‘Happy Days’: How ‘Fonzie’ Actor Henry Winkler Once Saved a Young Fan’s Life

by Suzanne Halliburton

Henry Winkler was so popular and influential as Happy Day’s ultra-cool Fonzie that he helped talk a suicidal fan off the ledge. Literally.

Winkler recalled the story during a 2019 interview with Jimmy Kimmel. He said a state trooper from Illinois called the “Happy Days” set to ask for help. A young man was on a ledge, threatening to kill himself.

“I have a 17-year-old kid on the ledge,” Winkler recalled the trooper telling him. “And he is threatening to jump off and he will only talk to you.

“And I don’t know where I got the nerve to take the phone and start talking to this kid.”

But Henry Winkler did talk to the teenager, who wanted to be an actor. The boy, whose name was John, got off the ledge and out of danger. But he kept talking to Winkler. Maybe he heard Winkler. Or maybe John heard Fonzie talking. But Winkler’s story made an impact.

“I was 27 when I got the Fonz, John,” Winkler said he told the young man. “I think you’ve got 10 good years to keep trying. How ‘bout that? Will you do that? Ok. Can I get back to rehearsing? Thank you.”

Henry Winkler Earned Fonzie, In Part, Because He’s Short

Henry Winkler as Fonzie has a firm place in American pop culture history. Winkler was only a reoccurring character in the first season. And he earned the role, in part, because he was 5-6. Micky Dolenz, a member of the Monkees, was the favorite to win the role, but at 6-0, he towered over the cast.

Show creator Garry Marshall said he wanted the cast to be able to see eye-to-eye. So Winkler had the advantage.

The audience had such a positive reaction to Winkler after a season that Marshall made him a full-time cast member. He evolved into the show’s biggest star.

Happy Days ran from 1974-84. It was the top-rated show in the country in its fourth season and No. 2 the next year.

While Henry Winkler enjoyed wide success on Happy Days, he wasn’t recognized for his supreme comedy chops until decades later. While on Happy Days, Winkler was nominated three times for an Emmy for best actor in a comedy. But he didn’t win an Emmy until 2019, for playing Gene Cousineau in “Barry.”

But even after all these years, he still looks back on how he helped the teenager who wanted to take his own life. Winkler said he asked John to leave him his album collection if he decided to jump.

“I don’t know where I got the nerve to talk to him and I just thought, ‘I’m gonna maybe take him in another direction. … And I never got the records.”

It’s truly was a Happy Day.