I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Henry Winkler, aka The Fonz, at the MJCCA book festival in Atlanta.
He is probably the warmest, most entertaining, and authentic veteran actor out there! Winkler told stories about meeting Robin Williams as a young unknown comedian and how he immediately knew Williams was a genius. He also shared details about his lifelong friendship with Happy Days co-star Ron Howard and how much he enjoyed directing Dolly Parton.
Throughout the interview, he spoke lovingly about Stacey, his supportive wife of 47 years, and his beloved children and grandchildren. He also spoke about his life-changing role as the Fonz in Happy Days and how his Emmy award-winning role in Barry would not have been possible without years of therapy.
What surprised me most was not how funny he was or how his professors at the Yale School of Drama were critical of his choice to be in a TV show but how he has struggled with a deep sense of insecurity throughout his life. As he writes in his recently published memoir, Being Henry: The Fonz And Beyond, Winkler was
“twenty-seven years old, soon to turn twenty-eight, a short guy from New York City with a unibrow and hair down to my shoulders, confident about next to nothing in my life.”
He writes that playing someone else on stage transported him to another world.
“One was pretending made you successful. What I was miserable at was being myself.”
For nearly all of his 78 years, Henry Winkler says he has been dealing with a learning challenge that he’ll never overcome. Diagnosed with dyslexia in his 30s, Winkler wishes he had known sooner that he had the language-based learning disability that can make reading, word recognition, and writing difficult and sometimes impossible. He surprised himself by scraping through a four-year bachelor’s degree at Emerson College and then a Master’s at the Yale School of Drama, even though he couldn’t read.