‘Happy Days’: Henry Winkler Explained the ‘Key’ That Unlocked Inspiration Behind Fonzie

by Jennifer Shea

It has taken actor, director and producer Henry Winkler decades to become the kind of artist he had always wanted to be. The “Happy Days” star had to grow into himself as an actor to portray acting teacher Gene Cousineau on “Barry,” the role for which he ultimately won a Primetime Emmy Award in 2018.

Winkler had needed some sort of “key” to unlock his right brain, he told Vulture in 2018. And luckily for him, it started with his portrayal of Arthur Fonzarelli, or The Fonz, on “Happy Days.”

“When I was 27, I got the Fonz,” Winkler told Vulture. “Because I changed my voice, and I changed the tilt of my body, that actually was a key that unlocked my imagination. What we talked about before, about removing the clutter from your mind? Changing my voice was like pulling the plug on the drain, honest to God. I could do anything with my new voice and my new swagger.”

‘Happy Days’ Was An ‘Amazing’ Decade for Winkler

“Happy Days” lasted from 1974 to 1984. During that time, Winkler became a star in his own right, eclipsing even Ron Howard, who played Richie Cunningham, at some points.

“It was, I don’t know what, but anyway I thank God, let me just tell you that,” Winkler recalled. “It was fun, and I loved those people. It was just an amazing ten years.”

But that wasn’t the end of Winkler’s development as an actor. He named two movies he did in 1978 and 1977, respectively, during his “Happy Days” years. He said he wished he could do them over, knowing what he knows now.

“I knew then who I wanted to be as an actor, but when I didn’t have that key to unlock my mind,” he said. “I’d like to have some of those performances back. ‘The One and Only.’ ‘Heroes.’ I wish I could redo them. I just couldn’t get a handle on what I knew I needed to do, and what I was able to do. So now that’s 27. All the way, here I am, 72. I could not have played Cousineau back then, going back down all those years. It had to be now.”

When Winkler Finally Won His Emmy Award

While Winkler had received nominations for Primetime Emmy Awards five times before 2018, he had never actually won. He did win two Golden Globes in 1977 and 1978 for “Happy Days,” per IMDb.

When Winkler took the stage at the 2018 Emmy Awards, he was in shock. “Oh my God, oh my God,” Winkler said repeatedly as he went up to receive his award, according to People.

Once up there, Winkler joked that he had written his speech “43 years ago.” He ended it with a few words for his son Max and daughter Zoe.

“You can go to bed now, daddy won!” he shouted happily.