HAPPY DAYS’ Henry Winkler Talks Career Highs, Lows: ‘Stay At The Table’
By Movieguide® Contributor
Best known for playing “The Fonz” in the hit ’70s sitcom HAPPY DAYS, Henry Winkler, now 77, has more to offer than just his experience as a TV heartthrob.
In a recent interview with AARP, Winkler shared a few important lessons he’s learned throughout his life.
“Take the good with the bad,” AARP summarized as Winkler reflected on how undiagnosed dyslexia affected him as a child.
“I was so verbal, yet I couldn’t do anything in school. It drove my parents crazy. They embraced the conclusions of my teachers, which was ‘You’re not living up to your potential,’ which eventually became ‘You are lazy and stupid,’” Winkler shared.
Despite his academic struggles, he graduated from the Yale School of Drama in 1973. He moved to Los Angeles, California, to pursue acting, and two weeks later, he landed the role of Arthur Fonzarelli on HAPPY DAYS.
Dyslexia is still a struggle for him, though.
“There are times when I am so frustrated by my brain that I hit my head,” Winkler told TODAY in 2019.
However, he has channeled that frustration into helping others with similar experiences.
“(Dyslexia) is a passion because it is something that empowers me. Something that embarrasses me. Something that I didn’t know I had. Something you don’t overcome,” Winkler said.
He’s even gone on to write 28 children’s books.
“A friend suggested, ‘Hey, write children’s books.’ At first, I said, ‘I can’t do that,” he shared with AARP. “’I can’t read. I can’t spell. How am I going to write a book?’ But I was introduced to the writer Lin Oliver, and we created a process together.”
He created a book series that followed Hank Zipzer, a boy who struggles with dyslexia.
While Winkler acting career began in 1973, his first acting Emmy came in 2018 for his role on HBO’s BARRY.
“Stay at the table,” the actor said.
“If you stay at the table long enough, the chips come to you…Actors sometimes say, ‘I don’t really care about the winning…I have my Emmy or my whatever, and it’s a doorstop in the bathroom.’ They’re lying!” AARP reported on Winkler’s acceptance speech.
Winkler committed to “Learn to do whatever [he] set [his] sights on.”
After his acting career slowed down following his success on HAPPY DAYS, Winkler turned to producing after his lawyer encouraged him to investigate other areas in show business.
“I told him, ‘I’m an actor. I can’t do that other thing,’ ” Winkler recalled. “But it turns out you can even learn what you can’t do, then you get good at it.”
“In 1985, he won a Daytime Emmy for a children’s after-school special. His company put together MACGYVER, the popular and weirdly inventive show about a secret agent, which Winkler executive produced for seven years,” AARP reported.
Today, Winkler continues to create, specifically writing.
His memoir, “Being Henry: The Fonz … and Beyond,” releases in October.
In it, he shares “the disheartening truth of his childhood, the difficulties of a life with severe dyslexia, the pressures of a role that takes on a life of its own, and the path forward once your wildest dream seems behind you.
Drew Barrymore recently held an online chat with Henry Winkler, and she shared her appreciation for the HAPPY DAYS alum’s kindness.
“I wish I was there to give you a hug because when I met you when I was young, you actually changed my life forever because The Fonze—the most important man on the planet—was nice,” Barrymore recalled. “I was like, ‘Then everybody has to be nice because The Fonze is nice.’”
Barrymore continued: “I would clock the way you treated people and there was something about your kindness that made me know that that was the marching order of life.”
Winkler reciprocated Barrymore’s sentiment and said that his kindness comes from a heart of thankfulness.
“That is one of the most wonderful compliments I’ve ever gotten,” Winkler, 74, said. “I never think of being nice, I think of being grateful. I think that I am so happy that I get to do what I dreamt of doing and it has grown over the years.”
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