Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Erin Moran 'Battled Demons' & Was 'Nobody' after Hollywood 'Chewed Her up and Spat Her Out'

Busayo Ogunjimi
Apr 06, 2022
07:30 A.M.
Share this pen

Hollywood abandoned Erin Moran, the same industry she poured her heart and soul into, and she never recovered from it. She passed away from throat cancer, and her siblings chose to remember her as a good-hearted person, but who was she really?


Erin Moran's growth happened under the watch of thousands of people while she played Joanie Cunningham on the hit TV series "Happy Days." 

Moran had been a 13-year-old when she debuted on-screen with her role as Joanie Cunningham, the younger sister of Richie Cunningham on "Happy Days." The show kicked off in January 1974, and it quickly gained popularity.

[Left] Erin Moran as a child entertainer; [Right]Erin Moran on June 18, 2009 | Source: Getty Images


Everyone liked it, but as for Moran, it was not an easy thing to endure. According to what she said in a 2008 interview with the "Today" show, she found the fame somewhat overwhelming, but thankfully she was on good terms with the crew, and they did their best to make the experience better for her.

"It was so much fun with these guys," she said. "They made it better, they made it easier. I loved it. I had such a good time."

Moran's character was a love interest of Chachi, a character played by Scott Baio. The sitcom was set in the 1950s, and it ran until 1984. Moran also featured along with Baio in the short-lived spinoff "Joanie Loves Chachi," which started in 1982.


Erin Moran from the "Happy Days" Season 2 gallery on July 10, 1975. | Source: Getty Images

Moran was born to Sharon, a woman who used drugs as her getaway while she struggled to raise her kids, and Edward, who had been a loan collector and an aggressive drunk who ruled their home with physical abuse. 


"My dad was a violent man[...]," Tony, her brother, once said. "Thankfully he never beat Erin, as by then she was famous and untouchable, but she witnessed it all and longed to have parents who were loving instead of the horrible parents they were."

They raised her in North Hollywood, California, and by the time she clocked six, the little girl had already been in her first advert. This may have been because her mom had dreams of becoming famous, but she chose to live vicariously through her daughter because she knew that would be impossible.

Erin Moran poses for Walt Disney Television in 1983. | Source: Getty Images


"Mum dreamt of being famous, so lived her life through Erin. When she wasn't on set with her, she was in bed, off her head on painkillers," Tony revealed in 2017.

After her first advert, she appeared in several other TV roles before eventually securing the part of Joanie at the age of 13. As the years passed, Moran and her freckled face received recognition, after which she became a household name on the show.

The exposure and the crew did more good for her than bad, especially since her family was dysfunctional. Her time with the show's crew was one of the best times of her life because the crew became a tight-knit family in more ways than one.


Erin Moran during Halloween Extravaganza at the Chiller Theater in New Jersey, on October 28, 2006. | Source: Getty Images

Tony said those years were "the most content I ever saw Erin" and added: "Her castmates were the stable family she never had growing up."


Despite her sad upbringing, Moran knew how to blend with people; Marion Ross, one of the crew members, described her as a talented performer with the uncanny ability to adapt to the demands of school while filming.

"She would go to school, and she would come back after a break and would have to fit into all the jokes we were doing on the set and pick up fast exactly where we were — which she could," Ross said in a telephone interview with NBC Los Angeles. "She was the quickest, fastest little kid. Wonderful."

Erin Moran in North Hollywood, California on June 23, 2001. | Source: Getty Images


As she got older, producers from the "Happy Days" show started trying to get her to lose weight, pushing her to go into drugs. As she got older, she began to dabble in different substances, starting with alcohol and then drugs. 

When she was at her peak, Moran would allegedly buy anything she desired regardless of what it was, but according to her brother, "It was too much, too young, and the wheels started to fall off." Moran had no other prospects when the show was canceled in 1984, and her career collapsed.

Erin Moran arrives at the Fox Reality Channel Really Awards at the Avalon Hollywood club on September 24, 2008 | Source: Getty Images



The first man Moran married was Rocky Ferguson; however, after six years, the marriage ended in divorce. Years after their marriage ended, she revealed that the upcoming actor had wished nobody knew her and had asked her to deny her own identity whenever anyone asked.

"He wanted me to lie about who I was and if anyone recognized me to say no I wasn't," she said. "And that's the pressure he put on me."

She also hinted that she believed he exhibited such behavior because he wanted to be the center of attention but refused to explain what she meant. "I really don't want to delve into his personality or why he did things," she said. "I don't even want to go there because it's pointless."


Erin Moran appears at the First Official TV Land Convention at the Burbank Airport Hilton on August 16, 2003. | Source: Getty Images.


The same year she divorced her first husband, Moran married Walmart employee Steve, and together they moved into his mom's trailer so the former "Happy Days" star could care for her.


In truth, it may have been because they were down on their luck; Moran had not been receiving any calls for her talents, and for someone who had enjoyed fame, it hit her hard. 

"Nobody wanted to book her, as everyone thought of her as Joanie. I cannot begin to imagine how hard that was for her," her brother said. "Erin loved fame, so when she didn't have it any more she fell apart."

Erin Moran and Steve Fleischmann during LG Mobile TV Party in Hollywood on June 19, 2007. | Source: Getty Images


Tony called it a "false love but the only one she really knew," and as each day passed without receiving jobs, Moran sank deeper into anguish. She kept drinking, and two years after moving into her mother-in-law's home, the woman threw them out because Moran returned home drunk.

"She thought of herself as a failure. As each day, each week, each month and each year went by without the phone ringing, the panic she felt became all-consuming."

For that same reason, Tony was not surprised that she was heavily abusing substances; "She wanted to numb the pain," he revealed.

Erin Moran at the launch party for DeeDee Bigelow's episode on "Surreal Life" on March 14, 2007. | Source: Getty Images


Moran's depression was absolute, and as years passed, she completely segregated herself from her siblings. Before she passed on, Tony admitted that the last time he saw her was in a magazine article that claimed she was homeless and was an addict.

"Looking at that photo of her ravaged face I felt sick to my stomach. She looked like she was about to die," he said. "Erin was a strong, ballsy woman who never wanted to accept help from anyone." He had hoped she would come out of it eventually, but that day never came.

Actress Erin Moran poses for a portrait in circa 1980. | Source: Getty Images



As years passed, Moran got more open about what had happened to her. In 2012, while she lived with her hubby at the Super 8 motel in Corydon, Indiana, the former star would visit O'Charley's bar and restaurant near the motel and remain there for the whole afternoon.

Amanda Richard, a bartender at the bar she frequented, said she always ordered a vodka neat. "She was fine, and then a little switch would go off, and she'd get belligerent. One of our managers asked her to leave more than a few times," he told People.

Richard was her listening ear, one of her last living fans whom she believed recognized her as the fallen angel she was. "She told me how depressed and upset she was, mostly that she'd lost all her money," Richard said. "'You know who I am,' she'd say, and talk about the days when she was a star."


Erin Moran on June 18, 2009 in North Hollywood, California | Source: Getty Images

Her husband never joined her in those drinking sessions, and most times, Richard was the only one willing to hear what she had to say. 


According to him, Moran would often talk about how she was "having a rough time" and was "in a rough spot," or would say things like, "Nobody cares about me."

The bartender also talked about how kind-hearted Moran had been towards him. "But she was a big, kind soul," adds Richard. "She was always trying to cheer me up, if I had a difficult table, or I was having trouble with my mom."

The cast of 'Happy Days" on January 15, 1974 | Source: Getty Images


to People, Moran also frequented the "Bike Night" every Wednesday at Beef' O' Brady's bar and restaurant in Corydon because they featured live bands playing on the back patio. Bartender Stephanie Thomas alleged that Moran would take a few drinks before leaving for the patio. Thomas 



"She was usually the first one to get up and dance. She loved to just dance."

Moran passed on without a penny to her name in a trailer park in 2017 at 56. After learning about her death, her brother Tony said: "My first thoughts were that she must have had a heart attack caused by years of substance abuse.


He also added: "She has always battled demons, and in recent years things have gone from bad to worse." According to him:

"She found true happiness on Happy Days and was America's sweetheart. But then she was a nobody . . . and it broke her heart."

She realized she was ill after waking up in November 2016 to find blood on her pillow. It led to a diagnosis that pointed to stage 4 cancer, but Moran chose not to alert her siblings. Tony said: "As a young girl, anyone that met Erin was bowled over."


"It was like you were meeting a thunderbolt; she had such a vibrant personality, always happy and full of energy. She charmed the pants off anyone she met without even trying. That's the Erin we want to remember and celebrate," Tony said at her death.

He also declared that "she had such a huge heart, it was just too big for Hollywood." It's been years since then, but the world still remembers the things she did as Joanie.