What Happened to Erin Moran?

I used to want to be Joanie Cunningham, and to some extent, I was. The little sister to my big brother who had his Richie Cunningham moments. Of course, in my sitcom of life, dad didn’t own a hardware store or stay with mom, and let me tell you, mom’s boyfriends were never as cool as The Fonz. But I’ve read the preliminary articles on Erin, explanations are pending results of her autopsy, and so far the rumors range from stage 4 cancer to a heroin overdose. To me it seems as if Erin died from acute loneliness.

Erin was born in Burbank, California, one of six children and began acting at the age of five. Three of her siblings are also actors. She landed the role on Happy Days at the age of 13, and after her eight-year run on the show, she left for the spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi which was very short lived. Except for random stints in reality television, Erin’s acting career was essentially over. Is there life after Hollywood? Some survive, but many do not.

They say it didn’t have to be this way. Help was there for Erin. The child-actor advocacy group, A Minor Consideration, helps actors who fall victim to the curse of early celebrity. They had been reaching out to Erin, helping her overcome the trauma of industry pitfalls such as drug use and money that goes out faster than it comes in. Paul Peterson, a former child actor, says the disconnect began when Erin left Los Angeles and moved to Indiana, beyond their resources.

“Erin had friends and she knew it. Abandonment was not the issue…We did our best with the resources available to us, but it was a very dark room. Some don’t find the light switch in time.”

That breaks my heart. It applies to so many people struggling today, not just celebrities. In Erin’s case, my guess is at some point you have to accept the glitz and glam are over, but that doesn’t mean lights out, does it? On some level it seems like it would be a relief not to be in the relentless scrutiny of the public’s eye.

They say Erin and her husband, who worked at Walmart, lived in a trailer park with his sick mother, but she was kicked out after a drunken brawl. But that was in 2012. Maybe Erin was happy, who am I to judge, but the 911 call came in just after 4:00pm on Saturday as “unresponsive female.” Was she all alone? Erin’s last known address was at the Holiday Inn at Corydon, Indiana. Despite the rumors that she was broke and homeless, Erin did have some money. In 2011, Erin, Potsie, Ralph Malph, and Mrs. Cunningham sued the studio for backpay from merchandising sales and settled the following year. Erin reportedly received $65,000 and was living off that. Of course, that could be gone now.

So do you keep your kids out of acting until they’re older to avoid the curse? I’m sure things are better, from a legal standpoint, for minors, but in that same respect, I bet things are worse for minors from an ethical standpoint. But we can’t live like that. The same thing can happen in any circumstance because life isn’t fair. Do some people lead enchanted lives? Perhaps, but very few people “have it all.” If they do, they don’t realize it until it’s gone because most things are fleeting and that’s the benefit of reflection. I wish Erin knew how much she was loved, but I don’t think she did. I also hope we don’t see her life in an upcoming Lifetime movie. The ending is just too sad.

Rest in peace, Erin. Thanks for the happy days.

Life After Hollywood – What Happened to Erin Moran?
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