When Happy Days star Erin Moran unexpectedly passed away in April 2017, fans were shocked and saddened. However, while people were fondly remembering her work, appalling details about the actress’ final few years also came to light. What’s more, these revelations made her untimely death all the more tragic.
Long before she became a beloved sitcom star, Erin Moran was already a familiar face in Hollywood backlots. Indeed, as a child actress she gained experience beyond her years through various film and TV roles. In fact, she gained a regular spot on the show Daktari at the age of seven – the same year in which she also earned her first movie part.
After further appearances in series such as Family Affair and Gunsmoke, Moran gained her most enduring role in 1974. Aged just 13, the actress joined the cast of a 1950s-set sitcom tentatively titled “COOL.” However, the show would ultimately gain fame under an altogether different name – Happy Days.
While originally a ratings flop, Happy Days would go on to become one of U.S. TV’s longest-running shows. Moreover, as the series’ popularity grew, so too did Moran’s stature in the public consciousness. Indeed, despite competition from the likes of Ron Howard and Henry Winkler, Moran – as Joanie Cunningham – could hold her own.
What’s more, as she grew older, the actress found her once minor role becoming larger. Indeed, with the departure of stars such as Ron Howard and the arrival of new faces like Scott Baio in later seasons, Moran enjoyed considerably more screen time. However, fame and popularity didn’t sit well with the star at all.
In fact, behind closed doors Moran seemed distressed by the demands being placed on her by the studio. During a 1983 interview she recounted that showrunners “suddenly wanted me to lose weight and become this sexy thing.” Nevertheless, Moran stuck with the series and subsequently gained what appeared to be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Thanks to her character’s romance with Baio’s Chachi, Moran become a firm favorite among the show’s fans. Indeed, her popularity was such that she and Baio even earned their own spin-off series, Joanie Loves Chachi, in 1982. Unfortunately, however, the show was a critical and commercial failure and was axed after only two seasons.
Although she returned to Happy Days for one more season, Moran was tiring of life in Hollywood. Following small parts in the likes of Murder, She Wrote, the star turned her back on the spotlight. In fact, barring a few minor roles and a 2008 stint on Celebrity Fit Club, Moran vanished from showbiz altogether.
After decades spent in obscurity, Moran passed away on April 23, 2017, aged just 56. The tragic news of her death left old fans wanting to know more about her life after Happy Days. However, what they discovered left them completely stunned.
Like many former child stars, Moran felt burnt out by her experiences in Hollywood. During a 1988 interview with The Toronto Star, the actress even admitted that her time in the show left her feeling depressed. As a result, she said that she moved to a spot in rural California in the mid-’80s “to reassess my life and career.”
As the years passed, Moran showed few signs that she was turning a corner in her life. Following her 1993 divorce from first husband Rocky Ferguson, the actress married Walmart worker Steven Fleischmann later that same year. However, a second marriage couldn’t do anything to save the actress from finding herself on a downward spiral.
Enduring years of inconsistent unemployment, Moran struggled to scrape by with what little money she had. Her financial problems were so severe that in 2010 her California home was put up for auction against her will. Following its sale, the star reportedly had to be served with eviction papers after refusing to give up her property.
Moran and Fleischmann subsequently moved into a trailer in Indiana owned by Fleischmann’s mother in 2011. Although their situation seemed desperate, Moran was quick to deny they had hit hard times. In fact, the actress’ publicist told ABC News in 2012 that Moran was merely caring for her “ailing mother-in-law.”
In 2011 Moran made one final effort to cash in on her fame. She joined fellow Happy Days stars including Marion Ross and Anson Williams in a $10 million lawsuit against CBS over unpaid merchandising royalties. However, this too didn’t go quite to plan and Moran reportedly walked away with a paltry settlement of $65,000.
What’s more, things went from bad to worse just one year later. Following a drunken brawl with Fleischmann’s mother, Moran was kicked out of her trailer home and began moving between motels. Soon after, photographers caught the actress outside a Corydon, Indiana, Holiday Inn looking tired and emotional. Their pictures certainly showed just how far this star had fallen.
Shortly after news of Moran’s plight was made public, one of her fellow Happy Days stars tried to help her. Indeed, Henry Winkler – aka the Fonz – tried to land her a spot on his show Arrested Development. Nevertheless, his efforts failed and Moran continued down her sad path to oblivion.
During her final years, Moran remained in Corydon, where she eventually passed away. Following her death, former child actor Paul Petersen stated that he and others had recently tried to help Moran. “Don’t doubt for a moment that we tried… to give comfort to one of our own,” the advocate wrote on Facebook.
While most of Moran’s Happy Days co-stars simply paid their respects, others speculated on her cause of death. For example, her former on-screen flame Scott Baio controversially hinted that substance abuse may have caused her passing. “For me, you do drugs or drink, you’re gonna die,” he said on The Bernie & Sid Show.
Despite such allegations, family members and officials were quick to deny that drugs were a factor in Moran’s death. Sadly, the actress had been diagnosed with throat cancer in the latter part of 2016. Coroners subsequently ruled that it was this alone that had caused her passing.
Nevertheless, this ruling didn’t obscure the fact that the star’s final years were marked by hardship and struggle. Still, Moran remains loved by many and the legacy she left behind speaks to her talents. For that, she will forever have a warm place in our hearts.