Erin Moran, a child actress best known for her role as Joanie Cunningham on the hit tv sitcom, Happy Days (1974-1984) has passed away at the age of 56. As I write this, a cause of death has not yet been published. I don’t want to speculate, but she was not known to be suffering from any specific illness, so drugs and/or alcohol are distinct possibilities.
Erin Marie Moran was born on October 18, 1960 in Burbank, CA., the fifth of six children. She demonstrated an interest in acting at a very young age. She landed her first role at the age of six in the tv series Daktari. She followed this up with a series of movie roles, such as How Sweet It Is with Debbie Reynolds, and various guest appearances on tv, on shows such as My Three Sons and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.
Her big break came in 1974 when she was cast as Joanie Cunningham in the hit tv sitcom, Happy Days. The show ran until 1984. It depicted a somewhat idealistic version of life in the 1950s and 1960s and was very popular among teens and young adults. Although it was most notable for renewing the career of Ron Howard, originally famous for the role of “Opie Taylor” on The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968) and for introducing “The Fonz,” one of the most iconic characters in tv history, played by Henry Winkler, Moran acquitted herself well as Howard’s teenage sister. Later, she starred in a spin-off series, Joanie Loves Chachi with Scott Baio, which, unfortunately, only lasted a few years..
After that show was cancelled Moran’s life and career went into a sharp decline. She married, divorced and remarried. Acting roles dried up. In recent years she suffered from depression, her house was foreclosed and she was living in her mother-in-law’s trailer home in Indiana, where she was found dead.
Moran’s story is not uncommon in Hollywood, where successful child actors are often unable to cope with life as adults. In recent years, there have been dozens of instances of out-of-control entertainers, such as Drew Barrymore (drugs, multiple stints in rehab) and Lindsay Lohan (drugs and alcohol abuse) as well as premature deaths, such as Heath Ledger (prescription drug overdose) and Lee Thompson Young (suicide).
One would hope that others who are heading down the same path would learn from this and get control of their lives before it is too late. But, unfortunately, I don’t believe most of them will.