, and never will be.”
Michael Landon said viewers may not be happy with how the show treated Blocker’s death
Despite the setback of Blocker’s death, the Bonanza creators did their best to address the loss and move forward with a different plot. Television Obscurities notes the 14th season was supposed to kick off with a two-hour episode written by Landon. The episode was all about Blocker’s character marrying, but his wife gets murdered. Due to Blocker’s death, that storyline shifted on to Landon’s character.
Mental Floss also notes the show addressed Blocker’s death. Bonanza creators decided to kill Blocker’s character via an accident. But the show didn’t dwell on it too long — and Landon knew not every fan would be satisfied.
“We try to mention Hoss’ death very simply, in passing … it might not please everybody,” Landon said of the episode. “I’m sure that some people would rather have a whole hour memorial to Dan, but we just couldn’t do that. We tried to do what we thought he would have wanted us to do.”