Erin Moran became a recognizable face as Joanie Cunningham in Happy Days. The show set in the 1950s, and its ability to bring viewers back to simpler times made it a major hit.
Despite this early success, Erin struggled after the show ended. She couldn’t find new acting parts, suffered from depression, and was nearly homeless on several occasions.
Erin’s final struggle was with a debilitating medical condition. She received as much treatment as possible but eventually lost her battle.
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Her Life and Career
Erin Moran was born to parents Sharon and Edward Moran in Burbank, California on October 18th, 1960. She was 1 of 6 children, along with brothers Tony and John and sister Kelly.
Erin had an interest in acting from a young age and reportedly began before she was 10 years old. Her mother supported her passion and hired an agent when she was only 5. Her first professional job came that year when she acted in a TV commercial for First Federal Bank.
Erin was a regular on the TV series Daktari, which began in 1966. She also guest-starred in The Waltons, Family Affair, My Three Sons, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Gunsmoke, The Smith Family, and The F.B.I. She also landed roles in films such as How Sweet It Is, Watermelon Man, and 80 Steps to Jonah.
This experience may have helped Erin land her big break. At the age of 13, she cast as Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days in 1974. That role lasted from 1974 to 1984. She also played in the spin-off series Joanie Love Chachi.
Happy Days was a major success and reached #1 in the Neilsen ratings in its 3rd season. It also earned Erin a Young Artist Award for Best Young Actress in a New Television Series
Acting roles became difficult for Erin to find after these shows ended, but she did get a few small parts. She acted in The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote in the late ’80s. She even made an appearance on the reality show Celebrity Fit Club in 2008. That won her the 2008 Fox Reality Channel Really Award for Favorite Altered State. Her last role was in Not Another B Movie in 2010.
Erin Moran died in a mobile home in Lousiville, Kentucky on April 22nd, 2017 at the age of 56. Her cause of death was a mystery for a long time and lead to a flurry of Internet searches by fans.
Her Happy Days co-star Scott Baio, who played Chachi, claimed she died of drinking and drug abuse. Fans and family not pleased by the claims.
The truth eventually came out. Harrison County authorities performed an autopsy. They said that Erin most likely died from complications of stage 4 throat cancer.
Scott recanted his statements after this official ruling and spread the true details of her death on his Facebook page. He was reportedly repeating statements from an open letter from her husband Steve Fleischmann. It provided all the details of her tragic final days.
The letter stated that, in November of 2016, Erin woke up to find bloodstains on her pillow. She so frightened that they sought out a specialist right away.
Erin received a diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma 5 months before her death. She received several rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, but it wasn’t enough to kill the cancer.
By February of 2017, Erin was unable to speak and had to use a feeding tube. The cancer had spread throughout her body, and her condition continued to deteriorate.
Despite her failing health, Erin and Steve still wanted to go out and enjoy their time together. They hoped to attend the pre-Kentucky Derby fireworks celebration known as Thunder Over Louisville. Unfortunately, she died that very day.
Steve’s letter may be able to reassure Erin’s family and fans by speaking the truth. He insists that his wife didn’t suffer in her final moments. She died holding his hand after they had fallen asleep watching TV together.
News of Erin’s death brought an outpouring of love on social media from her fans and co-stars. Henry Winkler tweeted his hopes that she could finally find peace, and Ron Howard said he’d remember her for making the show’s scenes better.
Erin Moran had no children but is survived by her husband and brother Tony. She reportedly cremated, and her ashes given to Steve to keep.
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Erin Moran earned $650-900 per episode of Happy Days. It was such a popular show that it spawned a massive amount of merchandise. The character’s faces were plastered on everything, including comic books, toys, trading and greeting cards, scrapbooks, lunchboxes, DVD covers, and slot machines.
The cast wasn’t happy with the amount of money they were making from the merchandise. Their contracts entitled them to 5% of net proceeds from the show and 2.5% if their images were ever used in a group.
Their first attempt to take the network to court was unsuccessful. They made a fraud claim, but it thrown out. They couldn’t receive punitive damages and had to rely on focusing on the terms of their contracts.
In April 2011, the cast filed a breach-of-contract suit against CBS. Erin Moran joined the suit, along with Marion Ross, Don Most, and Anson Williams. Tom Bolsey’s widow also became part of the court proceedings. Ron Howard and Henry Winkler did not participate.
CBS attempted to get the case dismissed. A spokesman for the network claimed they never refused to pay the cast any amount of money they owed under their contract. They also said that, under the Screen Actors Guild agreement, the network is entitled to reuse photography from Happy days to promote the show without paying the cast any extra money.
The cast reportedly demanded $10,000 each. Although full details about the case are confidential, it’s believed they won $60,000-$65,000 each and were entitled to future royalties.
The tabloids consistently portrayed her in a negative light after that. They stirred up stories of drug addiction, domestic violence, money problems, and more.
Many of these negative headlines turned out to be true. Deep-seated problems made it almost impossible for her to rise above the fallen child star label.
Erin’s struggles began in childhood. Her brother Tony says that their father Edward was an aggressive drunk and their mother was addicted to painkillers.
Erin eventually found another family in the form of her Happy Days co-stars, but she still struggled with certain aspects of the way the show was run. She claims that, at the age of 15, the Happy Days producers wanted her to “lose weight and become this sexy thing.”
Erin also didn’t want to join the spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi. She wanted to stay with the original show but was grateful to return for the final season.
Hollywood is a difficult place to nurture a relationship, even for a beautiful star like Erin Moran. She had to try multiple times before finding her true love.
Erin married Rocky Ferguson in 1987 and divorced him in 1993. She admitted that he was abusive in an interview with Xfinity.
Ern married Fleischmann a few months after the divorce was finalized in November of 1993. They remained married until her death.
Erin was voted #71 on VH-1’s 2005 list of 100 Greatest Kid Stars. Despite her early success, she became one of many child actresses who struggled during adulthood.
Erin spoke in a 1988 interview about her struggles with depression after Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi ended. An inability to find new acting roles was starting to weigh heavily on her mind.
There is no confirmation as to whether Erin turned to drugs or alcohol to overcome her negative emotions. She was accused of a hard-partying lifestyle throughout her last years, but autopsy reports prove that there were no illicit substances at the site of her death.
Erin did struggle with finances after her most lucrative role ended. The $65,000 settlement from the Happy Days lawsuit helped keep her head above water for a short time, but she quickly spent it all.
In 2010, Erin and her husband lost their home to foreclosure. The couple moved to live with and take care of his sick mother in 2011.
In 2012, Erin reportedly had to take a job at a local Walmart to make ends meet. Her mother-in-law kicked her out that same year. She was allegedly tired of the excessive partying, and an argument eventually escalated into a drunken street brawl.
Homelessness loomed over Erin and Steve’s head every day after that. They had to move from hotel to hotel, desperately trying to find a room they could afford.
Friends and family did try to help Erin out. Her co-star Henry Winkler tried to get her a role on Netflix’s 2013 reboot of Arrested Development, but the plan didn’t materialize. This meant that her money woes continued until her death.
Happy Days, Depressing Nights
The only way to overcome serious issues like childhood trauma, domestic abuse, depression, and financial instability is to talk about them and put them out in the open. This was exactly what Erin Moran attempted to do before her death.
She was working on a memoir entitled Happy Days, Depressing Nights. It went unfinished but could provide additional details on what her life and final days were like.
Erin Moran turned Joanie Cunningham of Happy Days into a relatable little sister character that the world fell in love with. The role will hopefully be what the world remembers her for instead of the tragedies of her final days.
Did you watch any of the films or TV shows Erin Moran appeared in after her time on Happy Days? Let us know in the comments below. Like and subscribe for more on the most memorable sitcom stars the world lost too soon.