Best known for his role in the 1970s sitcom "Happy Days," celebrity Henry Winkler will visit Statesboro in September to speak at the 13th annual Kids and Community Gala.
The event is held each year to raise "financial support and awareness of the importance of what we do," said Mike Jones, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Bulloch County, which hosts the event.
Winkler has an expansive success story, but most people may not know that as a child, he suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia and other learning disabilities. He was bullied and ridiculed and, as a result, had low self-esteem, Jones said.
For anyone who has ever watched his character, Arthur Fonzarelli, also known as "The Fonz," on "Happy Days," it may be hard to imagine him ever having low self-esteem. In the sitcom based on a group of friends in the 1950s, "Fonzie" was a cocky, self-assured, leather-jacket-wearing cool dude, a bit older than the others, but certainly their leader and champion.
The character is a far cry from the reality of Winkler's life. He was misunderstood and harassed because of his inability to learn and perform as well as most kids his age due to dyslexia, Jones said.
Dyslexia is "a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Also called reading disability, dyslexia affects areas of the brain that process language," according to the Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org).
Winkler has a similar story to other former Boys and Girls Club event speakers "of childhood struggles, how they overcame and became successful," Jones said.
Winkler went undiagnosed until age 35, after his stepson was determined to have dyslexia. Recognizing the symptoms, Winkler was tested and learned why he had suffered all his young life, he said.
"He was bullied, was always not feeling like everybody else, and he worked hard to overcome it," Jones said.
In addition to acting, Winkler is a successful producer and has authored a children's book series that addresses childhood struggles such as his own.
"He travels the world as an advocate for understanding and research of learning disabilities and dyslexia," Jones said.
Having Winkler speak this fall is a great opportunity for Bulloch County, he said.
"I personally think it is significant for Georgia with Senate Bill 46, which requires kindergartners to be tested for dyslexia."
At this time, the Boys and Girls Club is only soliciting corporate tables and sponsors, he said. If individual tickets are to be sold, they will be available in August.
Interested parties can sign up for corporate tables and sponsorships via the website, www.bgcbulloch.org, or the group's Facebook page, he said. The gala is slated for Thursday, Sept. 19, at the Georgia Southern University Nessmith-Lane Conference Center. The dinner and speech begin at 7 p.m., with a meet-and-greet and photo opportunity with Winkler and corporate sponsors at 5:30 p.m. following a private reception with Winkler and title sponsors at 5 p.m.
Some of Winkler's accomplishments include a spot on the hit HBO dark comedy "Barry," for which he was the recipient of an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy.
"He has enjoyed over four decades of success in Hollywood and continues to be in demand as an actor, producer and director," his biography reads.
He auditioned for the "Happy Days" character Arthur Fonzarelli in 1973. During his 10 years on the popular sitcom, he won two Golden Globe Awards, was nominated three times for an Emmy Award and was also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Both his famous leather jacket and Fonzie's lunch box became part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in 1980, according to the release.
In recent years, Winkler has appeared in a number of series, including "Arrested Development," "Children's Hospital" and "Parks and Recreation" and has starred and served as co-executive producer of the NBC reality travel series "Better Late Than Never" with William Shatner, Terry Bradshaw, George Foreman and Jeff Dye. He is also an executive producer of the new "MacGyver" series currently airing its second season on CBS.
His guest role in the ABC series "The Practice" earned him an Emmy Award nomination. Other guest-star roles have included "Numb3rs," "The Bob Newhart Show," "Third Watch," "Crossing Jordan" and "Law and Order: SVU," as well as the Hallmark Channel holiday movie "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year."
On the big screen, Winkler starred in "Night Shift," "Here Comes the Boom," "The Waterboy," "Holes" and "Scream."
Outside of entertainment, Winkler is also an honorary chairman of United Friends of the Children, a founding member of the Children's Action Network, the first national honorary chairman of the Epilepsy Foundation of America and national chairman of the annual Toys for Tots campaign. He is also involved with the National Committee for Arts for the Handicapped, the Special Olympics and the Los Angeles Music Center's Very Special Arts Festival for children who are physically challenged and has participated in numerous teenage alcohol and drug abuse programs.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.