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The Bittersweet Days of Erin Moran

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It wasn’t really surprising, the death of Erin Moran.

For years anytime she did an interview or was on TV, she was there but not there.

Be it in 1992 when she called her former cast mates “evil” and “bloodsuckers” or drinking too much on Celebrity Fit Club, it was watching a friend really screw up.

And Moran really did feel like a friend because of the girl-next-door familiarity of the character she portrayed for so long, Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days. Joanie was Ritchie Cunningham’s little sister, the one with pigtails and saddle shoes. Dubbed “Shortcake” by the Fonz, Joanie was boy crazy, running around and calling boys “hunks.” Never mind that girls didn’t call boys hunks in the fifties! Just go with the flow!

Like many children on long running TV shows, we saw Joanie grow up. We saw her have her first date (Spike, Fonzie’s nephew) hang out with her friends (bestie Jenny Piccolo always had the latest gossip) run away (she wanted to be a backup singer for Leather Tuscadero, but her parents said no) and, oh my stars, smoke cigarettes (All the cool girls in the Magnet gang smoke!).

But mostly we remember her being with the love of her life, Chachi Arcola (Scott Baio).

At first she didn’t like that boy, Fonzie’s cousin. But he was kind of cute.

Of course those crazy kids were going to fall for each other!

Of course they would get a spinoff!

The title? Joanie loves Chachi.

Of course!

JLC didn’t last long, so Moran went back to Happy Days when the show was on its last legs; after all, how could they pretend the 1963-1964 era, with President Kennedy being killed and Vietnam looming were happy days?

The show ended in May 1984 with what else? Joanie and Chachi getting married. Of course.

Almost all of the cast kept performing. Marion Ross, Tom Bosley, and Scott Baio continued to act, while others like Ron Howard, Anson Williams, and Don Most turned to directing. Erin Moran, however, disappeared, except for occasional cameos on “Where are they Now” specials. Then her house was foreclosed on. She refused to leave, so the bank evicted her. She moved into a trailer with her husband and mother-in-law.

Because her troubles were so public, this weekend when she died, people assumed drugs were the culprit.

Not true–she died of cancer. Members of A Minor Consideration (a non profit advocacy group made up of former child stars) tried to be there for her her last days. In the end, she hadn’t been forgotten.

What is the takeaway of Moran’s death? Another child star gone? Life is hard? Seek help for alcohol and drug issues? Seek help for mental illness?

All of the above.

In the end, Erin Moran wasn’t Joanie Cunningham. Her problems weren’t wrapped up in half hour episodes devoted to alcoholism or mental illness. She lived and life, as it can be, was hard.

But did it have good moments?

Of course it did.

I hope she thought it did, too.