Former child star Erin Moran is being remembered by fans and celebrity friends in the hours following her sudden death at age 56. The Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi star was found dead in Harrison County, Indiana after a 911 call about “an unresponsive female” was placed. The former child star was later pronounced dead and an autopsy is pending, according to ABC News.
Moran enjoyed massive fame as a child actor in the 1970s after joining the hit ABC sitcom Happy Days in 1974, and she later teamed up with co-star Scott Baio to headline the spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi. But the young star had an impressive acting resume well before that, with roles on a steady stream of early ’70s shows, including Daktari, Gunsmoke, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, My Three Sons, The F.B.I., and the short-lived Don Rickles Show.
But like many child stars of the era, she struggled to segue into adult acting roles. Erin’s personal and financial problems were well documented, and the actress was reportedly homeless at one time.
After the Joanie Loves Chachi star’s death was announced, former child star and avid child actor advocate Paul Petersen (The Donna Reed Show) posted a lengthy message on Facebook, making it clear that his non-profit A Minor Consideration, an organization aimed at helping struggling child stars, tried to help the struggling Happy Days star.
“Abandonment was not the issue,” Petersen wrote.
“Don’t doubt for a moment that we tried. Erin had friends and she knew it.”
In addition, Erin’s friends and fellow child stars—many of them also alums from classic ABC sitcoms—paid tribute to her on social media.
Scott Baio, who grew up on TV with Moran, had kind words to say about his former girlfriend and onetime TV wife, recalling her “contagious smile” and “warm heart.”
“I always hoped she could find peace in her heart,” he wrote. “God has you now, Erin.”
— Scott Baio (@ScottBaio) April 23, 2017
Erin Murphy, who played child witch Tabitha Stephens on the ABC comedy Bewitched, wrote that she was sad to share that her good friend had passed away. Just one year ago, Murphy had posed for a photo with her fellow child star at the Fox Reality Awards.
So sad to share that my friend Erin Moran has passed away. Rest In Peace, sweet girl. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/SqThc76LvX
— Erin Murphy (@Erin_Murphy) April 23, 2017
In addition, Brady Bunch star Maureen McCormick, who guest-starred on an early episode of Happy Days, expressed sadness over the late star’s untimely death, and fellow ABC star Willie Aames (Eight Is Enough) also paid homage to his “old colleague and childhood friend.” After his role as middle son Tommy Bradford on Eight is Enough, Ames went on to star in Charles in Charge alongside Moran’s former TV husband, Scott Baio.
And Lisa Whelchel, who co-starred with Moran in the 1981 NBC TV movie Twirl, wrote that she hopes her friend will “find the joy she gave away stored up for her in Heaven.”
So saddened and heartbroken for the passing of Erin Moran????! My heartfelt condolences to all her friends and family! ????
— Maureen McCormick (@MoMcCormick7) April 23, 2017
I've known Erin Moran since childhood doing "GunSmoke". More recently as a troubled soul. So saddened to hear of her passing. RIP ERIN xo pic.twitter.com/R3CQyFdlz8
— Willie Aames (@WAames) April 23, 2017
I have always liked you so much as a good friend Rest in Peace Erin Moran. May God take your hand home.
— Todd Bridges (@ToddBridges) April 23, 2017
So sorry to hear about Erin Moran. She brought such joy to a generation. May she find the joy she gave away stored up for her in Heaven. ???? pic.twitter.com/yKcaPIUV5B
— Lisa Whelchel (@LisaWhelchel) April 23, 2017
Murphy, Aames, Baio, Whelchel, and McCormick were the lucky ones. While several of them struggled after childhood fame, the former child stars got help after hitting rock bottom.
Like the fallen Happy Days star, Maureen McCormick had trouble adjusting to the real world after five years of playing a picture perfect teen on TV. In her 2008 memoir, Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice, McCormick detailed a five-year cocaine addiction, and she later spoke about her horrific past when she competed on Dancing With the Stars.
“For years in my personal life, I felt like I had to play Marcia Brady,” McCormick revealed on the show’s personal stories segment. “Drugs were everywhere. I lost all control. I did things I’m not proud of at all.”
McCormick got help—she credits her husband of more than 30 years, Michael Cummings, for “saving” her.
Ditto for Willie Aames, who hit rock bottom after hitting it big as a young star. Aames, who was once homeless and addicted to drugs, told Entertainment Tonight he went through a terrible time when acting offers dried up.
“At the very peak [of Eight Is Enough] I was making a little over a million dollars a year,” Aames said.
“Then suddenly there was no job, no bank account, no wife, no child. I never dreamt it could happen that fast. I found myself virtually homeless. I stayed with friends when I could, slept in parking garages or slept in the park. It was shameful. I remember laying underneath the bushes thinking, ‘Is this how it turns out? Is this how my life really turns out?'”
Aames is thankful for the friends and family who acted on their concerns about him because he gave them “great cause for concern.” Aames got back on his feet after being hired by a construction company and went on to work as a writer and director. At one point, Willie Aames was even a cruise ship director.
As for Murphy, she may have been the luckiest one of all. Murphy told Fox News she was excited to return to a normal childhood after six seasons on Bewitched, but Hollywood still came calling.
“Once the show was over, I was excited to go to camp, hang out with other kids my age in the neighborhood,” the former child star said. “It was easy for me. And since my family moved from Los Angeles to Orange County, I was turning down jobs. And I still do! I probably shouldn’t, but I still do.”
In a 2009 interview with XFinity, Moran talked about the “trials and tribulations” of childhood stardom—and the “intimidation” she faced.
“In schooling, with kids. And how hard it was,” the Happy Days star recalled.
“I never got a date…I became more shy.”
Erin Moran had planned to write a book. Her in progress tell-all was to be titled Happy Days, Depressing Nights. Sadly, it will never see the light of day.
[Featured Image by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images]