Happy Days’ star Erin Moran – known for her role as Ron Howard’s sister Joanie Cunningham on the beloved sitcom – died at age 56, and the cause of death was likely stage four cancer, according to authorities in Indiana.
Moran’s Happy Days co-stars and other friends have already issued a series of heartfelt tributes about the woman who was only a young teenager when she joined the Milwaukee-based sitcom that captured the innocence of the 1950s; they’ve praised her sweet and caring nature and lamented that she has died so young. On Twitter, many people said that Happy Days was part of their childhood, making Moran’s death especially sad.
She is believed to have died in Indiana of complications of Stage 4 cancer, the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department said in a press release. An autopsy was completed by the Harrison County Coroner’s Office.
Moran’s husband, Steven Fleischmann, has released a moving statement on her death, in which he says Moran died of throat cancer peacefully while sleeping at his side and holding his hand.
Other details about her cancer battle haven’t been released.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Moran Was Found ‘Unresponsive’ & Henry Winkler Says She Will Now Have the Peace She ‘Wanted So Badly Here on Earth’
Moran was already dead when her body was discovered.
According to TMZ, “authorities in Indiana got a call just after 4 PM ET Saturday from someone reporting an ‘unresponsive female.’ EMT’s arrived and found Erin Moran’s body … she was already dead.”
It was unclear who reported the situation to police. The statement from the Harrison County Sheriff’s Department read that a dispatcher “received a 911 call about an unresponsive female. Upon arrival of first responders, it was determined that Erin Moran Fleischmann was deceased. An autopsy is pending.”
Henry Winkler, Moran’s co-star on Happy Days who played the iconic character of “The Fonz,” responded to news of Moran’s death with an emotional Twitter post. He wrote, “OH Erin… now you will finally have the peace you wanted so badly here on earth …Rest In It serenely now.. too soon.”
Other Happy Days co-stars and friends also remembered Moran’s gentle nature.
“She truly cared about others first, a true angel. I will miss her so much…she is in God’s hands,” said Anson Williams, who played Potsie on the series.
Don Most (who played Ralph) released a statement that said, “I am so incredibly sad to hear about Erin. She was a wonderful, sweet, caring, talented woman. As I write this I can’t really comprehend this right now. A very painful loss. It gives me some comfort to know that she’s with Tom, Al, Pat and Garry. Rest In Peace, sweet Erin.”
Fans expressed shock on Twitter. One simply wrote, capturing the overall sentiment: “Wow didn’t see that coming #ErinMoran #HappyDays great memories.” Another wrote, “We lost Joanie!!”
2. Moran Had Been Kicked Out of a Trailer Park With Her Husband & Ron Howard Called Her Death ‘Sad, Sad News’
Moran’s days of stardom were waning and, at the time of her death, she had fallen on tough times.
Daily Variety reports, “She was reportedly kicked out of her trailer park in Indiana, along with her husband, because of their hard-partying ways.”
She had money problems despite winning a $65,000 settlement in 2012 with CBS “over merchandising payments from Happy Days,” reports The New York Daily News.
Ron Howard, Moran’s Happy Days brother, 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.”
3. Moran Was a Child Actress & Equated Happy Days to a Family
Moran was best known for her role in Happy Days as Ron Howard’s sister, Joanie Cunningham. Moran grew up with TV viewers; she was only 14-years-old when she took on the role that would make her a television series’ legend.
According to The Associated Press, she was a childhood actress even before Happy Days, getting her start in Hollywood at age 10. She was born in Burbank, California.
In the 1980s, she also starred with Scott Baio in the spin off Joanie Loves Chachi, but it was short-lived. She told Xfinity that she was talked into doing it: “I don’t have any favorite episodes from Joanie Loves Chachi. I liked working with the people. But I didn’t even want to do it. I was talked into it. I wanted to stay on Happy Days. They were running them at the same time.”
According to PIX 11, she also had roles on Murder, She Wrote, Desperation Boulevard, and Celebrity Fit Club.
In a 2009 interview, Moran described the deep emotional bonds among Happy Days cast members.
“What happened with all of us was like we were this family. It was so surreal with all the cast members,” she said in the interview with Xfinity. “There was another moment where we forgot we were doing scenes. We forgot we were acting. They were my family, get it?”
4. The Cause off Death Is Not Yet Clear & Sheriff’s Deputies Found Her Body
Moran, who was living in a trailer park in New Salisbury, Indiana, struggled throughout the years with alcohol, a home foreclosure, and other issues that hit the news. But authorties do not believe that caused her death, despite a report by the Daily Mail that Moran died of a suspected heroin overdose. The Daily Mail is now reporting that no drug paraphernalia was found near her body and no drugs were found in Moran’s home.
Results of toxicology tests are still pending.
Moran was found “by Harrison County dispatch officers in Indiana responding to an ‘unresponsive female’ report. Upon arriving at the scene, officers identified Moran and she (was) pronounced dead at the scene, a Harrison County Sheriff official confirmed,” reports The Hollywood Reporter.
5. Moran Had Problems With Drinking & in Her Long-Term Marriage
TMZ reports that drinking issues led Moran to the hard times. Despite reports of troubles in her marriage four years ago, The New York Daily News reports that her name was Erin Marie Moran Fleischmann at the time of death.
“A combination of drinking and bizarre behavior” are what “eventually landed her in a trailer park in Indiana. She had run out of money and was reportedly kicked out of the mobile home she shared with husband Steve Fleischmann,” reports TMZ.
The tabloids had a field day in 2013, reporting that Moran and Fleischmann were on the rocks. According to the UK Daily Mail, Fleischmann was seven years younger than Moran, and the pair had been married for 20 years at that time.
They ended up in the National Enquirer, which reported that they had “moved out of the mobile home they shared with his mother in New Salisbury, Indiana after moving to a trailer park earlier this year following the foreclosure of their California home,” according to UK Daily Mail, which said the couple was “staying in low-budget hotels since.”
Moran was trying to turn her life around, neighbors told the Daily Mail. David Holt said he she was “trying to sort out her problems,” including with alcohol, before her death.
“She had problems. Everybody’s got problems and she was working through the problems to try and better herself. You have to understand she was such a nice lady she’d walk up and down the street and she was always waving. She was a good lady,” Holt said.