Henry Winkler is having plenty of “Happy Days” lately.
The 71-year-old beloved actor, best known by fans for his role as leather-wearing greaser Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli in the 1970s hit sitcom, is successfully pursuing another passion. Winkler is the co-author of a best-selling children’s book series based on humorous Hank Zipzer, a fourth-grader with learning differences.
And while Hank’s heartfelt misadventures may be comical to young readers, the show isn’t completely fiction, the actor told Fox News.
“Somebody said to me that you should write books for children about your learning challenge,” explained Winkler, who like Hank, has dyslexia, a language-based learning disability. “I thought that would be impossible. And the second time that this friend of mine said this to me several months later, he also said ‘I’m going to introduce you to my other friend, Lin Oliver.’ And we have now written 26 books. Our newest one came out two days ago.”
Winkler first embarked on writing children’s books in 2003, and just like Hank, he shares his own funny tale in creating new stories.
“I honestly thought I couldn’t do it, but then I got really into it,” Winkler told us. “I walk around Lin’s office. I talk, she types. She has an idea, she types. I wait. She reads it back to me. Then we argue.”
But Winkler’s real-life experiences with dyslexia was no laughing matter. Recently, he revealed how growing up in New York City, he struggled so much in school that teachers believed he was “lazy” and his parents, immigrants who escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 to pursue the American dream, nicknamed him “dummer hund” or “dumb dog.” It wouldn’t be until his oldest son Jed was diagnosed with dyslexia that a light bulb went off for the then-31-year-old star.
“When he was tested, everything they said about him was true about me. That’s how I knew,” he said.
“You know, one out of five kids have some sort of learning challenge. It’s hereditary…our wiring is different,” Winkler added. “But every child I’ve ever met in any school anywhere in the world knows exactly what they’re great at.”
For Winkler, it’s getting audiences — whether it’s in front of cameras or through the written word — to laugh.
“I think children really identify [with the comedy]” he said. “And the emotion of these books is very true. I remember what it was like to be 8 and fail. But the comedy is very inviting.”
And just like with his book, Winkler is still keeping busy with his lasting career on television. He’s excited to embark on the second season of NBC’s “Better Late Than Never” alongside William Shatner, George Foreman, Terry Bradshaw and Jeff Dye.
But rest assured, he hasn’t forgotten his time on “Happy Days,” the show that helped launch his pop culture icon status.
“We are very much like a family,” said Winkler. “I love them, I talk to them, I email them, and I see them,” he says.
What does Winkler think of TV shows these days, which some viewers have criticized for being too violent for families? He views it as entertainment, for grownups of course.
“There are TV shows today that are way better than feature films,” he said.