Erin Moran began her career as a child actress, giving life to the "Happy Days" character Joanie Cunningham. Soon after her fame, she succumbed to drug usage, prompting people to speculate that this was her cause of death at 56. Final autopsy reports claimed otherwise.
Born in Burbank on October 18, 1960, Erin Marie Moran Fleischmann became a child star known for her stint on "Happy Days." Moran brought life to the character Joanie Cunningham and was associated with the role for a long time.
Moran's fame was short-lived, and soon she found herself with a derailed career. The actress eventually turned to alcohol and drugs, with problems piling up. Such a reputation caused speculation that her vices were the cause of her untimely death. She passed away holding the hand of her second husband, Steve Fleischmann.
Erin Moran poses for "Happy Days" in 1974 and a side-by-side photo of her in recent years. | Source: Getty Images
MORAN'S LOVE LIFE
A few years after "Happy Days" ended, Moran tied the knot with Rocky Ferguson and eventually divorced him in 1993. According to the actress, she was unhappy with their unhealthy relationship that was full of pressure. She said:
"He wanted me to lie in who I was, and if anyone recognized me to say no, I wasn't. And that's the pressure he put on me."
Moran found love again with Fleischmann, a Walmart employee she met in 1992. The couple married in 1993 and stayed together until her demise. Although in love, the couple never had kids together. Although she never disclosed why it was alleged that Moran struggled with depression and finances.
Erin Moran poses for Walt Disney Television in 1983. | Source: Getty Images
LIFE AFTER FAME
Navigating her way through life became challenging with an unstable career. Hardships came one after the other, including the reported foreclosure of her California home in 2010. Some news outlets claimed that she refused to vacate her home after the sale despite receiving an eviction notice.
With nowhere else to go, Moran and her husband moved into a trailer in her mother-in-law's backyard. Meanwhile, other reports claimed that social workers found Moran in her Indiana residence.
One day, the former actress awoke to a bloodstain on her pillow, thinking that she bit her tongue.
Marion Ross, Tom Bosley, Ron Howard and Erin Moran in promotional shoot for "Happy Days" in 1974 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images, Public Domain
Her publicist clarified the misleading reports and confirmed that she moved in with her mother-in-law to act as a caregiver. The publicist said, as told by People:
"Erin and her husband did, in fact, move in with her ailing mother-in-law over a year ago. They are helping take care of her, as any loving family would do."
Several publications later reported that Her mother-in-law kicked out Moran after a drunken argument. This allegedly left her homeless, moving from one motel to another with her husband. People tried to reach out and help the actress with her life falling apart, but she always refused.
Erin Moran and Steve Fleischmann during LG Mobile TV Party in Hollywood on June 19, 2007 | Source: Getty Images
Her "Happy Days' co-star, Henry Winkler, particularly offered to help Moran jumpstart her career after seeing Moran's situation. He tried to get her a role on his series "Arrested Development" in desperate hopes of getting back on her feet.
Sadly, it seems that not much happened. Moran was photographed several times looking worse and worse until news about her death surfaced on the internet one day.
Erin Moran on the red carpet at the 62nd Annual Mother Goose Parade in San Diego County, 2008 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons Images, By Popular Press Media Group - CC BY-SA 3.0
MORAN'S TRAGIC PASSING
Moran passed away on April 22, 2017, in her Indiana home. People initially speculated that she died of an overdose. This was amplified after her co-star, Scott Baio, alleged that her excessive drinking and drug abuse caused it. Baio played the character Chachi, Moran's on-screen lover, in "Happy Days." He said:
"For me, you do drugs or drink; you're gonna die."
Erin Moran during Halloween Extravaganza at the Chiller Theater in New Jersey, on October 28, 2006 | Source: Getty Images
THE TRUTH BEHIND HER DEATH
When Baio learned the truth, he tried to save himself by clarifying his statement. "I was asked ONLY about Erin's troubled past due to drug & alcohol abuse. I was still upset and said I felt that living that kind of a lifestyle will catch up with you, and nothing good would come of it," he said.
Moran's brother, Tony, also speculated that her passing was related to drug use. "My first thoughts were she must have had a heart attack caused by years of substance abuse," he said. "She has always battled demons and in recent years have gone from bad to worse."
Moran's husband penned a letter that detailed the last few days of the beloved star and explained her actual cause of death.
It was in November 2016 that Fleischmann and Moran discovered the illness. One day, the former actress awoke to a bloodstain on her pillow, thinking that she bit her tongue. But as days passed, more blood came until they realized it was not from a mouth wound.
After visiting the otolaryngologist, they were asked to do a biopsy. It turned out that it was squamous cell carcinoma. Immediately, Moran started doing radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the treatments were not enough.
She had difficulty breathing on April 21 and woke up feeling ill the next day. Fleischmann mentioned how she needed a tissue, and after he got them for her, they lay in bed watching TV. They spent the night holding hands until her passing on April 22.
"The coroner told me it was really really bad," Fleischmann said. "It had spread to her spleen, she had a lot of fluid in her lungs, and part of her brain was infected. The coroner said even if she was in the hospital being pumped full of antibiotics, she still would not [have] made it."
He was told that she was better with him and that she died in her sleep—a less painful way to exit the world. Moran was remembered well by the people she left behind, including her "Happy Days" castmates who gathered for her memorial.
Moran and Fleischmann planned to celebrate their anniversary in Thunder Over Louisville during her passing. Sadly, it never happened.
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