Erin Moran, best known for playing Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days, has died. She was 56.
Moran’s body was found unresponsive on Saturday afternoon by authorities in the US state of Indiana.
The California-born actress, who also starred in Happy Days spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi, had fallen on hard times in recent years. She was reportedly living out of a motel in Indiana, battling substance abuse.
Henry Winkler, who starred as The Fonz, tweeted: “OH Erin…now you will finally have the peace you wanted so badly here on earth. Rest In It serenely now…too soon.”
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“On April 22, 2017 at approximately 4.07pm, the Harrison County Sheriffs Department received a 911 call that referenced an unresponsive female,” the Harrison County Sheriffs Department told E! News in a statement.
“Upon the arrival of first responders, it was determined that Erin Marie Moran Fleischmann was deceased and an autopsy is pending.”
Moran was 14 years old when she signed on to play Ron Howard’s little sister Joanie Cunningham on the US TV show Happy Days, which aired from 1974 to 1983.
Many of her co-stars paid tribute to her as the news of her death began to spread.
“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,” tweeted Ron Howard, who played Richie Cunningham on the iconic series.
Moran was a child star who began acting in commercials at the age of five. She also appeared in the 1968 movie How Sweet It Is!, opposite the late with Debbie Reynolds, but she became a household name in the role of Joanie on the US sitcom.
Happy Days, which also featured Henry Winkler and Scott Baio, ran for 11 seasons. The spin-off show Joanie Loves Chachi followed her character’s onscreen romance with her boyfriend, played by Baio.
The series launched in 1982, but only lasted two seasons before ABC TV bosses cancelled the show due to poor ratings.
Don Most, best known as 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.”
Moran went on to make smaller television appearances on Murder, She Wrote, The Love Boat, The Bold and The Beautiful, Diagnosis: Murder, and in 2007 she appeared in the independent comedy Not Another B Movie. She also appeared on TV show Daktari.
However Moran struggled away from the screen, allegedly battling drinking problems, while tabloid reports in 2012 suggested she was broke and homeless after she and her husband, Steve Fleischmann, were kicked out of their trailer park home.
According to Variety, Moran and three of her Happy Days co-stars – Anson Williams (Potsie), Marion Ross (Ritchie’s mother Marion), Don Most (Ralph) – and the widow of Tom Bosley filed a US$10 million lawsuit against US TV network CBS, claiming they never received merchandise royalties owed under their contracts.
The 2012 case was later settled out of court. Henry Winkler, who played the Fonz, and Howard were never part of the lawsuit.