Actress Erin Moran, best-known for her role as Joanie Cunningham on the hit TV series “Happy Days” has died. She was 56.
According to reports, Harrison County, Indiana police were responding to a call about an “unresponsive female” late Saturday afternoon. The woman was identified as Erin Moran Fleischmann and was pronounced dead at the scene. A police dispatcher confirmed the actress had been married to Steven Fleischmann.
A Burbank, California native, Moran “had nearly a decade’s worth of experience when she was cast in 1974 in ‘Happy Days’ as Joanie Cunningham, the kid sister to high school student Richie Cunningham, played by Ron Howard,” according to The Associated Press. The nostalgia-based sitcom, created by Garry Marshall, was set in 1950s Milwaukee and became a huge hit for ABC. While Howard and Henry Winkler, who co-starred as Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli, were the show’s biggest stars, Moran quickly became a fan favorite.
Social media Saturday night was filled with tributes to the actress, including Ron Howard, who tweeted: “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 also expressed his sadness via Twitter:
OH Erin… now you will finally have the peace you wanted so badly here on earth …Rest In It serenely now.. too soon
— Henry Winkler (@hwinkler4real) April 23, 2017
Beginning at age six, Moran starred as Jenny in the family TV series “Daktari,” which ran on CBS from 1966-1969. She made her feature film debut in the 1968’s “How Sweet It Is!” opposite Debbie Reynolds.
Moran was eventually cast on the “Happy Days” spin-off “Joanie Loves Chachi” opposite Scott Baio, though the actress revealed in a 2009 interview with Xfinity that she did not hold the new (and short-lived) show in high regard. “I liked working with the people. But I didn’t even want to do it,” she said. “I was talked into it. I wanted to stay on ‘Happy Days.’ They were running them at the same time.”
Her career was anything but happy or successful once “Joanie Loves Chachi” was cancelled. Moran’s last credited film role was in the 2010 comedy “Not Another B Movie,” which was filmed in Chicago and several surrounding suburbs. The film was a spoof of the behind-the-scenes goings on during the filming of a low-budget horror film.
Her most recent television show was the 2008 VH1 reality/competition series “Celebrity Fit Club.” Other TV credits included “The Love Boat,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Diagnosis Murder” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
Moran also made guest appearances at memorabilia/comic book shows and conventions, including Com-Con in San Diego, where she would participate in autograph sessions. In 2002, she was also among the ever-changing celebrity cast of “The Vagina Monologues” at The Apollo Theater in Chicago.
In 2011, Moran and “Happy Days” co-stars Marion Ross, Anson Williams and Donny Most sued CBS for breach of contract, alleging the cast members were not compensated for revenue derived from merchandising deals (including sales of T-shirts, lunch boxes, dolls, DVDs) as a result of the TV series, which aired from 1974-1984. The original $10 million suit also alleging fraud, was originally thrown out of court, but in 2012 the three stars (and the estate of the late Tom Bosley who died in 2010) settled with the network for a reported payment of $65,000 apiece.
Variety.com earlier in the night reported “the California-born actress … had fallen on hard times in recent years. She was reportedly kicked out of her trailer park home in Indiana, according to tabloid reports, because of her hard-partying ways.”
In a 2007 interview on popcultureaddict.com, Moran was asked how she would like to be remembered.
“[As] both — Erin and Joanie,” she said. “When somebody accidentally calls me Joanie and they apologize I say, ‘don’t apologize. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.'”
An autopsy into Moran’s cause of death is pending.
Contributing: Associated Press