‘Happy Days’: ‘Fonzie’ Actor Henry Winkler Couldn’t Read His Lines and Had to Improvise His Audition

Happy Days is one of the most beloved sitcoms to ever hit American televisions. The show ran from the mid-’70s to ’80s, and it featured Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham and Henry Winkler as Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli — otherwise known as “Fonzie.”

Winkler was the perfect actor for Fonzie, but it seems he had trouble reading his lines. Here’s why.

Henry Winkler from ‘Happy Days’ said his dyslexia made him feel ‘stupid’

Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Anson Williams, and Kathy O'Dare in 'Happy Days'
Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Anson Williams, and Kathy O’Dare in ‘Happy Days’ | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Winkler had the perfect demeanor, attitude, and look to play Fonzie, but there was a lot going on behind the scenes that audiences had no idea about. Winkler has dyslexia, and it deeply impacted how it made him feel about himself.

“I thought I was stupid,” Winkler told NPR. “You take that mantle with you when it’s said often enough and when you’re young enough. There is an emotional component, I think, that comes along with learning challenges, where I had no sense of self.”

Winkler didn’t even know he had dyslexia until he was 31 years old. When he got his stepson tested for dyslexia, it dawned on him that he might have the same condition. “And so at 31, I found out I wasn’t stupid, that I wasn’t lazy — that I had something with a name,” he added.

The actor also noted that his parents had no idea about his possible diagnosis, either, thus they blamed his difficulties in school on laziness. “I was grounded 97% of my high school career,” Winkler added. “I saw the moon through the window.”

Winkler reportedly couldn’t read his ‘Happy Days’ lines

Winkler’s dyslexia made it difficult for him to read the part of Fonzie for his audition. And when he first went for the part, it was before he knew about his condition.

According to History 101, Winkler had a tough time reading his lines during the audition — and he ended up improvising a lot of the role. While this may not have been what the casting team had in mind, it ended up working in his favor.

“I bought into the fact that I was stupid,” Winkler explained to BUILD Series. “My parents called me stupid, my teacher … she called me stupid. You take it along with you. I’m 27 years old when I auditioned, and I’m nervous, but I changed my voice. And I changed my body. And then all of a sudden I just read the script and I just made it up. And then I was finished and I threw the script up in the air, and I sauntered out of the room.”

Winkler’s height helped him get the role of Fonzie

Ron Howard, Anson Williams, Donny Most, and Henry Winkler on 'Happy Days'
Ron Howard, Anson Williams, Donny Most, and Henry Winkler on ‘Happy Days’ | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

RELATED: ‘Happy Days’: Why Henry Winkler Refused to Comb His Hair As Fonzie on the Show

Winkler noted to BUILD that changing his voice was paramount to getting the role. But it seems his height also helped him. Micky Dolenz from The Monkees auditioned and nearly got the role of Fonzie, but Winkler had the ideal height on his side. While Dolenz was 6′ tall, Winkler was a mere 5’6″ which was closer to the height of the other actors on the show.

When it came to playing Fonzie, Winkler had another stipulation he shared with show creators. He wanted to show Fonzie’s emotional side, and he’d only agree to play the part if this was possible.

“He was my alter ego,” Winkler shared in an interview, according to the Television Academy Foundation. “He was everybody I wasn’t. I was a bowl of jelly in my life, not very confident … he was in charge. He was confident. He was just new.”

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