HomeAmerican EntertainmentTVClassic TV‘Happy Days’: How Henry Winkler Based Fonzie’s Voice on a Hollywood Icon

‘Happy Days’: How Henry Winkler Based Fonzie’s Voice on a Hollywood Icon

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Listening to Henry Winkler talk it up like a cool cat on the classic TV show Happy Days might seem original to you. But he had an inspiration. Yes, the familiar catchphrases and Milwaukee-ish sound are actually based on a Hollywood icon. Which one, though? Sylvester Stallone of Rocky fame.

Henry Winkler of ‘Happy Days’ Pays Attention To This Star’s Voice

“I studied Sly,” Winkler said in an interview with the Archive of American Television, “Sly Stallone.” This does make some sense if you are familiar with the Winkler acting timeline. Back in the 1970s, Winkler starred with Stallone in the movie The Lords of Flatbush. Apparently, Henry picked up on listening to Stallone’s accent and phrasing. It all does make sense now because Winkler, who played Fonzie, would say “Aayy!!” and “Yo, Shortcake!”

What else did Winkler remember about Stallone? He was not in the shape you’d know him to be in from Rocky. Not yet, at least. “He was very big,” Winkler said. “He would say to me, ‘What is that guy looking at? I’m gonna eat him.'” Winkler actually was able to leverage his voice and cadence into stardom. The actor who attended Yale would find his way into the hearts of millions of Americans thanks to Happy Days.

There was this other element to Stallone, too. Winkler noticed that while the actor had a tough exterior there was a tender side to him, too. The fact that Stallone also was a creative person beyond acting did affect Winkler in a good way. He was able to notice these qualities and transfer some of them into Arthur Fonzarelli. One particular scene in Happy Days has Fonzie in a hospital room with Richie Cunningham, played by Ron Howard. He’s looking at his friend and wanting Richie to stay alive and not die. He looks up at the ceiling and asks God for help, then breaks down and cries. This is one of the tender moments that Winkler could bring to the character.

Sitcom Proves To Be Big Hit For ABC in 1970s

Besides Winkler and Howard, others in the show’s cast included Tom Bosley, Marion Ross, Erin Moran, Anson Williams, and Donny Most. Stallone would find himself in the world of movie-making thanks to Rocky and its subsequent spinoffs. He also would bring hits like Rambo to the big screen.

Happy Days was a big hit for ABC in the 1970s. Spinoffs did come from that show, too, including Laverne & Shirley and Mork and Mindy. Also, Joanie Loves Chachi featured Moran and Scott Baio as a couple. Beyond TV, Winkler has found room to be an author and artist. It’s a pretty good story for a kid who grew up with dyslexia.