8 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Happy Days’ Star Henry Winkler

HAPPY DAYS, Henry Winkler, 1974-1984.
Paramount/Courtesy: Everett Collection

Ask anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of meeting Henry Winkler and they undoubtedly will respond with something like “best guy ever,” “so genuine” or “nicest in the industry,” and he is. The 78-year-old legend will forever be known for playing one of TV’s most iconic characters — Arthur Fonzarelli (Fonzie) — for 11 seasons on the 1970s sitcom Happy Days which premiered on January 15, 1974. The role couldn’t have been more opposite of him in real life, the self-effacing Winkler shares. Here are a few more things you may not know about the legendary actor.

Growing Up Wasn’t So Cool

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Henry Winkler

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Winkler’s parents — Harry and Ilse Winkler — came to the United States in 1939 from Berlin, where they left their parents and siblings behind; they all would perish at the hands of the Nazis. “I mourned that I never had relatives: my only relatives were faux — members of the German refugee community in New York,” Winkler shared in his autobiography. He described his parents as “unforgiving” and not understanding his learning disability, calling him a dumb dog.

Dyslexia Led Him Into Another Career

Having struggled with dyslexia at a young age (he regularly brought home report cards filled with D’s and F’s), Winkler wasn’t officially diagnosed with severe dyslexia until his 30s. He is now a philanthropist helping children with learning disabilities and is an accomplished author, having co-penned a series of children’s books under the “Hank Zipzer” brand, about a kid with dyslexia.

He Adores His Wife

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 2: Actor Henry Winkler and wife Stacey Weitzman attend the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's 1977 International Broadcasting Awards on March 2, 1977 at Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California

Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Married for 45 years, Winkler continues to dote on his wife, Stacey Weitzman, who he met at a clothing store in 1976. Today the two enjoy their grandchildren from their three children: Zoe (43, a schoolteacher), Max (40, a screenwriter and director) and Jed (52, who was from Weitzman’s first marriage).

One Of The Last To Try Out For Fonzie

Winkler was one of the shortest and last actors to audition for the role of Fonzie. He originally didn’t think he was right for the role, but once he started to read, the lines of Fonzie came out. “I was 27 years old, soon to turn 28, a short Jew from New York City with a unibrow and hair down to my shoulders, confident about next to nothing in my life,” Winkler shared in his autobiography. “The one exception was when I was acting.” He got the role the following day, which happened to fall on his birthday (Oct. 30).

He Only Rode The Motorcycle For 17 Seconds

HAPPY DAYS, from left, Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, 1974-84 (1976 photo).

Mindas/TV Guide/ABC/Courtesy Everett Collection

While Fonzie was known for his motorcycle, Winkler actually only rode the bike for about 17 seconds. At one point Winkler was on the soundstage on the bike and his only job was to rev the engine and take the bike about 5 feet. Things went wrong and Winkler ended up crashing the rented cycle and sliding under a semitrailer. He was OK, but he never truly rode the bike again. Instead, the production crew attached the bike to a board and put four rubber wheels underneath to make it appear like he was riding the cycle. His motorcycle was the same that Steve McQueen rode in the famous motorcycle scene at the end of The Great Escape (1963).

He Was Responsible For Jumping The Shark

“My short German father would tell me a thousand times, ‘Tell Garry Marshall you water ski.’ I said, ‘I’m not telling him I water ski, Dad.’ One day I’m talking to Garry, who is my mentor. I miss him. And I say, ‘Garry, I just want you to know, my father wants you to know I water ski.’ And we left it at that and went on to talk about other things. All of a sudden, there I am, Ron Howard is driving the speedboat and I’m water skiing behind it,” Winkler shared during an NPR interview promoting his new book Being Henry: The Fonz … and Beyond. “[I’m] in the leather jacket, which they ripped out the lining of to make it easier if I fell, to be a little more buoyant, which it wasn’t. And it was really hard to be cool in this kind of yellow rubber vest. And I had to ignore it because the Fonz would not wear this thing.” Winkler would actually jump a shark twice in his career, his second time on Arrested Development when his character Barry Zuckerkorn jumps over a shark as a wink to viewers.

Proving It’s Better Late Than Never

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER, l-r: William Shatner, Henry Winkler, Jeff Dye, Terry Bradshaw, George Foreman in 'Tokyo, Japan' (Season 1, Episode 1, aired August 23, 2016).

Paul Drinkwater/NBC/courtesy Everett Collection

In 2016, Winkler, William Shatner, George Foreman and Terry Bradshaw embarked on a 35-day trip through Tokyo, Kyoto, Seoul, Hong Kong and Thailand in NBC’s charming and hilarious Better Late Than Never. Winkler shared with us: “It was from 7:30 in the morning until 10 at night. It was traveling with 100 people and 300 suitcases, and nobody and nothing got lost. It was exotic, it was eye-opening, it was beautiful, it was strenuous — it was a gift that fell out of the heavens!”

Winkler’s Never Taken A Job For Granted

BARRY, Henry Winkler, 'ben mendelsohn', (Season 3, ep. 303, aired May 8, 2022).

Merrick Morton/HBO/Courtesy Everett Collection

“I know what I’ve done. I can see, you know, from the posters in my garage what I’ve done. But when you’re beginning to go and get that next thing, it’s all new again. In this particular business, maybe … I don’t know in others … but in this business, you are at the starting line all the time,” Winkler told us when he auditioned for his Emmy-winning role as acting coach Gene Cousineau in the HBO series Barry. “I spent four years in college — my major was drama and my minor was psychology. I spent three years in graduate school, got a master’s degree in drama. I have seen all of these teachers, and I put them all together and out comes Gene.”

1974 (50 Years Ago)
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1974 (50 Years Ago)

January 2024

In this time capsule issue of ReMIND Magazine we look back 50 years ago to 1974!

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