In this exclusive AARP interview, beloved actor Henry Winkler reflects on overcoming dyslexia, typecasting and self-doubt to create a wide-ranging career that led to his first Primetime Emmy at 72 years old. He is featured on the cover of AARP The Magazine’s October/November 2023 issue.
Henry Winkler was not someone destined for success in Hollywood. Growing up in 1950s New York City as the son of German Jewish immigrants who fled the Holocaust, he struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia, which made it difficult for him to read and achieve in school. Nonetheless, at 28 years old, he scored the part of Arthur Fonzarelli, also known as “Fonzie” or “The Fonz” on the hit ABC sitcom “Happy Days,” created by Garry Marshall. Playing Fonzie transformed Winkler into an international superstar and a household name.
After “Happy Days,” Winkler faced a new struggle: typecasting. Casting directors couldn’t see Winkler pulling off anything other than a leather jacket-wearing “greaser.” Despite this, Winkler pushed forward and developed his own path. He started his own production company and executive produced a number of TV shows and films, including Rob Reiner’s “The Sure Thing” (1985) and the original “MacGyver” TV series (1985-1992.) He also performed with John Ritter on Broadway and cowrote 39 children’s books, including a series about the adventures of a boy named Hank Zipzer, who has dyslexia.
Winkler’s acting career picked up again in the 1990s and 2000s. He landed roles in films such as “Scream” (1996) and “Holes” (2003), and he worked with Adam Sandler on films including “The Waterboy” (1998) and “Click” (2006). In 2003, he started a role as lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn in Mitch Hurwitz’s “Arrested Development,” and in 2013, he got a recurring role as Dr. Lu Saperstein on Michael Schur’s “Parks and Recreation.” Winkler’s next big break came in 2018 when he debuted as acting teacher Gene Cousineau in the HBO dark comedy “Barry,” created by Bill Hader and Alec Berg. His role as Gene earned him his first Primetime Emmy in 2018 for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series.
Winkler has written a memoir, “Being Henry: The Fonz … and Beyond,” due out in October 2023.