A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, American actor Henry Winkler, born October 30th, 1945, first appeared on Broadway and in films (Crazy Joe, The Lords of Flatbush [both 1974]) before making the guest-star rounds on TV sitcoms. He worked several times for MTM productions, appearing in such roles as Valerie Harper's date on Rhoda and a charming thief undergoing psychoanalysis on The Bob Newhart Show. In 1973, Winkler was selected among hundreds of candidates (including ex-Monkee Micky Dolenz) to play the small recurring role of Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli, a leather-jacketed auto mechanic, on the new TV sitcom Happy Days. Though the series' stars were ostensibly Ron Howard, Anson Williams, and Donny Most, the bulk of the fan mail sent to Happy Days during its first season was addressed to "the Fonz." By the time the second season rolled around, Winkler was afforded second billing and a larger slice of screen time on each week's episode. Soon the more impressionable TV fans of America were parroting such Fonzie catchphrases as "Aaaaay" and "Sit on it!," while the nonplussed Winkler, who always regarded himself as a Dustin Hoffman-esque character actor, climbed to teen-idol status, complete with fan magazine interviews, posters, and Fonzie dolls. He also enjoyed a substantial salary boost, from 750 dollars per episode to (eventually) 80,000 dollars. At first, the off-stage Winkler could be as testy and sarcastic as his on-stage persona, but as Fonzie assumed "role model" proportions, the actor began comporting himself in as polite and agreeable a manner as possible. Accordingly, Fonzie became less of a Marlon Brando-type hoodlum and more of a basically goodhearted, moralistic young fellow who happened to be a motorcycle-racing dropout. By the time Happy Days ended in 1983 (by which time Winkler was elevated to top billing), Fonzie was a "drop-in," with a good job as a high school shop teacher and the possibility of a solid marriage. During his Happy Days heyday, Winkler was determined to prove he was capable of playing parts above and beyond Fonzie by taking film roles as far removed from his TV character: the troubled Vietnam vet in Heroes (1977), the vainglorious actor-turned-wrestler in The One and Only (1981), a '30s-style Scrooge in An American Christmas Carol (1982), and the timorous morgue attendant in Night Shift (1983). Following the example of his Happy Days co-star Ron Howard, Winkler also began working his way into the production and direction end of the business. In addition, Winkler used his name value for the benefit of others, remaining active in charitable and political causes. After several years away from the camera, Winkler returned to acting in the 1991 TV-movie Absolute Strangers, playing the husband of a woman caught in the middle of a volatile pro-life/pro-choice argument. And in 1993, Henry Winkler starred in the brief TV sitcom Monty, portraying a bombastic Limbaugh-type conservative TV personality. Winkler appeared in Little Nicky (2006) and You Don't Mess With the Zohan (2008), both times playing himself. Winkler continued to take small roles and guest spots on television and film throughout the 2000s.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- On Happy Days, rode the same motorcycle that Steve McQueen used in The Great Escape.
- Donated his Fonzie leather jacket to the Smithsonian Institution.
- Godfather of Ron Howard's daughter, actress Bryce Dallas Howard.
- Is a cousin of actor Richard Belzer.
- Co-author of the Hank Zipzer: The World's Greatest Underachiever series of children's books.
- Won a Daytime Emmy for producing 1984's Outstanding Children's Special All the Kids Do It; and won a 2005 Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program as the voice of the bird Norville on Clifford's Puppy Days.
- Won the role of Captain Hook in the London pantomime Peter Pan in 2006, and returned to the holiday production for several subsequent years.
- Is active in campaigns to highlight children's educational needs and often discusses his own struggle with dyslexia.
- Is a New York Yankees fan; he read the starting lineups on Fox for the fifth game of the 2009 Yankees-Phillies' World Series.
- In 2010, joined the cast of Childrens Hospital on Adult Swim and also took on a role on the USA Network drama Royal Pains.