When Ron Howard quit Happy Days to pursue his Oscar-winning directing career, he asked his former co-star Henry Winkler to star in the film, and Winkler said “yes,” under the condition that he could play a role that paid homage to the classic TV icon Richie Cunningham.
The film was the 1982 comedy, Night Shift. Howard took the gig right after he left Happy Days as a regular. And even though Winkler was the reason that he parted with the series, Howard couldn’t resist asking him to star in his movie.
Of course, Henry Winkler was thrilled to join the cast, which also includes Michael Keaton and Shelly Long. And because he was Howard’s close friend (and still is), he got dibs on the lead spot.
When the now 68-year-old director approached the Fonzie actor, he asked if he’d rather play the obnoxious and unpredictable frat boy or the “mild-mannered” straight and narrow gentleman. And Winkler chose the latter.
As all Happy Days fans know, the personas align closely with Richie and Fonzie. And that fact didn’t escape Winkler, either. So he decided he’d switch it up for once.
And in a Tweet years later, Henry Winkler even admitted that he wanted to wear Richie Cunningham’s shoes for a bit.
“I thought I’d play Richie Cunningham for once,” he wrote, per MeTV.
Before Night Shift debuted, he also told news outlets that he was playing “the kind of character Howard would ordinarily play.”
Critics Called Out Henry Winkler for Playing a Richie Cunningham Role
In the movie, Henry Winkler plays Chuck Lumley, a third shift morgue attendant who always follows the rules. But when his new coworker convinces him to secretly run a prostitution ring out of the morgue, chaos ensues.
The movie is a typical 80s comedy that follows the same style as Risky Business. And while critics had mixed feelings about the final product, Winkler managed to nab himself a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture, despite the fact that it was only his second film ever.
But even with the nomination, those same critics bashed Winkler for being lackluster next to Keaton’s character. However, Ron Howard later set them straight by saying that the star was supposed to be boring in comparison.
“It was totally planned that way,” Howard told The Boston Globe in 1982. “Henry was offered either part, and he opted for the quieter one. Then he helped Michael steal the picture. He gave Michael a lot of choices. With some of the bits, he’d tell Michael, ‘I know you’ll get laughs if you take this routine one step further.’”