Born in California in 1960, Erin Moran established herself as a successful child actor before the end of the decade. She rose to fame in the 1970s as Joanie Cunningham on the wildly successful sitcom Happy Days, even earning her own short-lived spinoff, Joanie Loves Chachi. However, the actress struggled to land quality roles after Happy Days wrapped in 1984, and her later years were marked by personal and financial struggles. She was found dead on April 22, 2017, in Corydon, Indiana.
Early Years and Career
Erin Marie Moran was born on October 18, 1960, in Burbank, California. The second youngest of six children, she got an early start in show business when her mother's friend encouraged her to audition for a child agent. Moran appeared in a commercial for First National Bank at age 5, and in 1968 she made her feature film debut in the James Garner-Debbie Reynolds comedy How Sweet It Is!
That year also brought Moran's introduction to regular series television, as she played the orphaned Jenny Jones for the final season of Daktari. The young actress went on to appear in several TV movies, as well as such popular programs as My Three Sons, Family Affair and Gunsmoke.
'Happy Days' Fame
Beginning in 1974, Erin Moran became known for her role as Joanie Cunningham, younger sister of Ron Howard's Richie Cunningham, on the hit sitcom Happy Days. Set in 1950s Milwaukee, Happy Days invoked nostalgia for an earlier era and became immensely popular thanks to its funny catchphrases and memorable characters like Henry Winkler's Fonzie. Initially handed a minor role, Moran enjoyed the expansion of her character as she grew into a young woman, especially after Howard and other original actors left and newcomers, like Scott Baio's Chachi Arcola, were introduced.
In 1982, Moran and Baio starred in the spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi, which followed the couple's attempts to pursue their music careers in Chicago. Despite strong early ratings, the show survived for only 17 episodes, and Moran and Baio returned to Happy Days for one final season in 1983.
Post-'Happy Days' Downturn
Following the conclusion of Happy Days, Erin Moran appeared on the series The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote, but otherwise struggled to find quality roles. Electing to move on in life, she married in 1987, to a man named Rocky Ferguson, and left Hollywood. After divorcing Ferguson in 1993, she remarried later that year, to Steven Fleischmann, a Walmart employee.
Moran returned to acting with an appearance on the crime drama Diagnosis Murder in 1998. She also found work in theater that year in a Utah production of Lost in Yonkers, and later joined a touring production of They're Playing Our Song. In 2002, she appeared in The Vagina Monologues at The Apollo Theater in Chicago.
In 2008, Moran joined the reality craze as a contestant on Celebrity Fit Club. She appeared on the long-running soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful in 2009, and in the spoof Not Another B Movie the following year, but again found limited opportunities to sustain a career as a working actor.
Later Struggles and Death
After losing her California home to foreclosure in 2010, Erin Moran moved with her husband to a trailer in Indiana to care for her mother-in-law. She enjoyed a windfall in 2012 via a settlement with CBS over merchandising claims for Happy Days, and that year she also resurfaced on the small screen for an episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories.
However, Moran also reportedly moved out of the trailer in 2012, and various accounts reported that she was either homeless or living out of hotels as she battled substance abuse problems and worked on a memoir, Happy Days, Depressing Nights.
On April 23, 2017, the actress was found dead at a trailer park in Corydon, Indiana. The Harrison County Sheriff’s Department and the Harrison County Coroner’s Office released a statement which said an autopsy "revealed that Mrs. Moran likely succumbed to complications of Stage 4 cancer.”
Despite the tough circumstances of her later years, friends and co-stars remembered her fondly. "RIP Erin," tweeted Howard. "I'll always choose to remember you on our show making scenes better, getting laughs and lighting up TV screens."
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