‘Happy Days’: Why Fonzie Actor Henry Winkler Said the End of the Series Was ‘Physically Painful’

by Taylor Cunningham

Henry Winkler wasn’t just in emotional pain when it came time to hang up his leather jacket on Happy Days. As it turns out, the classic TV icon was also in physical agony.

“I did the show for 10 years and … you don’t get much from that. Every fiber of my being that wanted to be an actor and did everything to be ready for the moment — well, now I’d done the moment and I didn’t know what to do next when Happy Days was over. It was psychically painful,” he told The Chicago Tribune in 2018.

The reason for the drama was that before landing the role of Authur Fonzarelli, Winkler was living as a starving artist. And he had no idea if he’d return to that desolate state.

When Winkler joined the cast alongside Ron Howard’s Richie Cunningham, he became the very definition of a break-out star. Though Howard was intended to be the face of the show, it was Winkler who won the hearts of viewers. And for an entire decade, he caused a craze best known as “Fonzie Mania” throughout America.

But before that, Winkler was nearly broke and scraping by with a “face associated with a long career in commercials.”

As Winkler shared with The Tribune, despite barely making rent, he saved up enough money to live in California for a month. And he hoped that he could land a job while there. Of course, that’s when he auditioned for his spot in Happy Days.

The experience caused a great deal of trauma for him. And when his time was up with the sitcom, he had no idea what the future held. Considering his status as a pop culture icon, it was possible that he’d be typecasted out of other jobs. And he could have ended up back where he started.

After Leaving ‘Happy Days’ Henry Winkler Went on to Win an Emmy

However, we all know that Winkler didn’t disappear with Happy Days. The Yale University-trained actor immediately got work in a string of made-for-TV movies. Then he found his place guest starring and holding recurring roles in series for over a decade. And eventually, he earned the spot of Gene Cousineau in Barry, which won him an Emmy in 2018.

Aside from that, Henry Winkler also discovered that he had a flair for acting and producing.

And after reflecting on that immense feeling of dread from leaving Happy Days, Henry Winkler came out of the experience wiser and more confident. As he shared with The Tribune, no matter how devastating the situation, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

“You are stronger than the circumstance,” he added. “This moment might be horrible, but there is a brighter day. The worst time for me on a set is the first day because I constantly think I have no idea if I can still do this job. And it’s your will and tenacity that gets you through it.”