Interview: Henry Winkler’s Happiest Days Are Here

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The former star of TV’s Happy Days talks to Parade about his childhood struggles, “jumping the shark,” his unflappable work ethic and his newfound success on HBO’s Emmy-winning TV series Barry

School Daze. Winkler didn’t know until he was an adult that the “condition” he’d struggled with all through childhood—and school—was dyslexia. But it didn’t hold him back. “I wanted to be an actor. I needed to be an actor. I dreamt of being an actor!”

Meet Hank. He channeled his dyslexia into a series of children’s books about a character, Hank Zipzer, a bright boy with challenges of his own. Winkler says he wanted kids to know “if I could make it, you can as well.” 

Aaaay, It’s Fonzie! His most defining role, the cool-cat, leather-clad Fonzie on TV’s Happy Days, ran for a full decade beginning in 1974. “He was so much fun to play,” says Winkler. “He introduced me to the world.” A 1977 episode, in which a water-skiing Fonzie jumped over a prop shark in Hawaii, introduced the phrase “jumping the shark” to pop culture—meaning the moment when a TV show turns to stunts to get attention. “Every time newspapers mentioned ‘jump the shark,’ they ran a picture of Fonzie water-skiing. At that time, I had great legs, so I didn’t care!” 

Barry & Blessings. He recently won an Emmy and a Critics’ Choice Award for his role as acting coach Gene Cousineau on Barry, the HBO series that also stars Bill Hader as a mob hit man from the Midwest who pursues showbiz success in Hollywood. “I’m used to nominations,” Winkler says. “I’m just not used to winning. It’s unbelievable.” He credits his long-term success to “preparation, tenacity and gratitude,” with emphasis on the latter. “Gratitude is like a food group—it’s essential to being alive.” For more about Henry Winkler, see Sunday’s Parade or go to Parade.com.

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