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Happy Days icon Henry Winkler: 'The Fonz gave me opportunity – but then he took opportunity away'

Throughout his extensive career, Henry Winkler has been dubbed as the ‘nicest man in show business’ and the 'essence of cool' – titles he still grapples with

henry winkler the fonz

Playing the Fonz in Happy Days alongside co-star Ron Howard (as Richie Cunningham)

Legendary actor and comedian Henry Winkler has opened up about how playing The Fonz on the hit sitcom Happy Days was a double-edged sword – and shared his simple secret to being cool. 

Winkler, 78, brought laughter to millions in the 1970s and ’80s when he starred as Arthur ‘Fonzie’ Fonzarelli on Happy Days for 11 seasons. He went on to play acclaimed roles in Parks and Recreation, Arrested Development and Children’s Hospital.

But in a new interview for The Big Issue, he revealed his storied career has not always been a barrel of laughs – saying he struggled to find his footing after 10 years as The Fonz.

“I loved The Fonz then and I love him now – he gave me the world,” he said, for our Letter to My Younger Self feature. “He gave me a roof over my head, he gave me food on the table, he gave me my children’s education and he gave me opportunity.

“But then he took the opportunity away. Because there is such a thing as typecasting. I stupidly thought I could beat it, but for eight or nine years after Happy Days, I couldn’t work.

“I felt so defeated. Like my life was over. For the second time in my life, I couldn’t do the thing I wanted to do. Firstly, it was when I couldn’t do school plays because my grades were so low. Now I was typecast.”

And so, as Winkler entered a new era of his career, he pivoted his focus – taking on new adventures in drama roles, dabbling in producing and even picking up the pen himself.

“I’m so grateful for the career I’ve had since Happy Days. I’ve worked with Garry Marshall, Wes Craven, Adam Sandler, Mitch Hurwitz on Arrested Development – which was so funny and complex. I was only hired for two episodes and stayed for five years,” he says.

“Then on Night Shift, The Waterboy with Adam Sandler, and then Barry – holy mackerel, I had no idea where that adventure would take me. And Lin Oliver and I have just written our 39th children’s novel – there are the Hank Zipzer stories which were then made for TV and I’ve got a children’s book called Detective Duck, who is very ecologically aware.”

Throughout his extensive career, Henry Winkler has been dubbed as the ‘nicest man in showbusiness’ and the ‘essence of cool’ – titles that the actor admits he still grapples with.

“I’m not the nicest man in show business – that’s bullshit,” he says. ”Because it’s not a matter of being nice. It’s a matter of being grateful. I’m so happy to be here. I’m so happy to meet you. If I’m working on a studio lot, wow, I’m so happy to be there!

“There are lots of people who are not happy in this industry – as if they think not being happy is more dramatic or cooler.  

“I have been asked many times about the definition of being cool. And I have finally defined it. Being cool is being your authentic self, not being who you think you should be. Just being true to yourself is magnetic.”

Read Henry Winkler’s full Letter to My Younger Self in this week’s Big Issue, on sale until 15 January.

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