With a successful career in Hollywood for four decades, Henry Winkler is remembered differently by various generations. Some remember him as one of the most iconic characters in television and pop history, the leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding Arthur Fonzarelli, AKA “the Fonz.”
Some remember him in various television movies over the years or big screen productions, like, The Waterboy. Many admire his producer and director credits.
HBO enthusiasts praise his role in the current dark comedy, Barry, a role where he is already the recipient of the Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy, and this week was nominated for a second Emmy.
But when asked which of his various roles he wants to be recognized for, Henry Winkler responded emphatically, “None of them. I want to be remembered for the children’s books I wrote. The books that I’ve written are the proudest thing outside of my family that I’ve ever done.”
Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver are co-authors of 34 children’s novels. And there’s a reason for his passion for “Hank Zipzer, the World’s Greatest Under-Achiever.”
“When I was a child, no one understood that I learned differently,” said Winkler. “Learning differently made me have empathy for kids like me.”
Hank, the main character of his books, has dyslexia.
Winkler quoted the statistic that one out of five in the entire population has a learning challenge of some sort. Though Winkler struggled in school, it wouldn’t be until he was in his early 30s, when his stepson, Jed, was tested for learning challenges that Winkler would figure out he had dyslexia, just like Jed.
“I wasn’t lazy. I wasn’t stupid after all.”
Winkler joked that he gets along better with children than he does adults and that was his catalyst for focusing on children’s issues, but he also said that even by the time he was in high school, he was counseling younger children after school.
“I’ve spoken publicly as a children’s advocate for 25 years,” Winkler said. “All over the world.”
Unlike his stepson, Winkler went undiagnosed throughout school and even as a young adult.
“At first when I found out I wasn’t stupid and had struggled with a learning challenge, I was unbelievably angry,” Winkler said. “Now I think that if I didn’t have to fight through my learning challenges, I wouldn’t have the tenacity to accomplish what I have.
“Tenacity and gratitude. Those are the words I live by. I’m grateful for what I’ve got.”
Winkler references his career with the comment, but also beams when he talks about his family. Married to Stacey Weitzman, the couple are parents of Jed, Max and Zoe, and are grandparents to five.
“Two girls and three boys, ages nine to two. They are adorable – I could eat them with a spoon.” Winkler said some of his favorite grandparent memories so far include sleepovers and fly fishing.
A softball pitcher
With seemingly a spirit of giving back to others from the time he was a teenager, Winkler commented that a favorite Happy Days memory didn’t exactly involve acting. Instead, the actors formed a softball team.
“I learned to play softball on the Happy Days set. I didn’t think I could,” said Winkler, noting that he didn’t have good eye-hand coordination. “But, I learned to play. I couldn’t catch, but I could pitch.
“I became the pitcher and we toured all over Japan with the USO. That was pretty great.”
Winkler is happy to still be acting and said, “I am over the moon that I’m in the show, Barry. It’s well-written and I work with an incredible bunch of people.”
Winkler spoke of recent changes in television, namely, “streaming.”
“You watch five or six minutes of content a day on your phone. New content the next day. But despite the changes, you’ve still got to have good camera folks, talented people, good writers, good actors.”
Speaking of the changes, Winkler said, “I don’t see them as good or bad – I just go with the flow. My job is to act.”