Gavan O’Herlihy, who played Chuck Cunningham on Season 1 of “Happy Days,” has died, according to Metro UK. He was 70.
Chuck Cunningham, the older brother of Richie (Ron Howard) and Joanie (Erin Moran), appeared in 9 episodes of Season 1. By Season 2, the part was recast to be played Randolph Roberts. But after two episodes with Roberts, Chuck just disappeared and was never heard from again.
The vanishing spawned the phrase “Chuck Cunningham Syndrome,” which is used when a character just goes away without any explanation. In the real world, the Chuck character was cut from the plans in response to the popularity of Fonzie (Henry Winkler), who took on the role of the unofficial big brother to Richie and his friends.
The show would go on to be quite a hit before jumping the shark. Literally, in this case. In a Season 5 episode, the Fonz, wearing his trademark leather jacket, water-skied up a ramp and leapt over a shark. That would spawn another phrase commonly used to mean when a television show goes too far with a plot point and becomes a parody of itself. That’s usually the beginning of the end.
Tropes on tropes on tropes from “Happy Days.”
Anyway, O’Herlihy also had an arc in “Lonesome Dome,” and appeared in films “Willow” and “Superman III.” TheWrap reached out to a rep for O’Herlihy for this story, but we did not immediately hear back.
Watch “Happy Days” creator Garry Marshall explain the whole Chuck Cunningham thing in the video below.
“The first kid we hired — which honestly, it happens — he came to me and said, ‘I don’t like this’ — it was after like two or three episodes — ‘I don’t think I should be doing this.’ I said, ‘Alright, what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘What do you want to do?’ He said, ‘I want to quit and go back to school.’ I said, ‘What is it you want to be?’ He said, ‘I want to be a poet.’ I said, ‘Well, I’d keep this in your back pocket once in a while to eat as a poet. It’s nice.’ But he literally went to Ireland, he was an Irish kid, and he went to Trinity College,” Marshall explains. “The other guy we hired because we though Richie needed a brother. And he was a basketball player and he lasted. But see, again, you’d rather pay attention to what’s happening. And it soon became obvious, because we heard the audience loved Fonzie, it soon became obvious that Fonzie was like the older brother and that was the relationship that was working… So I just said, let’s just have Chuck disappear, and let’s see how much mail we get. We didn’t get much. But the cast, for 11 years, whenever they would forget a line or get mixed up, they would say, ‘Was that Chuck? Who’s on the phone? Is that Chuck?’”