Why ‘Happy Days’ Creators Were Out of Their Mind to Cast Henry Winkler As Fonzie

Have you ever noticed that TV shows set in high school seem to have a suspiciously “mature” cast? Let’s take the cast of 90210, for example. Several of the core actors in that show were in their mid-late 20s when they were supposed to be playing high school students. Perhaps one of the most glaringly obvious “adult-playing-a-teen” was Henry Winkler. No one was buying the nearly 30-year-old Winkler as a teenager. Did it really matter, though? Fonzie was still one of the most popular characters in television history. 

(L-R) Ed Peck and Henry Winkler on set of 'Happy Days'
(L-R) Ed Peck and Henry Winkler | Walt Disney Television/Getty Images

Who is Henry Winkler?

Henry Winkler is best known for his performance as the rebellious heartthrob, Fonzie. However, Winkler has a plethora of other fantastic performances under his belt. 

Winkler was an outgoing, energetic child who loved to be the center of attention. By the time he was in high school, he knew he wanted to be an actor. He wasn’t a great student, yet he went on to Yale, according to Biography. He was accepted to the School of Drama after an incredible audition that made him stand out. 

Shortly after moving to L.A. in 1973, Winkler landed roles in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show. He was planning to move back to New York City when he decided to go out for the role of Fonzie on Happy Days. The breakout role kick-started an impressive career for the talented actor. 

Winkler formed his own production company, and began to expand his career as a producer and director. He also continued acting, starring in films like Scream, The Waterboy, and Here Comes the Boom. Winkler is currently starring in the HBO dark comedy, Barry, with Bill Hader. 

Was Fonzie the most popular character on ‘Happy Days’?

In 1974, Happy Days delighted fans across America. The sitcom brought all the wholesome fun and magic of the 1950s right into people’s living rooms. The show reminded people of simpler times and packed plenty of laughs into a half hour time slot. 

Henry Winkler brought Arthur Fonzarelli (“Fonzie”, as everyone lovingly referred to him) to life. His charming wit and sarcasm paired with the bad-boy, rebel persona made the audience fall in love. Fonzie was originally meant to be a secondary character, but his rapidly growing popularity soon moved him right into the spotlight with Ron Howard (who played the show’s main character, Richie Cunningham). 

Winkler played Fonzie for all 11 seasons of the show. The ultra-cool greaser may have had a tough exterior, but he had a heart of gold on the inside. He was incredibly loyal and treated his friends like family. Fonzie and Richie were the most popular characters of the series, by far. When Ron Howard left the show after season 7, Winkler moved into the top spot. 

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Did anyone buy his performance as a teenager? 

When Henry Winkler snagged the role of Fonzie, he was actually 28 years old, according to Ranker. Fonzie was supposed to be a 16-year-old kid. No one is denying that Winkler looked super cool, but most of us will agree that he didn’t look like a teenager. 

Henry Winkler isn’t the only actor who was much older than their character. Remember Rizzo from Grease? If you thought she always looked a bit older than the rest of the Pink Ladies, you were right. Stockard Channing was 33 when she played Rizzo. Gabrielle Carteris was the oldest of the 90210 gang, as she was 29 when she started playing the role of 16-year-old Andrea Zuckerman.

Choosing older actors seemed to be a pattern with teenage superhero characters as well. Tom Welling was 24 when he started the role of teen Clark Kent in Smallville, and Toby Maguire was 10 years older than his Peter Parker character.