‘Happy Days’ Star Marion Ross Explained Why Fame was ‘Tough’ on Erin Moran: ‘Her Family Sort of Disintegrated’

by Suzanne Halliburton

On Happy Days, Marion Ross played one of the country’s most beloved TV moms. And off-camera, she still felt maternal towards her TV children, Ron Howard and Erin Moran and the other young actors.

Ross sat down for a lengthy interview in December 2002, to talk all things Happy Days. The show had been off the air for almost two decades. But the Archive for American Television wanted to document it all.

Marion Ross still was concerned about Erin Moran, who played Joanie Cunningham. Moran was 13 when she joined the Happy Days cast as Richie’s perky kid sister. Moran came from a family of six children and her mother signed her with a talent agency when Erin was 5. She also was a fabulous singer and showed off her pipes when she was a guest star on The Waltons. This was in 1975 when she played Sally Ann Harper and performed a song she dedicated to Ben Walton.

Marion Ross Said She Could See Erin Moran Having Problems on Happy Days

Marion Ross could see issues percolating even then for Erin Moran.

“Fame is tough,” Ross said. “And I think it was tough on Erin. She’d been acting since she was about 5. And I think what happened in her case was her family sort of disintegrated around her, whereas Ron Howard’s parents were like rocks and stayed the same. They were fine people and didn’t get sucked into show business in any way, so he always had a father up there quietly watching and this wonderful mother to advise him and not jump into the scene.

“Whereas, Erin’s parents seem to be a little bit swept away with all of this. So Erin was like the boss of the family. She was the breadwinner and had to hold everything together. These kids are sent to school, then back to the set, then back to school, so by the time Erin would come back to the set we were in the midst of a big joke or we’d worked out something that she would have to see quickly what is was she’d have to fit into. It was double responsibility for her.

“A kid like that gets tired if their family is not holding up well,” said the Happy Days star. “They get tired. And angry. Angry. They make the wrong choices themselves, they don’t have good role models.”

After Show/Spinoff Ended, Moran Still Struggled

After Happy Days, Moran continued her character in Joanie Loves Chachi. She earned a variety of guest-starring roles post Happy Days, but nothing on a consistent basis.

Meanwhile, Tom Bosley, who played Moran’s dad on Happy Days, also showed concern for his TV daughter. Bosley mentioned Moran during an interview with the Archive.

“Producers brought Erin in, and she was wonderful,” Bosley said in the interview. He died in 2010. “She was perfect. But as Erin grew up there were a lot of problems in her personal life, and her brother, family, and it’s hard to say what the accumulation of all of this did to her. But she really got sick. I think she also had a bad marriage and she sort of disappeared from the scene.”

Sadly, Erin Moran had a tumultuous private life with financial and marital issues. She died in 2017. She was only 56. Moran was found unresponsive at her home. An autopsy revealed she was suffering from advanced cancer of the throat. Post Happy Days, for whatever reason, she never was able to turn her life around.