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What Happened to Eileen Ryan From Little House on the Prairie?

Actress Eileen Ryan from Little House on the Prairie passed away just one week before her 95th birthday. Here’s what happened.

American Actress Eileen Ryan,  best known for playing the role of  Mrs. Kennedy in season 1 of “Little House on the Prairie,” has passed away. The actress who portrayed the mother of Christy and Sandy Kennedy died a week before her 95th birthday. Although she starred in multiple movies, her role in “Little House on the Prairie” was the most prominent.

Eileen Ryan From Little House on the Prairie
Image: Pinterest

Eileen, who also appeared in movies like “Bonanza,” was the mother of actor Sean Penn and singer Michael Penn. The actress died at her house in Malibu, California. Before her death, Eileen starred in over 60 television shows and films. However, most of those appearances came before she decided to be a stay-home mother to take care of her kids.

The late actress was married to actor and director Leo Penn from 1957 until his death in 1998. Most of Eileen’s filmography also came in shows directed by her husband, including “Bonanza,” “Cannon,” and “Little House on the Prairie.” She also appeared in the 1960 series “Twilight Zone,” and guest starred in the “90’s shows “Ally McBeal,” “NYPD Blue,” and “E.R.”

Eileen Ryan’s Background

The late actress was born in New York in 1927 to father Amerigo, Giuseppe Annucci, a dentist, and mother, Rose Isabel, a nurse. Eileen made her Broadway debut in 1953, performing in the play “Sing Till Tomorrow” aged 25. Two years later, she made her debut on TV, starring in the series “Goodyear Television Playhouse.” However, she continued to appear on Broadway, performing in “Comes a Day” in 1958.

Eileen Ryan from Little House on the Prairie
Image: Pinterest

Eileen met her husband Leo Penn in 1957 during rehearsals for their play “The Iceman Cometh” in New York. The lovebird’s connection was so strong they moved in within a week of meeting each other. The couple would tie the knot a few months later.  Their marriage resulted in the birth of their sons Sean, Christopher, and Michael. 

A short while later, Eileen paused her acting career to be a full-time mother to her children. However, she returned to the screen in 1986, portraying her sons’ on-screen grandmother in the film “At Close Range.” Before her death, the actress starred in multiple movies with her son Sean including The Indian Runner,” “All the King’s Men,” and “I Am Sam.”

Tributes Pour In For The Late Actress

Since the announcement of her death, Tributes have been pouring in for actress Eileen Ryan. After her son Michael made the announcement on Twitter, many fans rushed to his comment section to laud the recently departed star. 

One of the tributes came from Dean Devlin, who worked with Eileen on the film “Eight Legged Freaks” who tweeted

“I had the pleasure and privilege to work with extremely talented and gifted woman on the film 8 Legged Freaks. The world lost a giant. RIP Eileen.”

Meanwhile, actress Rosanna Arquette wrote:

 “Rest in peace Eileen Ryan .you were a wonderful woman and actor and gave birth to gifted artists. Bless you.”

Countless fans also paid tributes to the actress, with many writing

“R.I.P. to actress Eileen Ryan Penn.”

Eileen Was Survived by Two of Three Sons

After marrying Leo Penn, Eileen gave birth to three sons- Sean, Micheal, and Christopher. However, according to reports, Chris passed away on January 24, 2006, due to a deadly heart condition. The actor reportedly suffered from “nonspecific cardiomyopathy,” which made his heart weak and enlarged.

Eileen Ryan from Little House on the Prairie
Image: Pinterest

Speaking about his younger brother’s death, Sean told PEOPLE that his brother’s weight was what killed him. The actor disclosed:

“He had certainly been a fantastically self-abusing guy over periods of his life, but that wasn’t the case in the end. So, I mean, it was a natural death. But a natural death that was brought on by some hard living, but particularly weight.”

At the time of his death, Chris reportedly weighed 300lbs. Sean explained it was difficult to deal with the death of his younger brother because he lost a part of himself. However, he praised his late brother’s acting skills, noting that he had a kind of soul that nobody else had. The actor revealed that Christopher’s acting in the movie “ The Funeral,” was a performance that always inspired him.

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