Though his life was tragically short, Elvis Presley’s legacy is immortal. Through his music, movies, and merchandise, the Elvis Presley name has continued to thrive long after his death and will likely continue to do so for the rest of time. He influenced every facet of the entertainment industry, both during his life and after.
From the cartoon character Johnny Bravo to the professional wrestler Honky Tonk Man, dozens of characters have drawn from the Elvis persona. One character that bears a particularly striking resemblance to Elvis, however, is classic TV icon Happy Days‘ Arthur Fonzarelli, better known as The Fonz.
With his dark, slicked-back hair and leather jacket, The Fonz might not have been a direct Elvis parody, but the influences couldn’t have been more evident. This becomes even more clear when you consider that Happy Days creator, Garry Marshall, grew up in an Elvis-loving household.
During Garry Marshall’s time in the Army, before his days in Hollywood, he was in a band with an Elvis impersonator. He says it was this stint with the band that led to his career in entertainment.
Marshall has always been a vocal fan of The King. So when a two-part Happy Days episode entitled “Fonzie, Rock Entrepreneur” aired just months after Elvis’ death, fans couldn’t help but wonder if it was meant as a tribute to the late icon. It was never directly addressed as such by the show’s creators. However, it’s quite likely one of the first Elvis tributes to air on television.
The ‘Happy Days’ Episode Thought to Be an Elvis Tribute
During the episode in question, Leather Tuscadero is trying to earn a place for her band at Arnold’s Diner. Later in the episode, Leather succeeds with a little help from Richie. Leather and her band then play two Elvis hits, “Heartbreak Hotel” and “All Shook Up.”
The actress behind Leather Tuscadero was real-life musician Suzi Quatro, another massive Elvis fan. Quatro is such a big fan of The King, in fact, that she credits inspiration from Elvis for her career in music.
Whether a true tribute to Elvis or not, the many references to The King were noticed not only by fans but by Elvis’ team as well. In a 1977 interview with the Daily Press, Elvis’ publicist, Earl Wingard, compared his client to Happy Days’ The Fonz. He says that, though they’re similar, Henry Winkler could reinvent himself, whereas Elvis could only be Elvis.
“I think it’s interesting that Fonzie, with his duck-tailed hair, leather jacket and boots, set in the ’50s, is the type of character identified with Elvis,” Wingard said. “Henry Winkler has encountered almost the same problems as Elvis had with fan recognition, but it won’t continue. At the close of Happy Days, it will fade. But Elvis is Elvis. He could only be Elvis, and there was no way he could step out of that cocoon.”