Henry Winkler Reveals He Turned Down Iconic Film Role, Calls Himself a ‘Damn Fool’

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Vulture)

When it comes to roles in his career, Henry Winkler hasn’t always been perfect in his selection and he’s talking about one of those roles. Winkler had a chance, at one time, to play Danny Zuko in the movie Grease. Of course, people know that Danny was played by John Travolta in the movie opposite Olivia Newton-John.

Now, in a new interview with CNN reporter Chris Wallace, Winkler calls himself a “damn fool” for passing on the role. At the time the movie came out, Winkler was one of the hottest commodities on the TV thanks to Arthur Fonzarelli on Happy Days. But Winkler was afraid of being typecast and was not getting too many offers when it came to impactful roles. He was working on Happy Days when he received an offer to play in Grease but he passed on it. Why? That fear of being typecast, the New York Post reports.

Henry Winkler Compares His Life Situation To John Travolta’s

“I am a damn fool,” Winkler, 77, said. “I only realized years afterwards. (And) I thought, I’ve played the Fonz, I don’t want to do it again.” But don’t think that passing up no the role has not been on his mind at all, Hardly! Listen to what Winkler told Wallace here. “I go home … and I have a diet Coke. John Travolta, who has done the movie, goes home and buys a plane.”

Listen to some of these numbers for Grease. It became the highest-grossing musical film ever upon its release. In 1979, it had the second-best-selling album in the United States. While the movie was in theaters, it amassed more than $396 million worldwide. And, as an aside, Travolta went from being seen as TV “sweat hog” to a leading man and Hollywood heartthrob.

Winkler did win two Golden Globes for being on Happy Days. The venerable actor has appeared in other proejcts like The Waterboy, Holes, and Arrested Development. Winkler never won an Emmy for playing The Fonz. But he has won one for playing in the HBO show Barry opposite Bill Hader. In that show, Winkler plays Gene Cousineau.

While Henry Winkler feels bad about passing up on Grease, it can be said that he’s one of the most beloved actors still working today. Millions of people gerw up watching him as The Fonz and have followed his career since that time. Winkler also has been making a name for himself as a children’s book author. A number of them revolve around the subject matter of dyslexia, something Winkler has personal experience about in his own life. But he stays busy thanks to Barry and other roles that are still coming his way.