Henry Winkler had a difficult childhood. He had a learning disability that he only learned about later in his adult life, but instead of support, his parents made him feel bad about the situation by calling him names. Still, he willingly became his mother's caregiver when she suffered a stroke.
Actor Henry Winkler was born in Manhattan, New York, on October 30, 1945. His parents, Harry Winkler and Ilse Maria were German Jewish immigrants who moved to the US in 1939, escaping the Holocaust.
Henry's father was an international lumber company president and worked alongside his mother. The Hollywood star grew up with low self-confidence.
Actor Henry Winkler as Fonzie on the sitcom "Happy Days" on October 6, 1981. | Source: Getty Images
Throughout elementary school and high school, Henry struggled academically. He had no idea he had a learning disorder while suffering from "a high level of low self-esteem."
Yet his parents expected him to take over and run the family business one day. But young Henry already knew what he was passionate about as he discovered a love for acting at a young age.
Henry Winkler (Fonzie) with Anson Williams (Potsie) and Danny Most (Ralph) on "Happy Days" on January 27, 1976. | Source: Getty Images
"The Waterboy" star made his acting debut in the eighth grade when he portrayed the role of Billy Budd in the school play. But he had to better his grades to keep acting on stage, which somehow discouraged him:
"It was a catch-22. Because in middle school and high school, you could only be in the play if you have a certain grade average. That grade average was way beyond my reach."
Comedian and film director Henry Winkler as Fonzie on "Happy Days" in 1974. | Source: Getty Images
Henry's parents did not make the experience any less painful because they were stern with him. Education was important to the couple, and they perceived their son's struggle with academics as pure laziness. Henry revealed that his parents called him names:
"They believed in education. They thought I was lazy. I was called lazy. I was called stupid. I was told I was not living up to my potential."
But the veteran star said deep down inside, he felt different. He refused to believe he was dumb because he was trying his best to do better at school.
Executive producer Henry Winkler as Fonzie in the American TV show "Happy Days" in 1978. | Source: Getty Images
The author disclosed his parents resorted to grounding him for most of his high school duration and believed that if he could be stuck behind a desk for six weeks at a time, he would eventually get with the program. Ilse and Harry thought that punishing their child would end his "laziness."
Henry shared in an interview with The Guardian in November 2011 that his parents never realized that what was so important to them was difficult for him to grasp. Harry and IIse were at times strict and cruel to their son. They even gave him a pet name, Dumm Hund, meaning dumb dog.
As a child, Henry told himself every night before he went to bed that when he became a parent one day, he would be utterly different from his mother and father.
Actor T.J. Lowther as Buddy and Henry Winkler as Dad in the film "One Christmas," aired on December 19, 1994. | Source: Getty Images
He recalled one time when he was having cereal with his mother present. He "put my ear down to the bowl to hear the snap, crackle, and pop," said Henry. The director divulged that his mother lost it and "chased him around the table" just for doing that.
When describing his parents, Henry noted that he admired their bravery in fleeing from the Nazis because they were able to start a new life and, as a result, provided a "wonderful life" for him and his sister, Beatrice.
Henry Winkler attending the 18th Annual Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards at Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel on June 02, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Getty Images
However, he said his mom and dad were "emotionally destructive. Henry did not feel heard as a child because his parents never listened to him. To his shock, his sister has a different version of their upbringing, saying:
"My sister Beatrice remembers them completely differently – and to this day, I'm trying to figure out who the hell she saw."
Apart from the different versions of events, Henry later discovered that he was terrible in every subject in school, not because he was unintelligent, but because he had a disorder.
Henry Winkler attends "Barry: Sneak Peek and Cast Panel" during Moontower Just For Laughs at the State Theatre on April 22, 2022 in Austin, Texas. | Source: Getty Images
When Henry was 31, he and his wife, actress Stacey Weitzman, had his stepson, Jed, tested for dyslexia. That was when the comedian learned that he also had dyslexia.
The "Barry" star revealed that Jed, including his two biological children, Max and Zoe, are all dyslexic. Henry said he and his spouse were lucky that they found out about it early because it tends to make kids have self-image issues, which in his case, suffered dearly because of it.
HENRY STILL CARED FOR HIS MOTHER IN HER AILING YEARS
Henry Winkler attending the Season 3 premiere of HBO's "Barry" at Rolling Greens on April 18, 2022 in Culver City, California. | Source: Getty Images
Despite Henry's strained relationship with his mom in his childhood, he was one of the first people who helped her when she suffered a stroke in 1989. As a result, Ilse had upper limb spasticity, which affected how she moved her arms and caused pain.
Henry told Spry Living in June 2013 that the condition made it difficult for caregivers to do something simple such as dressing patients. When talking about his own experience with his mom, he revealed that although she did her therapy, it was ineffective for her.
Ilse refused to "leave the house in her wheelchair because it was so embarrassing. She didn't even want to go for a push," recounted Henry.
Henry Winkler speaking during The Winkler Method: A Henry Winkler Acting Class at Vulture Festival 2021 at The Hollywood Roosevelt on November 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images
He also came across personal challenges while caring for his ailing mother. The "Happy Days" alum was based in California, working while his sister Beatrice was with their mom in New York.
The siblings shared the responsibilities of caring for their mom, but that was not enough for Henry, who "felt guilty" being away from her. But the renowned actor ensured that he kept in touch consistently by phoning, texting daily, and when he had free time from work, he would go to New York frequently.
Author Henry Winkler speaking onstage during the 2020 Writers Guild Awards West Coast Ceremony at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 01, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Getty Images
Henry, a successful children's author, said he has the utmost respect for caregivers and applauded them for being dedicated to caring for their patients.
"My hat is off to caregivers. My respect is at full tilt for caregivers. The dedication, the patience, just the wear of it all to consistently take care of somebody else – that's a hero," he said. Sadly, the executive producer's mother died ten years later in 1988.
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