It’s time for Henry Winkler to say goodbye to his role as acting teacher Gene Cousineau on the HBO comedy Barry. But he probably knew that the role was not going to last forever.
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Winkler won his first Emmy Award playing Cousineau, the mentor to drama student Barry Berkman, played by star and executive producer Bill Hader. Winkler’s fear of the oblivious Gene getting whacked or dying because of Barry’s secret double life as a hitman was very real.
“At the beginning of each season, I had one question for Bill: ‘Am I dead?'” Winkler says, suddenly serious during lunch at his favorite Beverly Hills bistro. “So many people have died. Do I get killed?”
Henry Winkler Admits That He’s Sad To See ‘Barry’ Come To An End
With Hader announcing that Barry Season 4 will be the last (the series returns Sunday, 10 Eastern /Pacific), it’s the end of the line for everyone, including Gene.
“I am sad the job is over,” Winkler says. “I love this character. It has completely redefined me. I have the same feeling about Barry that I did when Happy Days ended. How am I ever going to do anything as impactful as this?”
That’s saying something for Winkler, who is celebrating the 50th year of his TV acting career in 2023 after first appearing on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Rhoda’s (Valerie Harper) dinner date in 1973
Winkler Found Great Fame As ‘The Fonz’ On ‘Happy Days’
Of course, Winkler turned into a global, era-defining superstar a year later with his seminal role as leather-jacketed Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli in ABC’s Happy Days, which brought him 5,000 fan letters a week.
“My Plan A was to become an actor. Suddenly, I am in 126 countries. I lived Plan A within an inch of its life,” Winkler says. “I had no Plan B.”
Happy Days cruised through 11 seasons, recovering even after inspiring a now ubiquitous pop-culture term for a show in decline – “jumped the shark.” The phrase was sparked by a Season 5 episode in which a water-skiing Fonz, still in his leather jacket, jumped over a shark pool.
Winkler has always gleefully embraced the phrase, even if he disagreed that Happy Days was losing steam at the time. “There was a period in the eighth and ninth year where some of the stories got a little silly,” Winkler says. “But the ‘Happy Days’ writers were phenomenal.”
The Fonz was so indelible that Winkler struggled to find defining roles after Happy Days ended in 1984. He executive produced hit shows like MacGyver and making splashes with roles such as Coach Klein in 1998’s The Waterboy alongside Adam Sandler.