Few people have had to overcome as much difficulty to succeed in their profession as actor, producer and children’s book author Henry Winkler. The talented star is best known for playing Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli on the popular sitcom “Happy Days.” Henry accomplished what most actors strive to do, avoiding being typecast after such a significant role.
“Happy Days” made Henry a household name and won him several awards, but he didn’t want to get stuck only playing bad-boy types forever. However, he has continued to excel as a comedic actor, playing iconic roles on popular television shows such as “Arrested Development,” “Parks and Recreation” and he even won an Emmy award for his performance as Gene Cousineau on the HBO dark comedy series “Barry.”
Henry also went on to become a successful producer behind the camera on the hit action series “Macgyver.” What makes his career all the more impressive is that Henry has struggled with dyslexia throughout his life. He said he did not read a book on his own until he was age 31. As an actor who is expected to read and memorize lines for a living, you can imagine how much of a challenge this was for Henry to overcome.
Despite struggling in his personal life, Henry has had an unforgettable career and leads a fulfilling private life. He has been married to Stacey Weitzman since 1978 and is a father to three children. While raising his kids, Henry made sure to not repeat the same mistakes his parents made while raising him.
Henry was born in Manhattan, New York City, on Oct. 30, 1945. He lived there until he was 27, before moving to California. Due to his dyslexia, Henry struggled in school and was considered slow and stupid by his family, who was unaware of his learning disability. This conflict caused Henry much anxiety and stress in his childhood. He was often punished unfairly because of his poor grades, which strained his relationship with his parents.
Despite his struggles, Henry still went on to have an impressive academic career. After taking summer courses, he graduated from McBurney School in 1963, after taking summer courses to make up for his poor grades. In 1967, with much difficulty, he earned his Bachelor’s degree from Emerson College. Then Henry earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Drama in 1970. While auditioning for Yale, he forgot his prepared Shakespearean monologue and created his own on the spot.
Henry shared in his own words what his academic experience was like as he told The Guardian:
“I was completely befuddled by school. I was trying so hard but I couldn’t succeed.”
“Did I really have to feel so bad and struggle so much and think I was so stupid for so long? I really feel we have to teach children how they learn, not what we think they should learn at school.”
Henry stressed that education was very important to his parents. “They were very critical and sometimes cruel,” he said. “Their pet name for me was Dummer Hund (dumb dog).”
It wasn’t until Henry was 31 that he realized there was a reason for his struggles with reading and writing. Around that time, he also made some incredible life changes. In 1978, Henry married Stacey Weitzman and adopted her son Jed Weitzman as well. The couple went on to have two children of their own, Max Winkler and Zoe Winkler, and the former is now in show business as a director.
Henry learned about dyslexia while he was helping his stepson in school, who also has learning difficulties. This realization changed Henry’s life as he finally understood what made him different from other learners. He also vowed to not repeat his parents’ mistakes. Henry told The Guardian:
“As a child, before I went to bed, I thought every night that I would be a different parent from my parents. I don’t think I have ever laid a hand on my children – but as a kid I had hands, a hairbrush … I remember having breakfast. It was cereal and I put my ear down to the bowl to hear the ‘snap, crackle and pop.’ My mother exploded and chased me around the table. All I was doing was listening. How bad was that?”
During an interview, Henry talked about helping out his son Max, and Max had told him that Henry loved him “too much” during his childhood. He explained:
“And I said, ‘I would do it all again,’ because the alternative is hideous. My parents were very tough. Not just strict. They didn’t care to see an individual outside of who they were and how it translated to their life.”
Henry has certainly overcome a lot in his lifetime and has made sure to raise his children the way he had always wanted to be raised.
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