Henry Winkler: Dyslexic Actor and Author With his trademark leather jacket and catchphrases, Henry Winkler rose to fame in the 1970’s as Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli on the television show ‘Happy Days.’ Confident and poised, Winkler became an icon and inspiration for teens everywhere. However, despite his cool on-screen persona, Winkler suffered from the learning disorder dyslexia and struggled with his work until being diagnosed at age 31. Since then, he has written children’s books about the disorder to help young dyslexics cope with their problems.
Dubbed “the nicest man in Hollywood,” Winkler has turned his troubled childhood and difficulty during his career into a learning tool and inspiration for all. Winkler teaches the world to ignore naysayers and follow your dreams when coping with dyslexia.
The Early Years of Henry Winkler
Winkler was born on October 30, 1945 to German immigrant parents who had escaped their homeland before the beginning of World War II. Winkler’s home life was difficult growing up in the conservative 1950’s, as his parents were convinced his poor grades were due to laziness, rather than dyslexia. He claims he was “the class dunce, someone who was less able, not that bright. Stupid.”
Winkler persevered through high school and obtained a Bachelors degree from Emerson College, as well as a Master of Fine Arts degree from the prestigious Yale School of Drama.
Henry Winkler’s Rise to Stardom
Winkler started his acting career with small parts on ‘The Bob Newhart Show’ and ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ Despite the original intention of casting a blonde model type for the role of The Fonz, producers of ‘Happy Days’ were wowed by Winkler’s audition and hired him for the part. Winkler would frequently ad lib during readings and filmings to disguise his inability to read the script and learn his lines.
He was nominated and won several awards in the show’s ten year span. He starred in multiple movies during the filming of ‘Happy Days’ and opened the company Winkler-Rich Productions after the show’s cancellation in 1983.
Winkler stepped behind the camera to produce and direct both television shows and films. He formed a friendship with megastar Adam Sandler, and played memorable roles in four of Sandler’s comedy movies. Winkler continues to rule the screen to this day.
Henry Winkler, Dyslexia, and Hank Zipzer
Winkler married Stacey Weitzman in 1978 and fathered two children, as well as becoming a stepfather to her son Jed from a previous marriage. Jed had consistent problems in school and Winkler took him to a specialist where he was diagnosed with dyslexia. For the first time, Winkler realized his childhood struggles and problems with learning his lines during ‘Happy Days’ had a name and a treatment.
In 2003, Winkler teamed up with producer and author Lin Oliver to write the Hank Zipzer series about a 4th grade dyslexic boy. Called “The World’s Greatest Underachiever,” Zipzer’s experiences mirror that of Winkler’s childhood. Unlike Winkler, Zipzer is surrounded by supportive parents and teachers. This added fact inspired children to reach out and talk to adults about their struggles.
The series was such a success that it was adapted into a stage play titled ‘Hank Zipzer: The Musical.’ Winkler frequently tours elementary and special needs schools for readings of his series and talks to dyslexic children about their own personal problems. He frequently writes “You have greatness within you” while signing autographs, and urges his young admirers to pursue their dreams.
Henry Winkler Today
In 2010, the city of Winnipeg honored Winkler for his work in literacy and education. During that year, the 17th Hank Zipzer book was published and Winkler became the official spokesperson for One Reverse Mortgage. He began a steady role on the Adult Swim television series, ‘Children’s Hospital.’
The Officer of the Order of the British Empire and the Queen of England granted Winkler an honorary title in 2011 for his contributions to dyslexic and special needs children in the United Kingdom.
Through his many accomplishments, Winkler remains humble and giving. He serves as a mentor and role model, and continues to spread his inspirational message to dyslexics everywhere.