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‘Happy Days’ Star Henry Winkler on Growing up with Dyslexia: ‘We Just Learn Differently’

Edduin Carvajal
Nov 11, 2019
11:00 A.M.

Actor Henry Winkler, best known as Fonzie on “Happy Days” or Barry Zuckerkorn on “Arrested Development,” once opened up about growing up with dyslexia.


Born in October 1945, Henry’s first major part in the entertainment industry came in 1973 when he was cast as The Fonz on “Happy Days.”

“I’m not stupid. I have something with a name.”

Henry Winkler on August 23, 2019 in Rosemont, Illinois | Source: Getty Images

Henry Winkler on August 23, 2019 in Rosemont, Illinois | Source: Getty Images

Henry Winkler on “Happy Days”

Garry Marshall, the director and producer of the project, initially wanted Fonzie to be a hunky, blonde, Italian model-type man.

However, when Henry auditioned, Garry noticed that his 5’6” was a lot better in terms of eye-level interaction with the rest of the cast when compared to Micky Dolenz, the 6’0” actor that Garry had initially envisioned for the role.


Henry’s The Fonz proved to be one of the most popular members of the sitcom. Nowadays, he is considered one of the greatest characters in TV history.

When his time on the show ended, the actor started taking more responsibilities behind the camera, directing and producing projects such as “MacGyver,” “So Weird,” and “Mr. Sunshine.”


Henry Winkler as an author

If being a talented actor and director wasn’t enough, Henry is a prolific writer. So far, he has released over 30 books, most of which are meant for children.

The idea of becoming an author came from his agent Alan Berger in 1998. He suggested him to write a book about dyslexia, a condition that he has suffered ever since he was a child.


His struggles with dyslexia

Speaking of dyslexia, Henry opened up about his childhood struggles with the previously mentioned learning disorder during an interview with Sunday Morning in 2017.

During the conversation, the actor admitted that his case of dyslexia was so severe that he could barely read, a fact that profoundly affected his performance on “Happy Days.” Henry pointed out that:


“I screwed up other people’s timing, so those people were angry. I took a little more time, so those people were angry because they needed to get out, get on, and getting the props together, or build the set for the show. It was horrific.”

In a different interview, Henry revealed that he didn’t know he had dyslexia until he was 31 years old.

Oddly enough, he didn’t discover it through a medical procedure done on himself but on his son Jed, who was not able to write a report at the time. When Jed got diagnosed with dyslexia, Henry realized that he had been experiencing the same.

His first reaction was thinking, “I’m not stupid. I have something with a name.” Henry added that, during his childhood, everyone around him would often call him names and tell him that he would never achieve anything because he was a slow learner.


His way to make a change

The actor added that if adults keep telling young children that they are “lazy” or “stupid” instead of actually trying to do something to help them, those children will grow up remembering that forever.

As a way to make a change, Henry and Lin Oliver got together to write the stories of Hank Zipzer, a second-grade boy with dyslexia. The “Happy Days” star pointed out that the main takeaway that children could get from the books is that they can achieve.


“If school is difficult, if it is difficult to learn, it has nothing to do with how brilliant you are. We just learn differently, but we can do things that can change the world.”

At the moment, Henry is married to Stacey Furstman. In 2018, he started portraying Gene Cousineau on the HBO series “Barry.” So far, the role has given him a Golden Globe nomination and a Primetime Emmy Award.

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