April 22, 2018 will mark the first anniversary of the passing of actress Erin Moran.
Moran, known for her portrayal of the smart-mouthed Joannie Cunningham on Happy Days, died at the age of 56, and the news of her sudden demise rattled unexpected fans everywhere.
The actress first caught the world's attention when she took on the role of the little sister on the 70s sitcom. She was later cast in the show's spin-off, Joannie Loves Chachi, but it was short-lived.
Moran had a number of other film and TV credits to her name, but after her run on the hit sitcom ended, she struggled to land anything substantial.
It was later revealed that Moran was locked in an unfair contract while working on Happy Days. She apparently wasn't awarded any residuals, and the money she did make, didn't last.
Fall from fame
She ended up developing a drinking and behavioral problem, which did not appeal to casting agents and filmmakers. This contributed to the downfall of her acting career.
Along with three of her co-stars, Moran filed a $10 million lawsuit against CBS. The case finally went to trial in July 2012, and the actors settled for a payment of $65,000 each. The network also promised to continue honoring their contracts.
Despite the extra income, Moran continued to fall on hard times. Her California home was foreclosed, so she moved into her mother-in-law's trailer park home in Indiana, where it's presumed she lived until her death.
Around 4 pm on April 22, authorities in Harris County received a call about an "unresponsive female," but by the time they arrived, she was already dead, according to the celebrity news website TMZ.
Many of her fans and friends were taken aback because Moran showed no indication of being ill in the days leading up to her death.
It was then announced that an autopsy had been ordered to determine what really happened.
Moran's colleagues, including stars she worked with on Happy Days and Joannie Loves Chachi, immediately took to social media to pay tribute to the actress and share their sadness over the news.
"OH Erin...now you will finally have the peace you wanted so badly here on earth," wrote Henry Wrinkler, who played the role of Arthur "Fonz" Fonzarelli on the show. "Rest in it serenely now..too soon."
OH Erin... now you will finally have the peace you wanted so badly here on earth ...Rest In It serenely now.. too soon— Henry Winkler (@hwinkler4real) April 23, 2017
Ron Howard, who played Richie Cunningham, tweeted: "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."
While everyone was busy remembering the star in a positive light, Scott Baio, who played Moran's love interest Chachi, was stirring up controversy.
As soon as news of her passing reached his ears, Baio started making claims that Moran died from alcohol and drug abuse.
“I’m OK, a little shocked … but not completely shocked that this happened,” he said on The Bernie & Sid Show. “My thing is, I feel bad because her whole life, she was troubled, could never find what made her happy and content. For me, you do drugs or drink, you’re gonna die. I’m sorry if that’s cold, but God gave you a brain, gave you the will to live and thrive, and you gotta take care of yourself.”
Baio received immense backlash for making unfounded claims about the late actress, but there were some who believed he was telling the truth.
After nasty rumors about the role drugs and alcohol may have played in her death started to spread like wildfire, the Sheriff's office released a report that stated that "standard toxicology tests were performed and the results are pending, however no illegal narcotics were found at the residence."
Sticking to their promise, the autopsy results were finally made available to the public, and we finally learned the truth about Moran's death.
Real cause of death
The autopsy confirmed that Moran was suffering from Stage IV cancer, and she likely succumbed to its complications. Moran fought the disease privately and even some of her co-stars were not aware.
Shortly after Moran's cause of death became public knowledge, her widower Steve Fleischmann wrote a heartfelt letter about his wife's final moments.
"She woke up on the 22nd, she was not 100%" Fleischmann wrote in a note later posted by Baio on Facebook.
He continued, "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 asleep, woke up about a (sic) hour later still holding her hand and she was gone."
Fleishchmann, who married Moran in 1993, revealed that the actress had been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in December 2016 after waking up to a blood stain on her pillowcase.
It was initially thought that Moran had tonsillitis, but tests showed otherwise.
"She started radiation and chemo," Fleischmann added. "Five days a week radiation and chemo only on Thursdays. It got so bad so fast."
About two months later, Moran was unable to eat, drink or speak. She had to depend on a feeding tube implant, which Fleischmann used to feed her six to eight times per day.
Despite the heartbreaking struggle she was facing, Fleischmann reassured us that she was still "happy" and "active." She also tried to keep in touch with those close via text messages.
According to the coroner, even if Moran had been admitted to a hospital and "pumped full of antibiotics," she would still likely die from the disease.
"Norton Cancer Institute never said how bad it was … The coroner told me it was really really bad," the widow explained. "It had spread to her spleen, she had alot (sic) of fluid in her lungs and part of her brain was infected."
Baio also took to Facebook to backtrack on his earlier claims.
"Monday, April 24th at 6AM Pacific time I did a live radio interview. I was asked ONLY about Erin's troubled past due to drug & alcohol abuse," Baio wrote in the post. "I was still upset and said I felt that living that kind of a lifestyle will catch up with you and nothing good would come of it. THIS WAS BEFORE THE CAUSE OF DEATH WAS ANNOUNCED STATING STAGE 4 CANCER."
He added, "I'm also trying to process this loss. Erin was my very first real girlfriend," Baio "I'm very heartbroken over her passing, especially since it was cancer."
A few weeks later, Moran's co-stars, including Baio, gathered together to celebrate her life at a memorial.
As the first anniversary of her death approaches, more and more people are now opening up about Moran's death.
Marion Ross, who played Moran's mother on the show for 11 seasons got very candid about losing Moran in an interview with CountryLiving.com.
"It will just be the family without Erin," she said. "I was very close to her and she was a very dear, precious girl."
She also took the opportunity to share an important message about being a child star in Hollywood, like Moran once was.
"...to see her end up this way was tragic for everyone."
Ross told the publication that she believes Moran's substance abuse stemmed from her negative experiences growing up as a child star in the entertainment industry.
Moran booked her first acting role at the age of five in a commercial for a bank. She then made her Hollywood debut as Jenny Jones in the TV show Daktari from 1966 to 1969.
Many people, including Ross, argue that her early start in Hollywood without proper support is what eventually led her down the rabbit hole.
She imparted some advice to those who are considering putting their kids in the entertainment industry.
"My warning would be for parents who put their kids in show business—be very careful of that," Ross said.
She continued, "Ron Howard’s parents just took him off the set and [took him] straight home. I think sometimes it’s the parents that break, not the child. She was such a smart little girl and to see her end up this way was tragic for everyone."
Child advocate Paul Peterson also made remarks on Moran's death, claiming that Moran sought out help for her addiction and even till the end she had a solid support network.
"At least a half-dozen “formers” were actively reaching out to Erin in the last week of her life. These aren’t publicity photos her friends are posting, but family portraits. From Paris to London, from New York to LA, our members were in there pitching, doing what they could to help.
Do not doubt that for a minute. Erin had friends and she knew it. Abandonment was not the issue. The perversity of human frailty is at the root of this loss, not failure. 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."
After all the ups and downs, Moran is finally resting in peace. Her memory will continue to live on through her work, family and friends.