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Melissa Gilbert has discussed her ‘life-changing’ move to a ‘dilapidated, smelly cabin’ in the Catskills while opening up about losing her father to suicide when she was a child, saying she didn’t learn he had killed himself until she was 45.
The Little House on the Prairie star, 58, spoke candidly about suicide prevention and her life-changing move to the Catskill mountains during a segment she filmed for Good Morning America.
The actress, who played Laura Ingalls Wilder on the hit series, which debuted in 1974, held up a framed portrait of her late father, actor and comedian Paul Gilbert, cuddling her when she was a baby.
‘I’m so grateful I have this photo because every time I see it I can remember what it felt like to have him near,’ she said. ‘My father was the most incredibly talented, vivacious, funny, loving, fair person I ever knew.’
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Melissa Gilbert, 58, opened up about her father’s suicide during a segment she filmed for Good Morning America, saying she didn’t learn he had killed himself until decades later
‘I’m so grateful I have this photo because every time I see it I can remember what it felt like to have him near,’ she said, holding up a framed portrait of them together
Gilbert was adopted by Paul and his wife, actress Barbara Crane, one day after her birth. The couple had been divorced for three years when he died in February 1976.
Like many people at the time, she and her adopted brother, Jonathan Gilbert, were told he died of a stroke in his sleep.
‘I didn’t know my father had died by suicide for a very, very long time,’ she explained. ‘I didn’t find out till I was 45.’
Gilbert revealed her family’s secret in her autobiography, Prairie Tale: A Memoir, which was published in 2009.
‘There were only a couple people who knew the truth, that my father had, in fact, committed suicide,’ she said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2014. ‘It was a bad time for me. I was not functioning at all for a few weeks.’
Gilbert was adopted by Paul and his wife, actress Barbara Crane (pictured), one day after her birth. Her brother and Little House on the Prairie co-star, Jonathan Gilbert, was also adopted
‘My father was the most incredibly talented, vivacious, funny, loving, fair person I ever knew,’ she said
Gilbert explained it wasn’t until she hired a detective as an adult that she learned the true nature of her father’s death.
‘Basically what had happened was that he was under the care of the VA, he was a World War II veteran, and he was in uncontrolled, excruciating pain and had been threatening suicide,’ she said, ‘And, so, he shot himself.’
Forty-six years have passed since her father’s death, but Gilbert told GMA that she doesn’t think ‘we’ve come far enough’ when it comes to dealing with mental health.
‘Mental health awareness and suicide awareness are really important to me because I don’t want any other little people to have to grow up without a parent, or, God forbid, a parent to lose a child by suicide,’ she said.
‘It’s a very difficult thing to carry with one.’
Gilbert and her brother were told their father had died from a stroke in his sleep. She didn’t find out he had killed himself until she hired a detective decades later
During a 2014 interview with Oprah Winfrey, she explained her father was a World War II veteran and was struggling with excruciating pain when he shot himself
Forty-six years have passed since her father’s death, but she told GMA that she doesn’t think ‘we’ve come far enough’ when it comes to mental health
Gilbert, who grew up in Los Angeles, also reflected on her move to the Catskills, saying: ‘It’s extraordinary to me that this is my life now.’
She and her third husband, Timothy Busfield, bought their 14-acre property in upstate New York in 2018 for $98,000 and spent about a year renovating it.
‘I always wanted to have chickens and have a garden and have a place where I had space and could be outside in nature, and we found this incredible, dilapidated, smelly hunting cabin,’ she told GMA.
The couple moved into the home in late 2019, and she recalled how they spent the height of the COVID-19 pandemic locked down in their new home, saying it was an experience she never wants to forget.
Gilbert, who grew up in Los Angeles, also reflected on her life-changing move to the Catskill mountains in upstate New York
‘It’s extraordinary to me that this is my life now,’ she said of ditching Hollywood for the Catskills
Gilbert and her third husband, Timothy Busfield, bought their 14-acre property in upstate New York in 2018 for $98,000 and spent about a year renovating it
‘I would tell myself to remember 2020 as vividly as possible because it really was an extraordinary life-changing time for the entire world, and I was a part of that,’ she said.
‘I think remembering that will enable me to be more compassionate, more tolerant, more understanding, and not just about COVID but about everything that happened in the summer of 2020 and to remain aware of my own privilege and my own part in all of it.’
Gilbert wrote about her life with Busfield and their move to the Catskills in her new memoir, Back to the Prairie: A Home Remade, A Life Rediscovered, which was published earlier this month.
‘This is one of those places that most people would say, “Are you nuts?” if you expressed interest in buying it,’ she told The New York Times of the fixer-upper. ‘But Tim and I are the best kind of nuts. We’re hopeful visionaries.’
The star (pictured with her son) spent about a year renovating the dilapidated property before she and Busfield moved into the home in late 2019
The actress now spends her days raising chickens, growing her own food, and plowing the snow in the harsh New York winters (left) alongside her husband (right)
The small cottage-style home is surrounded by a wooded area and features a cozy front porch
The small house had peeling stucco on the outside and was covered with mold and mildew. It was also home to a few mice, but they saw its ‘potential.’
‘[The house] had no heat, and the plumbing was kind of wonky. We had to empty all the stuff that was in the house because it was fully furnished, I mean, to the point where there was cereal in the cabinets and soap in the shower. It was like the people had just wrapped up out of the house and it sat there for decades like that,’ she explained in an interview with Fox News.
‘Once we cleaned all of that stuff out, we put the wood-burning stove to warm it before we put in an actual heating system. There was so much cleaning. I remember my husband with a bucket just cleaning the ceilings with hydrogen peroxide and Clorox. We scrubbed that place within an inch of its life.’
Despite having an estimated combined net worth of around $500,000, the couple spent their first night living back on the prairie on a ‘mattress on the floor in the living room.’
‘We were waiting for the delivery of the fridge, the washing machine, the dishwasher, and stove. I just remember thinking at that moment: “This is home. This is going to be our home.”
The home (pictured before they moved in) was fully furnished and had to be cleaned out. They also had to put in a heating system and fix the ‘wonky’ plumbing
Gilbert said she started to grow her own strawberries and has a chicken coop that she tends to every morning
Gilbert’s new cottage is far cry from her $1.19 million home in Los Angeles (pictured), which featured a large backyard pool
‘I think it was that night, that first night that we slept there, is when I realized: “Oh gosh, this is really it. And we’re going to be doing this ourselves. And it’s going to be incredible.”‘
Gilbert spent time refurbishing an old couch, which she and her husband bought in an ugly shade of gray before transforming it with burgundy fabric. She quickly moved on to do the same for a loveseat.
They built floating shelves out of recycled bowling alley wood and sprayed a piece of tin roofing with vinegar to give a unique look before they mounted the piece in the kitchen and hung their collection of cast iron pans, they told The New York Times.
The couple also decorated their home with family photos and a 1960s puzzle they did together and framed.
Now the actress spends her days cleaning out the chicken coop, building window boxes with her husband until dinnertime, and tending to her garden, where she grows strawberries.
She’s relearning her love for nature, which she briefly got to experience on the Little House set as a child, and said there is ‘something about the outdoors that still calls me.’
Gilbert (far left) played Laura Ingalls on the hit TV series Little House on the Prairie, which aired from 1974 to 1983
Gilbert had three nose jobs by the age of 20, but she has since given up plastic surgery and Botox. She is pictured in 2014 (left) and 2020 (right)
‘This is me now — no hair color, no filler, no implants, no Botox,’ she told Fox News in a recent interview about her life in the Catskills
‘It always felt like a big adventure, to be in the outdoors and play while working. I just loved the feeling it gave me,’ she told Fox News. ‘There were other kids to play with and lots of games we could do. They always had a lot of activities for us on set. And there were animals everywhere.
‘[Now], planting my garden, watching over my chickens, and just feeling the dirt and nurturing our food that grows each day from the ground — it’s satisfying. It awakened my soul in a way that I’ve never felt before.’
The star said she certainly does not ‘miss Hollywood,’ but does miss her friends and family who still reside in Los Angeles.
Gilbert, who had three nose jobs by the age of 20, also explained how living a simple life in the Catskills helped her ditch Hollywood expectations for the freedom of being in her own skin.
‘I had to find a place within myself where I could stop trying to, or feeling like I needed to be what everybody else wanted me to be and be exactly who I am. This is me now — no hair color, no filler, no implants, no Botox,’ she said.
‘I just take care of myself. I try to eat as well as I can. I drink a lot of water. And I’m really enjoying the aging process because of that.’
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a US-based suicide prevention network of over 160 crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 1-800-273-8255. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.