As the ultra cool Fonzie on Happy Days, Henry Winkler became an instant star and an eventual icon.
But he said the fame always felt a little strange. It probably was more like an ill-fitting sweater than anything comfortable for the modest Winkler. He thinks it might’ve been because he had dyslexia. He couldn’t read well, so he thought he was stupid. Others thought it, too, although he had a Masters degree from Yale. He wasn’t diagnosed until he was 31.
By then, he already was starring in Happy Days. So when the show, which premiered in January 1974, became a hit, he couldn’t imagine why fans thought he was so marvelous.
“When the Fonz hit, it was so big and it was so worldwide, I did not believe that what people were saying could possibly be true,” said the Happy Days star. “I had been told all my life that I was stupid and would never achieve. So now all these people are telling me I’m the coolest guy on the planet. That can’t be true because I’ve imprinted on the stupidity part.
“So I never absorbed it. I only saw it as a practical thing that allowed me to earn a living, and keep a roof over my head and my family’s and food on the table. I only saw it practically. (And) I never saw it emotionally, which was good for me.”
Winkler said all this to journalist Jonathan Alter. He writes a Substack column called “Old Goats with Jonathan Alter.” And in this case, Winkler could be described as an “old goat.” After all, he’s 75.
But he’s a fabulous old goat, one who still is working on high-quality projects. And Winkler won his first Emmy when he was 72. He’s been nominated seven times, including three straight years for Happy Days. He read the speech he wrote for 1976 in 2018.
Happy Days Star Said ‘Power Is a Mirage’
So about that fame, which can be fleeting for some actors. For Winkler, it’s lasted for decades. Maybe it’s because of his attitude about fame.
The Happy Days star told Alter: “I believe it’s fame, if you allow fame to be your reality. Power is a mirage. People think you have it. But if you wield it, people get incredibly angry that you’re actually using what they think you have.”
Plus, Winkler never really played the big-time celebrity card around others. He married in 1978. He met his future wife in 1976.
Alter made the comment that Winkler never “wigged out,” in his career. So Winkler, the guy who is two weeks away from his 76th birthday, quipped “there’s always time for that.”
Then Alter asked Winkler if he was “superstitious.”
“I’m not superstitious, I’m dyslexic,” said the Happy Days star. “I can’t even spell superstitious. And I think that a part of a learning challenge is there’s something that’s missing in my emotionality. “