In the wake of the untimely death of Happy Days actress Erin Moran, much of the focus had been on how in 2012, the former child star was discovered to have fallen on financial hard times– and to be battling a drinking problem– after losing her California house to foreclosure. She had moved the previous year with her husband to Indiana, where they shuttled between his mother’s run-down trailer home and seedy motels. Her plight ended recently when Erin, 56, was found dead in her mom-in-law’s home after reportedly succumbing to throat cancer.
Sadly, as Star reported 25 years ago, those close to Erin claimed she had already begun a downward spiral long before her final years. “It can be so tough for child stars after they grow up and see the fame and money slip away,” says a source. “But no one could have known just how much of a cautionary tale Erin would turn out to be.”
Erin herself gave a glimpse of her inner turmoil during an exclusive 1992 Star interview– the first one she had given in a decade– when she revealed that her behind-the-scenes life while filming the sugary sitcom (which she joined in 1974 at age 13) was “sheer hell” She spoke about being “ripped off by Hollywood and by my own family,” accusing her “as if I was supposed to be the meal ticket for life.”
At the time, Erin also crowed about her happy marriage to her first husband, musician Rocky Ferguson. But just three months after her interview, red flags about her mental state appeared when Ferguson came forward to tell Star that they had broken up after he reportedly walked in on his wife and her lover, a young truck driver who bore a close resemblance to Scott Baio, her Happy Days costar and onetime boyfriend. Rocky told Star that his now-estranged wife was “a phony” and bitterly added: “God help this new guy!”
Shortly after, a heartbroken Marje Herring— Erin’s longtime business manager who described her as being “like a daughter”– revealed to Star that the increasingly erratic actress had recently fired her after Herring had confronted Erin about a TV interview in which she “slurring her words and making no sense at all.” Tearfully, Herring added, “She’s isolating herself from those who love her. Erin’s gone over the edge!”
In 1993, Erin wed Steve Fleischmann, a former furniture mover, but their union was far from perfect; in fact, years later, she reportedly told friends that she suspected he had married her only for her money. But in truth, with only a few minor roles through the years, Erin wasn’t earning much at all, and the couple moved into his mother’s Indiana trailer home in 2011.
The following years brought numerous reports of Erin fighting with her husband and partying out of control. Finally, on April 22, emergency responders summoned by a 911 call pronounced the “unresponsive” actress dead at the family home; an autopsy later revealed that she had lively died on stage IV cancer. Paul Petersen, a former child star on The Donna Reed Show who now heads the child-actor advocacy A Minor Consideration, says members had offered their assistance to Erin over the years, but to no avail. “They help she ran from was right there, as close as a [phone] call,” he revealed, “We did our best… but it was a very dark room. Some don’t find the light switch in time.”
The source adds that Erin– who has “shattered” as a youth when her beloved grandmother committed suicide by ingesting rat poison– “obviously had demons eating away at her since she was a teen. And dealing with them is that much harder when you’re in the spotlight from such a young age. It’s tragic that those closest to her couldn’t see to reach her.”