The untimely death of child actress Erin Moran over the weekend — at age 56, her body was discovered in an Indiana trailer park — leaves an abyss in each of us even though we may not recognize the depth, and the severity, of the hole. For those of us of a certain age, Erin Moran, will always be Joanie — the spunky, spicy, daughter on the first season of Happy Days.

The uncomfortable question that now lingers before us, in the afterglow of Erin Moran’s demise, is what do we owe those who sacrifice their childhoods to us for our selfish entertainment?

We don’t yet know what, exactly, killed Erin Moran, and it doesn’t matter, because dead is as dead does — but we do know this little bit of historic truth — Erin Moran was eternally unhappy, depressed, and self-medicating; and any of those tendrils of humanity, tied together, or tangled alone, only serve to create a dangerous, unholy, trinity that always leads the unfortunate, and the undervalued, and the desperate, to an early grave.

Erin Moran was stereotyped as an actress — and that wounded her as an adult — you will never be cuter or funnier than you were in your preteen days, even though the entertainment industry, and the fanatical public, will always want you to remain childlike, virginal, and untouched by the modern-day suffering of adulthood.

What is a young actress to do when faced with an aging face, diminished opportunities to work, an addiction that comforts, and the ravages of celebrity that focuses only against time and a dwindling bank account?

More often than not, the answer becomes a death at age 56 in an Indiana trailer park — and while there’s nothing wrong with living in the Midwest, or surviving with a roof over your head — there is always the nagging reminder of who you used to be, and what you could have earned, and the restoration of what time forgot — if others only chose to remember you, and pay you for the worth you earned merely by surviving.

Nobody is owed a life, but everybody is owed respect, by default, of nature.

And that is the sad end of Erin Moran — lost and alone, fighting her depression on her own, and without ongoing professional support — she wilted, and tendered her life to the lowest bidder, all in a final effort to impress the rest of us for cold ownership of a previous fame, and not the one life that actually mattered in the end.

There is no greater tragedy in show business than the unresponsive remission of a diminished childhood star. We long for what they used to be, and so do they, but only we realize that white-hot fame, and celebrity, can never be re-achieved without a re-dedication to time, purpose and training — and time travel, into the future, and never into the past, is the one conundrum that few child stars are capable of solving alone in their cold lonesome — and for the Us of Us to expect their survival out of the spite of time, is unrealistic, and ultimately, cruel.

If you mourn Erin Moran, then damn yourself in the interim — and I certainly have — because she was always there, right there, waiting, for you to notice her again.

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