Erin Moran, the actress best known for playing Joanie Cunningham on beloved sitcom Happy Days and its spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi, has died, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 56.
Harrison County Sheriff’s Office in Indiana revealed that the cause of death was likely “complications of stage 4 cancer,” per the Wrap.
Moran began her career as a child actress, starring in commercials starting at age five. She appeared in films such as 1968’s How Sweet It Is! with Debbie Reynolds and Melvin Van Peebles’ Watermelon Man in 1970 alongside TV shows Daktari, the Don Rickles Show, My Three Sons and the Courtship of Eddie’s Father.
But it was her role as Joanie Cunningham, the smart-aleck younger sister to Ron Howard’s Richie, that would earn Moran the role of her career. Hired at age 12, the actress would portray Cunningham from the show’s 1974 debut through season nine of the show. In season five, the show introduced Charles “Chachi” Arcola (Scott Baio), the cousin of Henry Winkler’s Arthur Fonzarelli, who would later become Moran’s on-screen love interest.
“Such sad sad news. RIP Erin,” Howard tweeted Saturday. “I’ll always choose to remember you on our show making scenes better, getting laughs and lighting up tv screens.”
In 1982, Moran and Baio left the show to star in the Happy Days spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi. The spinoff found the pair relocating to Chicago in the mid-Sixties and trying to make it a singer-songwriter duo. The show lasted two seasons before ABC cancelled it due to low ratings. She returned to Happy Days in 1983 for its final season.
Winkler added, “OH Erin… now you will finally have the peace you wanted so badly here on earth …Rest In It serenely now.. too soon.”
Following the cancellation of Joanie Loves Chachi and the end of Happy Days, Moran, still just in her early 20s, struggled to land another major part, settling for small roles on The Love Boat and other TV series. Disenchanted by Hollywood, Moran moved to the California mountains. The actress would later admit she suffered from depression in the mid Eighties as her career dried up. In recent years, it was later revealed that Moran’s California home was foreclosed on and the actress and her husband had relocated to a trailer in Indiana.
Moran continued to act following the end of Happy Days in 1984 – albeit more sporadically – appearing in numerous TV shows (Murder, She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder), reality series (Celebrity Fit Club) and the film Not Another B Movie, which was her final role in 2010.
Don Most, who played Ralph Malph on Happy Days, said in a statement, “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 [Bosley], Al [Molinaro], Pat [Morita] and Garry [Marshall]. Rest In Peace, sweet Erin.”