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Whatever Happened To Chuck From Happy Days?

Fans looking back on the iconic show "Happy Days" have a number of memorable characters to reflect upon. Whether it's a leading character like smooth tough guy Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli or one of the supporting roles like Potsie Weber or Ralph Malph, fans certainly were able to generate a lot of great memories from comedic moments provided by a wide variety of players.

During its 11-season run that saw 255 episodes and one Primetime Emmy win, this successful 1950s-based sitcom brought in fans from the generation that lived through the era in their youths as well as the ones who were attracted to it based on the sense of nostalgia it created. Its success made "Happy Days" capable of spinning off additional sitcoms throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including the hits "Mork and Mindy" and "Laverne and Shirley," as well as the duds "Joanie Loves Chachi" and "Blanksy's Beauties."

Success followed many of the stars from "Happy Days" after the show aired its final episode in the spring of 1984. Henry Winkler went on to other roles on both the big and small screen, but also earned accolades as an accomplished film producer and director. Tom Bosley continued to work in the industry, his most popular post-"Happy Days" endeavor being "Father Dowling Mysteries." And though the successes of Ron Howard are too numerous to mention, his career behind the camera has cemented his name in Hollywood history forever.

True fans of "Happy Days" might remember a minor character that suddenly disappeared from the show without so much of a mention. Who was Chuck Cunningham, and whatever happened to the actor that portrayed him?

Who was Chuck?

Chuck was the eldest Cunningham child, the son of Howard (Tom Bosley) and Marion (Marion Ross), and the older brother of Richie (Ron Howard) and Joanie (Erin Moran). Chuck was a basketball star at Jefferson High but that was rarely factored into any situation on-screen. However, when he was on camera, Chuck was usually holding his basketball, and he was occasionally seen shooting baskets in the Cunningham driveway. A jock with a voracious appetite, Chuck would also be seen in several episodes scarfing down food whenever he wasn't playing ball.

The character only appeared in the pilot episode and 11 subsequent episodes over the first two seasons of "Happy Days" (via IMDb). He went off to college (presumably on a basketball scholarship) during the second season, his character making an appearance in only two episodes. In Season 2, Chuck took a wayward Richie in as a roommate when Richie abruptly left home after a disagreement with his parents, and Chuck was also at the family Christmas later that season. It would be the last time anyone saw him, but fans didn't forget about him.

Chuck disappeared entirely after that episode, and no other mention was ever made of his character ever again. In fact, in Season 11, Howard referred to having only two children, confirming that show writers had moved forward as if Chuck had never existed.

Ric Carrott played Chuck in the Happy Days pilot

As far as what happened to the actor who played Chuck Cunningham, that's where the lore of this "Happy Days" character gets a little more interesting. Chuck was played by not one, but by three separate actors. 

Many fans might not be aware that "Happy Days" began as a segment in the popular comedy anthology series "Love, American Style." In one episode, a segment set in the 1950s centered around the Cunningham family getting their first television set (via IMDb). The segment, titled "Love and the Happy Days," served as the pilot episode for the "Happy Days" sitcom we would later grow to love.

Familiar faces from the series appeared in the pilot. Marion Ross and Ron Howard starred in the episode, as well as Anson Williams (Potsie Weber). But you might be surprised to learn that Howard Gould played the character fans would soon attribute to Tom Bosely. And the other Cunningham children, Joanie and Chuck, were played by different actors. Ric Carrott was the original Chuck, appearing only in the pilot episode. Carrott already had a bit of TV experience, appearing in episodes of "Room 222" and "The Partridge Family." Carrott worked steadily in television throughout the 1970s, including a regular role in the short-lived series "Space Academy" (per IMDb). His last acting credit was a 1979 appearance on "Three's Company."

The regular role of Chuck was given to Gavan O'Herlihy

Gavan O'Herlihy is the actor most fans associate with the role of Chuck Cunningham. He has a total of nine credits on the series, all from Season 1 (per IMDb). But while he's listed in nine episodes, Chuck was only seen on-screen for seven of them. The most likely explanation is that O'Herlihy shot scenes for his character that were edited out for two of those episodes. 

The Irish actor had but one on-screen acting credit before "Happy Days," appearing on an episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." After his brief run as Chuck Cunningham, O'Herlihy went on to have a prolific career. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, O'Herlihy had roles in numerous television shows and made-for-TV movies. On the big screen, he is most well-known for his characters in the films "Superman III" and "Willow."

He stayed active as an actor until the late 2000s, appearing in various TV mini-series and films. His last acting credit listed on IMDb was for the 2009 horror film "The Descent Part II." He passed away in 2021.

O'Herlihy was replaced by Randolph Roberts

After the departure of Gavan O'Herlihy between Seasons 1 and 2, the role of the elder Cunningham child was given to Randolph Roberts. Roberts had tallied two on-screen credits before being cast as Chuck Cunningham, appearing on the long-running western "Gunsmoke" and in the film "Wicked, Wicked" (via IMDb). 

Roberts only appeared on two episodes of "Happy Days," both in Season 2. In the first episode, Chuck is the most visible as he ever was throughout the series. Away at college and living in an apartment, he hosts his younger brother Richie who thinks he is ready to be independent of his parents (per IMDb). The final time Roberts appeared as Chuck (and the final time the character was ever seen on-screen) was in the Christmas episode "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas" which aired on December 17, 1974. After a few brief moments on camera, Chuck went off-screen for good.

Roberts continued to work as an actor throughout the remainder of the 1970s and most of the 1980s. His work was mostly on TV shows, appearing in "Barnaby Jones," "The A-Team," and "Police Woman," but he also was cast in a few films, including "Logan's Run." His last acting credit was in the 1986 film "Say Yes."

The Chuck Cunningham Syndrome

The way the character Chuck Cunningham was unceremoniously written off the show was the inspiration for what is known in the industry and among viewers as "Chuck Cunningham Syndrome." By definition, this is where a character vanishes and their absence is never acknowledged, the rest of the show moving forward like the character never existed in the first place.

There are several notable TV shows in which this syndrome is evident. One example is the 1990s hit show "Family Matters," in which younger sister Judy Winslow (played by Jaimee Foxworth) up and disappears after the third season. Another example would be the character Tina Pinciotti (Amanda Fuller), who was written into "That '70s Show" as the main character Donna Pinciotti's (Laura Prepon) little sister. She was in one episode and never seen again. And fans who might remember the number of characters that were front and center on Season 1 of "The Facts of Life" but were never mentioned ever again now have an industry term to apply to their disappearances.

And if you think that Chuck Cunningham Syndrome only affects human characters, fans of "The Brady Bunch" might encourage you to ask yourself: whatever happened to Tiger the dog?