She was a child star on NBC’s Little House on the Prairie—and now she wants your vote.
On Monday, actress (and Democrat) Melissa Gilbert announced her candidacy for Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, challenging incumbent Republican Mike Bishop.
“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,” she said in a statement. “We need to bring fresh voices to the table to get the job done.”
Gilbert has never held public office, and is already getting slammed by Bishop’s campaign as a “tax cheat.” Along with her many roles on TV, she was also president of the Screen Actors Guild from 2001 to 2005, a position previously held by Ronald Reagan.
Like other celebrities turn aspiring politicians who came before her, Gilbert brings along with her a colorful, and sometimes tragic, backstory: a wild life of sex, drugs, booze and Hollywood.
Recently, the 51-year-old actress has been candid about her past life, and her struggle with addiction.
“It was the first time I was ever really high on drugs, and though I was the girl who had crossed the country telling others to ‘Just say no,’ I enjoyed the sensation of my insides turning milky and calm,” Gilbert wrote in her 2009 book, Prairie Tale: A Memoir, in a chapter that details her recovery from plastic surgery. “There was a real sense of belonging. All the edges in my life dulled. I loved everyone and everything.”
In an interview with More magazine, Gilbert opened up about the excesses of her late teens and early 20s. “I mean, I was into some heavy partying with the wrong crowd,” she said. This crowd at times included famous ex-lovers, including Tom Cruise, Billy Idol, and Rob Lowe, with whom she had an unplanned pregnancy.
“As a young adult, I almost always picked men who smelled like alcohol,” she told Today.
It would take a while for things to escalate to a level of dependence and full-on addiction. It got worse years later when her grandfather passed away, and Gilbert started drinking even more heavily in an attempt to cope with the loss. “I would have a glass of wine or two or three or four or a couple of martinis,” she told More. “Before I knew it, I was drinking up to more than two bottles of wine a night.”
Then she started losing control. There was the night she passed out drunk in a dog bed while a friend was at her house for dinner. Then there was the wakeup call that came when her young son, Michael, saw her refilling her glass and said, “Mommy, you are not going to drink anymore, are you?”
“It was at that moment…I knew I had to get sober,” Gilbert said.
In the years since, she attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and began actively speaking out on the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. In 2012, she appeared on Entertainment Tonight to discuss prescription-drug abuse and alcoholism:
Since achieving sobriety, she is still reminded of the stark contrast between the innocence of her most famous character and her darker reality.
“I still get letters from women whose lives were and often still are truly horrible, victims of physical and sexual abuse,” she wrote in her memoir. “These women say the one escape they had growing up was Little House on the Prairie. They wished they had Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life the way I played her. What I don’t ever tell them is that I’m also among those who wish I had Laura’s life the way I played her.”