April 28, 2017

Erin Moran, Who Played Joanie on 'Happy Days,' Dies at 56

On April 22, 2017, former child actress Erin Moran (her legal name was Erin Marie Moran-Fleischmann) passed away from complications of stage 4 cancer at age 56.  Erin Moran was perhaps best known her role as Joanie Cunningham on TV's "Happy Days" which ran on ABC from 1974 to 1983.  Before playing Joanie Cunningham on "Happy Days", Ms. Moran played an orphan on "Daktari," a late-1960's drama about a veterinarian protecting wildlife in East Africa, and a daughter on the sitcom "The Don Rickles Show." She also appeared in "Family Affair," "Gunsmoke," "My Three Sons" and "The FBI" among other shows.

Hollywood Reporter featured a video clip to note the star's passing which can be watched by visiting http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/erin-moran-dead-happy-days-star-dies-at-56-996584.

After "Happy Days", she subsequently went on to star on her own spinoff show centered around her character's relationship with Chachi Arcola (Scott Baio) in "Joanie Loves Chachi" which ran on ABC for just 17 episodes from 1982-1983.  After some guest appearances on "The Love Boat" and "Murder She Wrote," she had no screen credits from 1986 until 1998, and only three between 1986 and 2008 (including "Desperation Boulevard," and "Celebrity Fit Club"), according to IMDB.

According to a joint statement from the Harrison County [Indiana] Sheriff Rod Seelye and Coroner Gary Gilley, "Harrison County dispatch received a 911 call referencing an unresponsive female" on Saturday [April 22, 2017] at approximately 4:07 PM local time. "Upon the arrival of first responders, it was determined that Erin Marie Moran-Fleischmann was deceased. An autopsy is pending."

Official autopsy results were still pending when the news of her death was announced.  A statement from the Coroner said standard toxicology tests were performed and the results were still pending, but added that no illegal narcotics were found at the residence.  The subsequent autopsy results revealed that Mrs. Fleischmann [sic] Moran had likely succumbed to complications of stage 4 cancer.

Steven Fleischmann and Erin Moran attend 'A Mother's Day Salute to TV Moms' at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences May 6, 2008 in North Hollywood, California.
Her husband, Steven Fleischmann said that the Coroner told him that the cancer had spread to her spleen, she had fluid in her lungs and part of her brain was infected.

When it was announced, the official statement did not specify what kind of cancer Moran had — but several friends later said that she had been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for throat cancer.

Born in 1960, its appropriate to acknowledge that based on her date of birth, Erin Moran was not technically a Gen Xer, but a late Baby Boomer.  Some call late Baby Boomers "Generation Jones" (see http://www.generationjones.com/), which certainly applies to Erin Moran.  As I've documented in previous posts (see https://goo.gl/DPruQP and https://goo.gl/QY1okg for more), generational boundaries are fuzzy (and most observers note that Gen X has the most overlap with both the Baby Boom and Millennial generations, estimated to be 5 years, and even that is questionable since Gen X was defined as only around 15 years instead of the 20 years for the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations).  But given her age and experiences growing up, Erin Moran could easily have been a Gen Xer, and most likely was.  Her passing marks a sad ending for a woman whose life was marked by unsubstantiated reports of alcohol abuse and other strange behavior in the years following her time on television.  She was living with her husband and his family in southern Indiana, although the tabloids even reported that she was homeless after being evicted from a trailer park.

In 2012, the national celebrity tabloid/gossip rag/scandal sheet the National Enquirer, long known for fake news/outright lies, said that Moran and her second husband, Steve Fleischmann, had been evicted from their trailer in New Salisbury, Indiana by his mother, and the Enquirer said the mother claimed she was tired of Erin's "hard partying ways."

The Enquirer added, citing an "unnamed" source (which immediately raises questions about the legitimacy of the statement in the first place), that "Erin was going out to bars and coming home at all hours of the night, sometimes with her rowdy bar friends, and Steve's mom just couldn't take it anymore."

However, at the time of her passing, close friend and actor Steven Wishnoff (age 56), best known for playing Tony Masters on 27 episodes on the prison drama "Oz" told reporters that, in fact, Erin Moran and her husband Steve Fleischmann had actually moved into her mother-in-law's home to care for her husband's elderly mother.  In reality, Moran was living comfortably and far from spiraling.

"She was in a good place," Mr. Wishnoff said. "I know it's not a tragic, sexy story just to say that Erin Moran was looking after her mother-in-law, with a husband who adored her, in a small town in Indiana."

While her former "Happy Days" and "Joanie Loves Chachi" co-star Scott Baio, who is considered by many observers to be a right-wing lunatic who has similarly not worked in Hollywood much more than Moran, initially made a very callous statement based upon the fake news that was reported in the National Enquirer, stating that he wasn't really surprised that Erin Moran died given her addiction to drinking and drugs.  He wrote: "I feel bad because her whole life, she was troubled, could never find what made her happy and content. For me, you do drugs and drink, you're gonna die, and I'm sorry if that's cold," Baio said on the Bernie and Sid radio Show.

Tony Moran, Erin's brother, quickly snapped back at Scott Baio in a Facebook post with a jab about Mr. Baio's supposedly tiny "manhood".  Mr. Moran wrote on Facebook about Baio:  "A special shout out to Scott Baio. I already went on Twitter about you. I hope it finds you. You and my lil sis had a very very brief fling. She dumped you. 2 reasons. 1. She told me that you were more like a lil girl and not a man. 2. She told me that you were tiny. Ya know. Barely a man in the man region. True story! Scott, I'd advise you to get on your knees and pray you never run into me."

Mr. Baio later retracted his statement, and attempted to apologize for what were perceived as cruel and insensitive comments about her death, telling Inside Edition:

"I jumped the gun. I should have known better, but I went with the information that I had. I feel horrible for her. I feel horrible for her family."

He added that he assumed reports of a heroin overdose based on fake news reports from unreliable tabloids were true because "of all the stories about Erin, and that's what I went with."

But aside from petty bickering and insensitive insults from a washed-up TV star who now buys into fake conspiracy theories and other known falsehoods of the sort that are routinely reported in the National Enquirer, Erin Moran's cancer diagnosis occurred rather suddenly, even though she was being treated.

In an open letter shared on Facebook, her grieving husband (Mr. Fleischmann) described how the 56-year-old actress had no idea she was gravely ill until around Thanksgiving in 2016.  By then, it would appear, it was already too late for treatments to have much impact on the cancer.

Mr. Fleishchmann wrote: "Erin woke up and had about a dime size blood stain on her pillowcase. She said I think I bit my tongue ... We get like 4 days into December, there's more blood. I get a flashlight and say let me look. It was not her tongue it was her tonsil and on the left side. I thought it was tonsillitis."

After a visit to an ear, nose and throat doctor, Moran was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. She promptly began radiation and chemotherapy to fight the disease. Unfortunately, it quickly worsened.

"It got so bad so fast," added Mr. Fleischmann. "By the middle of February, Erin could no longer speak or eat or drink. She had a feeding tube implant and I feed her 6 to 8 times a day. She was still happy, she was active, she texted people on her phone all day."

In his lengthy Facebook post, her husband wrote: "She [Erin] woke up on the 22nd, she was not 100%. She needed Kleenex, so I went to the store and came back. She was there watching TV in bed. I laid down next to her held her right hand in my left. I fell (sic) asleep woke up about a hour later still holding her hand and she was gone, she was just gone."

In the end, the real-life Joanie did not love the real-life Chachi.  But her final days were spent in the company of her loved ones.  But aside from Mr. Baio, most of her other former castmates from "Happy Days" expressed their genuine condolences on social media.

Ron Howard, who played her brother Richie Cunningham on "Happy Days" (himself a TV star since he was a child, having starred as Opie in "The Andy Griffith Show" and later becoming a prolific and successful movie producer) wrote:
Henry Winkler, who played The Fonz (Arthur Fonzarelli) on "Happy Days", Tweeted this statement:
Don Most, who starred alongside Moran as the jokester 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, Al, Pat and Garry. Rest In Peace, sweet Erin."

For the record, the people mentioned at the end of his statement were: Tom Bosley who played father Howard Cunningham, along with Al Molinaro (who played the owner of the diner where the "Happy Days" characters hung out Al Delvecchio), and Garry Marshall, who produced "Happy Days", all of whom predeceased Erin Moran.

Anson Williams, who played Richie and Ralph's close friend Potsie on the iconic sitcom, also remembered the actress. "Erin was a person who made everyone around her feel better," the actor wrote in a statement. "She truly cared about others first, a true angel. I will miss her so much, but know that she is in God's hands. RIP sweet angel."

See the USA Today report at http://usat.ly/2pt0DYf and the New York Times at http://nyti.ms/2p4oLgQ for more information about Erin Moran's untimely passing.

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