At 14, Erin Moran landed the TV role of Joanie Cunningham on the 1974 sitcom “Happy Days,” playing the kid-sister in the mid-1950s Milwaukee family.
She was already an accomplished veteran TV child actress of the small screen. Her mother, Sharon, had the second youngest child of six signed up with an agent by the age of five; while her father, Edward, worked as a finance manager.
Five-year-old Erin’s first acting job was a television commercial for First Federal Bank. She was later cast in 1968 as Jenny Jones in the 1966-1969 television adventure series “Daktari.” That same year, she made her feature film debut in “How Sweet It Is!” She acted alongside the talents of Debbie Reynolds and James Garner (Look for “Laverne & Shirley’s” Penny Marshall, who also appeared in the movie).
In 1972, Erin was a regular on the short-lived sitcom “The Don Rickles Show.” She’d also made guest appearances on “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” “Bearcats,” “Family Affair,” “Gunsmoke,” “My Three Sons,” “Death Valley Days,” “The F.B.I.” and television movie “Lisa, Bright and Dark.”
In the first season of “Happy Days,” Erin Moran’s role as Joanie Cunningham wasn’t seen much. TV story line plots consisted of Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and his high school pals with their leather-jacket adult mentor Fonzie (Henry Winkler).
Her role grew on “Happy Days” for the next few seasons. When Scott Baio came aboard “Happy Days” as Fonzie’s kid cousin Chachi Arcola in 1977, he pursued Joanie Cunningham without her being interested in him.
By the seventh season, a romance blossomed between Joanie and Chachi. After this season, Ron Howard left “Happy Days.” In the eight season, story line plot revolved around the teenage couple, which led them to leave for the TV flop “Joanie Loves Chachi.” Erin Moran and Scott Baio returned to “Happy Days.”
By the end of the long-running 1974-1984 sitcom, Joanie and Chachi were happily married in the Cunningham backyard.
After the television show, Erin Moran found it hard to find television and movie roles, except for an appearance on “Murder, She Wrote.” During her “Happy Days” career, she appeared in “The Waltons,” three times on “The Love Boat,” “Hotel, Glitter,” “Greatest Heroes of the Bible,” and the variety show “The Captain and Tennille.”
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She starred also opposite of Edward Albert in the 1981 science fiction/horror cult classic “Galaxy of Terror,” another TV movie “Twirl” with “Facts of Life” star Lisa Whelchel, and a voice-over in the cartoon movie “The Magic Pony.”
Her first husband, singer Rocky Ferguson, despised Erin’s “Happy Days” fame and made her deny being the television actress on the program to fans that approached her in public. In 1993, she divorced him and later that same year married Steven Fleischmann.
Her California home was foreclosed on in 2010, and she was served an eviction notice. She moved with her new husband to Indiana to live in her mother-in-law’s trailer home, but later, she was kicked out of the trailer park due to excessive partying.
Nevertheless, Erin made a cameo appearance as herself in the 1996 theatrical comedy movie “Dear God” and two years later appeared on “Diagnosis: Murder.” Then, she continued to work in reality shows, award programs, television movies, game shows, retrospectives, the 2010 comedy “Not Another B Movie,” and the daytime soap opera “The Bold and The Beautiful.”
Also, Erin joined “Happy Days” former co-stars Marion Ross, Anson Williams, Don Most, and the estate of Tom Bosley in filing on April 19, 2011 a $10 million-breach-of-contract lawsuit against CBS, which owns the show, for merchandising rights.
In July 2012, the lawsuit was settled, and each TV actor/actress was awarded a judgment of $65,000. On April 22, 2017, authorities in Corydon, Indiana, found an unresponsive 56-year-old woman, who was later identified as Erin Moran. She was pronounced dead on the scene.
When Scott Baio first learned of his former “Happy Days” co-star’s tragic death, he told the press that she died of a heroin overdose. After all, he knew that she suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction. However, it wasn’t the case.
Erin’s husband, Steven Fleischmann, revealed that the former “Happy Days” co-star was under a physician’s care for throat cancer by 2016 Thanksgiving. An autopsy report from the Harrison County coroner’s office stated that no illegal substances were found in her system, but the cause of death was likely due to complications of stage four squamous carcinoma of the throat.
Carl G. White