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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

The photo that connected the author to an interview with Gavan O'Herlihy.

What happened to Richie's brother "Chuck" from "Happy Days?"


One of my favorite social media encounters happened about two weeks ago. It started after realizing my kids had never seen "Happy Days" and I ordered the first season on Netflix.

On a side note, the first season is strange; completely unlike how I remember the show. The Fonz – played by Henry Winkler – doesn't wear a leather jacket very often (he wears a denim coat) and his role is much smaller, so much so Winkler's name does not appear in the opening credits but, rather, at the end.

The earlier content was also a bit racier than I remembered: less "all-American" than the shows seemed to become later on. The pilot episode opens with Ralph Malph (Don Most) showing off a huge hickey on his neck. In another episode, Richie (Ron Howard) gets wasted at a bachelor party for a marine.

But I digress.

While we were watching, I snapped a photo of "Chuck," the oldest Cunningham who "disappeared" after the first season. Then I posted the photo on Facebook.

"Remember Chuck, Richie and Joanie's older brother?" I asked in the photo caption.

Within minutes, two of my Facebook friends, sisters Micaela and Eilis O'Herlihy – who are actually real-life friends, too – responded that "Chuck" was their uncle, an actor named Gavan O'Herlihy.

All I could think was "I must interview the Lost Cunningham immediately."

I received his email address and inquired to see if he was interested in doing an interview with me. Then I started researching O'Herlihy and realized how insignificant, although noteworthy, his role on "Happy Days" was compared to the rest of his career.

O'Herlihy was born in 1954 in Dublin. He was a talented tennis player and eventually became the Irish National Tennis Champion. He started acting while attending Trinity College. In 1973, he moved to Los Angeles and got the role of "Chuck."

As Chuck, O'Herlihy played the basketball jock / older brother of Richie and Joanie (Erin Moran). O'Herlihy is a few months younger than Howard, even though he was cast as his older brother.

O'Herlihy's character had few speaking parts and by the middle of the first season – which aired in 1974 – "Chuck" was written out of the script by going off to college. He never returned.

"I hung around for the first half-season, then asked out of the contract. It wasn't my cup of tea. It raised some eyebrows, but I'm glad I did," O'Herlihy wrote in an email interview.

In 1980, O'Herlihy moved to England where he was cast in a series called "We'll Meet Again." The show was a hit, and O'Herlihy purchased a house boat and moved onto the Thames. He later bought and lived in a lighthouse in Wales "with Dublin a glow on the horizon."

Finally, he settled on a farm in The Cotswolds, a range of hills in England, where he has lived for 30 years. He has a wife and two children.

"I'm tucked in away from the business, though occasionally something drops from the ether. I'm certainly not on the hunt," he says.

O'Herlihy has over 30 screen credits – including "Death Wish 3," "Never Say Never Again," "Superman III" and "Tales From The Crypt" – and many of his roles are as villains.

In 1988, Howard cast him in a small role in the fantasy film "Willow." He also appeared in the pilot episode of "Star Trek: Voyager."

O'Herlihy is also known in England as playing Captain Leroy in "Sharpe's Eagle" during which he said his most famous line that's remembered by fans: "Boys, let's load up and do some shootin'."

I asked O'Herlihy more questions about his time on "Happy Days," including what it was like to work with Winkler. O'Herlihy says he never thinks about his time on the show, but he shared one anecdote.

"It was a warm L.A. Saturday night at Paramount. I was there to audition, and sitting in a room with maybe eight others. One of the eight began talking about how he had only been acting a month and here he was, all the way from Texas. Hallelujah. It was pissing a few of us off.

"I caught the eye of one of the others who was called into the audition. Then I stepped into the hallway to get away from the Texan, when another actor had finished his audition and as he passed me in the hall, he grabbed me by the shirt and said, 'get this goddam job. Don't let that a**hole get it.' I had to laugh. It was Winkler. A fond memory. Probably the only one from long ago."

Talkbacks

TosaJim | April 11, 2013 at 11:38 a.m. (report)

O'Herily was a great bad guy in Lonesome Dove...

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brewguru | April 11, 2013 at 11:01 a.m. (report)

The character of Chuck Cunningham was actually in the first TWO seasons of Happy Days. O'Herily only played him in the first season (Jan-May, 1974) then Randolph Roberts took over in the second season. Then the character just disappeared.

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