Closer Look at the Lives of Sara and Melissa Gilbert
Actresses and half-sisters, Sara and Melissa Gilbert, didn’t have the same father but shared a strong paternal influence that helped shape their adult lives.
The late Paul Gilbert married Barbara Cowan in June 1962, and the couple adopted two children, Melissa and Jonathan before their divorce in 1972. Then Barbara married Harold Abeles on May 26, 1973, with whom she had Sara. Harold and Barbara’s marriage also only lasted ten years before their divorce on May 13, 1983.
Nine years Melissa’s junior, Sara came into the world at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California on January 29, 1975. Just a year earlier Melissa landed the role of Laura Ingalls on “Little House on the Prairie,” which made of her a household name.
At six years old, Sara saw Melissa get her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and decided right there and then to become an actress as well. A string of commercials soon followed before Sara made her first on-screen appearance in the 1984 television movie “Calamity Jane.”
When her acting career took off, Sara adopted the Gilbert family name and landed her role in the popular comedy series, “Roseanne” in 1988. During her nine years on the show, Sara graduated from Yale University with honors, but her acting fame also led to personal problems.
Even though her father had been a successful lawyer, he fell on hard times after her parents divorced in 1983. The first couple of times, Harold asked Sara for financial support, she gave it, but then the continues requests caused a shift in their relationship.
“I was 18 or 19 and making more money than any teenager should be making at the time. I just wanted him to be my dad,” Sara said.
Eventually, Sara decided to stop giving her father money but later realized how difficult it must have been for him to ask for money. “When it comes to your family, it’s better to give,” Sara added.
When Harold got ill during later years, Sara became his primary caregiver until his death. She tried to make up for refusing him financial help when he needed it.
During her father’s financial problems, Sara also faced her own internal struggles. At the time she starred in “Roseanne” and dated her co-star and on-screen husband, Johnny Galecki. As their relationship progressed, Sara realized she is gay.
"I thought he was super cute and had a total crush on him, and we started dating, and he would come over, and we would make out, and then I would start to get depressed. Johnny felt bad, I think, and started to take it personally, so I eventually told him that I thought it was about my sexuality and he was super sweet about it," Sara explained.
Half-sister Melissa knew and accepted Sara as gay long before she realized it herself, as she shared during an interview on “The Talk.”
“I took her to dinner when she was in her teens, and I sat her down, and I gave her this long speech about how much I love you, and it doesn’t matter, and you’re my darling and blah, blah, blah and you can tell me anything. And she looked at me, and she said, ‘I’m not gay.’ And I was like, ‘OK, whatever,'” Melissa recalled.
During Melissa’s time on the iconic show, “Little House on the Prairie,” she struggled with paternal problems of her own.
Born in Los Angeles, California on May 8, 1964, Melissa’s parents, Barbara and Paul divorced after she turned six. At the age of eleven, Melissa got told her beloved father died after he suffered a stroke.
“I had my own familial traumas and difficulties. My mother remarried a few times. There were sadness and discomfort at home,” Melissa said on Oprah’s “Where are they Now?”
It’s been 42 years since he passed. Some years this day is just harder than others. This year is one of them. I’m a 54 year-old independent woman and yet today I sure could use his wise council, humor and a hug. He was a beautiful human. #mydaddy pic.twitter.com/B9FgZXXcL1— Melissa Gilbert (@MEGBusfield) June 17, 2018
The talented actor and World War II veteran passed away two years after Melissa started working on “Little House on the Prairie,” but the truth about his death only came out years later.
“He’d had a stroke about a year before [his death], and we were told — my brother and I — that he had a second stroke in his sleep and passed away,” she said. “Actually, everyone was told that. There were only a couple of people who knew the truth.”
To uncover the full truth, Melissa hired a private investigator after she learned that Paul actually committed suicide.
“Basically, what happened was 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,” Melissa said. “So, he shot himself.”
As a Democrat, Melissa decided to run for the 8th Congressional District seat out of Michigan in 2015. The previous year she avidly supported Michigan’s gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer and wanted the opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives on a larger scale.
"I'm running for Congress to make life a little easier for all the families who feel they have fallen through the cracks in today's economy. I believe building a new economy is a team effort, and we need to bring fresh voices to the table to get the job done," Melissa said during her announcement.
Newly married to fellow actor Timothy Busfield at the time, he became her third husband in April 2013. Melissa had previously been married to Bruce Boxleitner and Bo Brinkman and had a child with them both.
Sister Sara had also tied the knot after her love life took an unexpected turn. In 2011, shortly after she became a co-host on “The Talk,” Sara and her girlfriend Allison Adler split up after ten years and two children later.
The couple kept their split amicable and continued to co-parent Levi Hank and Sawyer Jane with “a lot of love for each other.” However, a few months after they broke up, Sara revealed her new love interest.
The actress started dating the former 4 Non-Blondes lead singer, songwriter, and producer, Linda Perry. Almost two years later in April, the couple got engaged, followed by their intimate Malibu wedding in March 2014.
On February 28, 2015, their family officially grew with another member when Sara gave birth to their son Rhodes Emilio.
Sara continued hosting on “The Talk” after giving birth, but in the short years that followed, her priorities shifted. In April 2019, Sara announced her departure from “The Talk” to focus more on family life.
"I loved it and felt totally empowered, but also, if I’m being honest about it, my life was slightly out of balance. I wasn’t able to spend as much time with my three kids as I’d like, or time for myself," Sara said.
Sara and her ex, Allison Adler have joint custody of their children. The pair remained on good terms over the years, and it wasn’t until 2017 that Sara opened up about their break up.