Join Date: Jan 09, 2001
What really happened to Erin Moran
Her acting career ended after Happy Days
Moran got her big start in acting as the recurring character Jenny Jones in Daktari (1966-69), but, at the time, she was far from achieving celebrity status. After securing a number of guest spots on shows like The F.B.I. (1965-74) and The Don Rickles Show (1972), Moran finally got her big break in the iconic TV sitcom Happy Days playing Joanie Cunningham, the younger sister of Ron Howard's character. She even took on a leading role in the program's spinoff, Joanie Loves Chachi (1982-83), but the show was unfortunately canceled after just one season.
After Happy Days wrapped, Moran went on to play small parts in shows like The Love Boat (1977-87), Murder She Wrote (1984-96), and Diagnosis Murder (1993-2001), but she never landed another big break. In fact, a quick look at her acting record shows a sharp decline in roles after her time as Joanie. Her last known acting gig was as Mrs. Klien in the little-known 2010 comedy Not Another B Movie. Never having locked down another long-standing role, it seems clear that Moran didn't quit Hollywood, but rather Hollywood quit her.
She reportedly had money issues
As to be expected, with her days as an actress behind her, Moran took a major hit in terms of her finances. So much so, that she was, as the Daily Mail reported, "broke and homeless" at some point in the recent years before her early death. Moran's California home reportedly went into foreclosure in August of 2010, forcing her and second husband Steve Fleischmann, whom she married in 1993, to move into his elderly mother's mobile home. But in fall 2012, she was allegedly kicked out and subsequently took shelter in motel rooms.
However, Moran did receive a bit of luck financially in July 2012. After she and three of her former Happy Days castmates filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against CBS, the broadcast company that owned the show, they were each awarded $65,000 in a settlement. But, given her living situation, it's likely Moran quickly spent her cash—though on what we can't be sure.
She struggled with alcoholism
According to The National Inquirer, Moran was kicked out of her mother-in-law's mobile home because of her "nonstop partying." Radar Online backed these claims, adding that Moran tried sneaking back into her mother-in-law's home one night, resulting in a drunken brawl between the two women—with Fleischmann's mother reportedly threatening to call 911.
Moran also made news for partying in at least one motel parking lot. One source revealed that Moran allegedly joined a group in the parking lot of an Indiana motel, hanging out with them for a few hours on her way to the bar. But, according to the source, Moran already seemed like she'd been drinking. "She seemed like she was a little off, it was hard to tell if it was just alcohol," the insider told Radar Online. "She didn't do any drugs or talk about them in front of us."
The source continued, "She was definitely a little kooky and acted weird, saying odd things, and even offered to give me a back rub!"
Drug abuse was suspected
While the party goers at the motel parking lot may not have seen Moran doing any drugs, that doesn't necessarily mean she was clean. After she died, many news sources, including The Mirror, believed that she'd passed following a heroin overdose—as she'd been reportedly addicted to drugs for years.
During an interview on The Bernie & Sid Show (via Variety), actor Scott Baio, who played Chachi on Happy Days, told the radio hosts that he was "not completely shocked" by his former on-screen love's death. "I'm OK, a little shocked but not completely shocked that this happened," Baio stated. "My thing is, I feel bad because her whole life, she was troubled, could never find what made her happy and content."
"For me," he added, "you do drugs or drink, you're gonna die. I'm sorry if that's cold, but God gave you a brain, gave you the will to live and thrive and you gotta take care of yourself."
Friends claim she refused help
In the weeks before Moran's death, the nonprofit A Minor Consideration, which seeks to assist child stars with both legal and human rights protections, reportedly reached out to the star—but she didn't want their help. "Don't doubt for a moment that we tried…sincerely tried through time and treasure…to give comfort to one of our own," the group's founder Paul Petersen wrote on the organization's Facebook page. "At least a half-dozen 'formers' were actively reaching out to Erin in the last week of her life."
"Erin had friends and she knew it," the post continued. "Abandonment was not the issue."
Likewise, Henry Winkler, who famously played The Fonz alongside Moran on Happy Days, reportedly tried to help the actress as well. According to reports, Winkler wanted to get Moran back onto the acting scene and, in 2012, he attempted to get her a part on Arrested Development (2003-06, 2013), on which both he and Baio had recurring roles and which Moran's TV brother, Howard, co-produced and narrated. But since Moran never made her debut on the cult-favorite show, a deal was apparently never made.
On Howard Stern's Sirius XM radio show (via The National Inquirer), Winkler commented on Moran's career. "I hope that she is able to come to terms with the fact that she has greatness in her and goes on," he said.
Her death shocked everyone
On April 22, 2017, Indiana police received a 911 call at 4 p.m., reporting an "unresponsive female." EMTs soon arrived on the scene and discovered Moran, already dead. The cause of death was not initially known. However, many news outlets cited Moran's reported history of partying, poor finances, and previous homelessness as potential reasons for her passing.
Soon after news of her death broke, many of Moran's friends and former castmates took to social media to relay their grief. Erin Murphy, who played Tabitha on Bewitched (1964-72), was one of the first celebrities to confirm Moran's sudden death. "So sad to share that my friend Erin Moran has passed away," she tweeted. "Rest In Peace, sweet girl."
On Twitter, Howard wrote, "Such sad sad news. RIP Erin. I'll always choose to remember you on our show making scenes better, getting laughs and lighting up tv screens." Winkler, on the other hand, tweeted, "OH Erin… now you will finally have the peace you wanted so badly here on earth …Rest In It serenely now.. too soon."
Don Most, who played Ralph Malph on Happy Days, also tweeted, "So incredibly sad to hear about Erin. A wonderful, sweet, caring, talented woman. I can't really comprehend this right now. Very painful loss."
Autopsy results revealed the real cause of death
While Baio certainly seemed confident that Moran's passing was due to drug and alcohol abuse, that simply wasn't the case. After an autopsy was performed, it was discovered that Moran likely died of complications from stage 4 cancer. A statement from Harrison County Sheriff's Department noted that, while the results of standard toxicology tests are still pending, "no illegal narcotics were found at the residence."
Baio soon backtracked on his earlier comments, attempting to clarify his statements by explaining that he had no idea that Moran had been diagnosed with cancer. "Please stop assuming the worse [sic] in me. I'm a compassionate person," Baio said in a Facebook post, trying to defend himself against the wave of hate that'd been sent his way on social media. "I'm very heartbroken over her passing, especially since it was cancer."
Her husband shared a heartbreaking letter
On April 25, 2017, just a few days after Moran's death, Baio shared an open letter penned by Moran's husband on Facebook, detailing the actress' battle with cancer. The star had apparently started coughing up blood in her sleep in November of 2016, and later sought medical help sometime during the following month. After receiving a diagnosis of "squamous cell carcinoma," Moran started receiving weekly chemotherapy treatments as well as radiation treatments five times a week. But, unfortunately, Moran succumbed to her illness quickly. "By the middle of February, Erin could no longer speak or eat or drink," Fleischmann wrote. "She had a feeding tube implant and i feed [sic] her 6 to 8 times a day."
"On the 21st she was having trouble breathing [sic]," he continued. "She woke up on the 22nd, she was not 100%. … She was there watching TV in bed. I laid [sic] down next to her held her right hand in my left. I feel [sic] asleep woke up about a [sic] hour later still holding her hand and she was gone, she was just gone."
Moran kept her sickness secret from her family
In an interview with The Sun, Moran's brother Tony admits that neither he nor their other siblings knew of the Happy Days star's cancer diagnosis. As such, they were completely caught off-guard when news outlets began reporting of her passing. "I didn't even realize she was sick, never mind dying," he told the paper on April 30, 2017. "When I found out, I bawled like a baby. I couldn't believe she was gone."
Tony had hardly seen his sister in recent years, but, after spotting photos of her in a magazine, he worried about her well-being. "Looking at that photo of her ravaged face, I felt sick to my stomach. She looked like she was about to die," he said. Tony, who also noted that their violent father and pill-addicted mother caused them to lead unhappy childhoods, suspected that her death was connected to a history of substance abuse, adding that, "Erin was a tortured soul who never recovered after Happy Days. Hollywood chewed her up and spat her out."
She will be missed
While she may have stepped away from the public eye years ago, Moran will be missed by many who remember her as an actress whose time in the spotlight ended far too soon. Several actors, many of whom never even shared the small screen with her, offered their condolences regarding Moran's passing on social media.
"So saddened and heartbroken for the passing of Erin Moran," The Brady Bunch (1969-74) actress Maureen McCormick tweeted. "My heartfelt condolences to all her friends and family."
"R.I.P. Erin Moran…a very kind-hearted lady. Gone too soon!" Elvira (real name Cassandra Peterson) wrote.
"She was my first official crush," former SNL (1975-) star Chris Kattan tweeted out. "You will be missed Erin Moran. RIP."
Rest in peace, Erin. We'll miss you.
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