Erin Moran: From 'Happy Days' To Not-So-Happy Days

Entertainment | September 8, 2018

Left: Tom Bosley, Erin Moran, and Scott Baio on 'Joanie Loves Chachi.' Right: Erin Moran publicity photo cfrom 1983. Source: IMDB; Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images via Getty Images

For Erin Moran, performing on Daktari, Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi made her one of the most famous child stars and young television actresses of her day. Unfortunately, Moran's story ended like that of too many child actors who struggle to sustain their careers into adulthood -- with financial misfortune and, ultimately, tragedy. Though fans of Happy Days and her other work were shocked to learn of her death in 2017, she left behind a TV legacy that continues to be enjoyed to this day thanks to the enduring appeal of Happy Days.

Erin Moran's Promising Career

Erin Moran with castmates from 'Happy Days.' Source: Photo by ABC Photo Archives - © 2007 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. via IMDB

Erin Moran, as we all know, became quite popular through her child role on Happy Days as little Joanie Cunningham. Unlike the majority of most actors and actresses, she began acting at quite an early age. Her first exposure to acting was in a commercial for a bank at the age of five years old.

Left: Erin Moran on Daktari. Right: Publicity photo of Moran as a child star. Sources: Wikimedia Commons, thetimes.co.uk

On Daktari, Moran played Jenny Jones, a little orphan girl. The show was about a veterinarian and his family in Africa who were trying to take care of and protect the animals from poachers and other dangers in the area. Erin was just six years old when she was cast for this role, which was in the last season of the show in 1968-69.

It was also in the year of 1968 that she made her first film debut with Debbie Reynolds in How Sweet It Is! which was a comedy. Before her popular role in Happy Days, she made guest appearances on other shows like The Don Rickles Show, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Family Affair, and a few others.

The Fun Times Of 'Happy Days' And Joanie Loves Chachi'

Erin Moran with Tom Bosley from 'Happy Days' and her 'Joanie Loves Chachi' co-star Scott Baio. Source: IMDB

The role we all remember her the best in though was her role with the Happy Days gang. At the age of 13, she was the charming and witty “Shortcake” as Fonzie so lovingly called her. Her older brother Richie, played by Ron Howard, was always protecting her -- he even tried to protect her from getting her heart broken by his friend Potsie, whom she had a crush on. She was mesmerized by Potsie, especially when he was singing to her. Potsie very graciously let her down easy though. Later, of course, she fell in love with Chachi, who was Fonzie’s cousin, played by Scott Baio, who was a teen heartthrob in those days. Erin Moran and Scott Baio would later have their own show called Joanie Loves Chachi that was short-lived, but memorable.

The Unhappiness Of The 'Happy Days' Cast

Erin Moran with Scott Baio. Source: IMDB

As great as Happy Days was, it did not always produce happy results. Erin said in an interview, in later years, that the producers of Happy Days wanted her to suddenly go from being a child (at the age of 15) on the show to a sexier character, even asking her to lose weight to go along with the new look.

In 2011, some of the cast members filed a lawsuit against CBS, the owner of the show, for breaching their contracts regarding merchandise revenues. The actors were supposed to get a 5% revenue from any and all items sold that featured their likenesses pertaining to the show – pictures, cups, T-shirts, trading cards, toys, lunchboxes, comic books, slot machines – even group items. It was $10 million lawsuit, which the cast members eventually won. In 2012, the actors settled and received $65,000 each. If Erin benefited from the law suit, it was quickly spent.

Difficulties Out Of The Spotlight

After Happy Days, Erin headed down a different road. She married in 1987, to Rocky Ferguson, and the pair divorced six years later. Reportedly, he was very jealous of her career and did not want anyone to recognize her when they were out and about. 

After the divorce, she married Steven Fleishchmann, to who she stayed married until her death. Fleischmann, as was widely reported, worked at Wal-mart. After awhile, Moran became very depressed -- possibly due to not being able to get adult roles after Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi had ended. It wasn’t long before she and her husband were in a bad financial state and they lost their home to foreclosure. They moved in with her mother-in-law in a trailer park, but she eventually kicked them out, stating that she could not take Erin's addictive behavior and partying all the time.

From Hard Times To Hard News

Erin Moran at the 62nd Mother Goose Parade in El Cajon, California, in 2008. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 2016, Erin was diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer, which according to her husband, was not discovered for some time. It started out as just a small spot of blood on her pillowcase, which they thought was a simple case of her biting her tongue or something; but then it happened again and was bigger, and then again a third time. By the time they finally got the diagnosis, it was already aggressive. She started chemotherapy and was doing okay (or so they thought) until one day (which happened to be the anniversary of when they first met), they were laying down taking a nap holding hands. When her husband woke up, she was dead (at only 56 years of age).

While the actress' life came to an end in a mobile home in a rural community in Indiana, we'll always remember her as cute little Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days.   

Tags: Celebrities In The 1960s | Celebrities When They Were Young | Child Actors | Childhood Crushes | Erin Moran | Happy Days | Rare Facts And Stories About History | The 1960s | Then And Now

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Terry Claypoole


Terry is a lover of the beach, history, politics and has a passion for social media and technology. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach (of course) enjoying the sand and sun and listening to music from the groovy era.