Melissa Gilbert, best known for her role as Laura Ingalls in The Little House on the Prairie, has accrued at least $360,000 in tax debt. The internal revenue service filed that tax lien with the Livingston County Register of Deeds, one week after Gilbert announced she and her family were moving from a rented home.
The actress has been going through a period of change in recent years. “Like so many people across the nation, the recession hit me hard,” Gilbert confessed in a statement. “That, plus a divorce and a dearth of acting opportunities the last few years, created a perfect storm of financial difficulty for me.” She claims that the tax debt problems are unrelated to her recent move to Howell County but rather date back to 2011, when Gilbert was living in California. She filed for divorce from Bruce Boxleitner that year.
Since then, Gilbert has relocated to Michigan with husband and fellow actor Timothy Busfield, and two young boys. In a recent tweet, she referred to their log house as “our own Little House in the Big Woods.” In 2012, she was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars and finished in fifth place. This year, she acted in five episodes of ABC’s Secrets and Lies and appeared in one episode of NBC’s The Night Shift, but had not had a previous TV or movie acting job since The Christmas Pageant, a 2011 Hallmark Channel movie. According to her online blog and twitter account, she also removed breast implants earlier this year citing health and personal reasons.
The IRS claims that she owes $219,989 from 2011, $99,405 from 2012 and $41,157 from 2013. There is a clear decline in her unpaid tax obligations dating back to 2011, so she has recently been going in the right direction financially. Reportedly, Gilbert has negotiated a payment plan with the IRS to eventually work out of tax debt, stating “I am absolutely positive that I can do it.”
According to the landlord at Gilbert’s previous residence in Livingston County, she has never been late with a rent payment and showed no signs of being in debt while living in a 2,000-square-foot Victorian-era home near downtown Howell, Michigan. This is proof that at least one of the contributing factors leading to her unpaid taxes is how expensive living in California is compared to Michigan. Perhaps recognizing this, she was very smart to make the move.
Local Howell County residents have her support. “She’s been great for this town. I know the merchants say their business has been up since she’s been here,” said resident Mark Schwitzgoebel. He also recounted that Gilbert and her husband have been in talks with fellow Michigan resident Jeff Daniels to start something similar to the Purple Rose Theatre; a non-profit, live, and professional theater focused on community engagement.
Commenting on the recent IRS filings, Gilbert tweeted “Life is a long lesson in humility.” Rather than continuing to evade her payments, she has admitted her mistake and is working on repayment. She joins a long list of celebrities who have been convicted of tax evasion, which could be a product of negligence or poor financial planning, due to the unreliable nature of their career path. Regardless of the reason, it seems that the iconic 70s actress has learned her lesson and retains a positive outlook on life. Little House on the Prairie ran for nine seasons, until 1982, for which she won two Youth in Film awards. She has also recently delved into a career as a writer, publishing My Prairie Cookbook as well as a memoir.
By Frederick Bates
Edited by Chanel van der Woodsen
Detroit Free Press – Locals back actress Melissa Gilbert in IRS tax battle
Detroit News – Big debt on the prairie: Melissa Gilbert owes IRS $360k
Fox News – Melissa Gilbert failed to pay $360G to IRS
Photo courtesy of 401(K) 2012’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License