Actress Erin Moran of Happy Days fame dead at 56

Erin Moran, the former child star who played Joanie Cunningham in the sitcoms Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi, died Saturday at age 56.

Moran played Joanie Cunningham in the 1970s sitcom and its spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi

Erin Moran, shown in 2009, was best known for her role as Joanie Cunningham in the TV sitcoms Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi. Moran died Saturday at 56. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Erin Moran, the former child star who played Joanie Cunningham in the sitcoms Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi, died Saturday at age 56.

A statement from the sheriff's department in Harrison County, Ind., said the dispatcher "received a 911 call about an unresponsive female. Upon arrival of first responders, it was determined that Erin Moran Fleischmann was deceased. An autopsy is pending."

The dispatcher confirmed to The Associated Press that the woman was the actress, who had been married to Steven Fleischmann.

A Burbank, California native, Moran began acting in TV and movies before she was 10 years old. She had nearly a decade's worth of experience when she was cast in 1974 in Happy Days as Joanie Cunningham, the kid sister to high school student Richie Cunningham, played by Ron Howard.Ā Other cast members included TomĀ BosleyĀ and MarionĀ Ross asĀ Joanie'sĀ parents.

"What happened with all of us was like we were this family," she told Xfinity in 2009. "It was so surreal with all the cast members. ... They were my family, get it?"

Some of the Happy Days cast reunited in 2001, Moran, centre right, posed with Marion Ross, centre, director Garry Marshall, left, Tom Bosley, Henry Winkler and Anson Williams. (Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

Debuting at a time of nostalgia for the seemingly innocent 1950s, the sitcom was set in Milwaukee and soon became a hit. Howard and Henry Winkler, who played tough guy Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli, were the show's biggest stars, but Moran also became popular. In 1982, she was paired off with fellow Happy Days performer Scott Baio in the short-lived Joanie Loves Chachi. Moran returned toĀ Happy DaysĀ in 1984 for its final season.Ā 

Her more recent credits included The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote, but she never approached the success of Happy Days and was more often in the news for her numerous personal and financial struggles and was reportedly homeless at times.

In 2011, she and Ross and former "Happy Days" actors Anson Williams and Donnie Most sued CBS, saying they were owed money for merchandising related to the show. The lawsuit was settled the following year.

"OH Erin... now you will finally have the peace you wanted so badly here on earth," Winkler tweeted. "Rest In It serenely now.. too soon."

Howard said on Twitter he wanted to remember how Moran lit up the screen.Ā