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‘All Of Fonzie’s Mannerisms Were Symptoms Of Advanced Syphilis’: 5 Questions With Henry Winkler

Henry Winkler has one of the most enduring legacies in television history. Ever since his breakout role as Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli on ‘Happy Days,’ he’s been racking up memorable turns in works such as ‘Arrested Development,’ ‘Scream,’ a number of Adam Sandler films, and his latest project, HBO’s ‘Barry.’ We sat down with the comedic actor to talk about the Fonz, typecasting, and his struggle with dyslexia.

1. Looking back after a long and successful career, how do you feel about your breakout role as Fonzie on Happy Days?

Incredibly proud. I loved every minute of playing the Fonz. On the surface, Fonzie was just some handsome greaser with a motorcycle who could get any girl he wanted. But if you dug deeper, he was also the world’s worst witch, whose only two powers were the ability to make a jukebox play “Hound Dog” by punching it and the ability to trick another kid’s parents into adopting him even though the two weren’t even that good of friends. The Fonz’s attempts to juggle those complex parts of him changed TV forever, and I’m so happy that I got to be a part of it.

2. What was it like developing that character and creating Fonzie’s iconic charisma?

You know, it was surprisingly simple. Basically, I went into the character thinking, “In real life, a greaser like this guy would almost certainly have untreated syphilis.” From there on out, I based all of the Fonz’s mannerisms on whatever symptoms of late-stage syphilis I could make cool and attractive. For example, whenever the Fonz said, “Ayyy,” it was because he’d just felt another layer of his skull disintegrate as a result of syphilitic necrosis. His whole personality came together pretty organically like that.

3. Do you regret being typecast early in your career?

Not at all, because if it wasn’t for playing the Fonz, I never would have met my mom. I was in a grocery store in Los Angeles, and this woman approached me to ask if I was the actor who played the Fonz. I told her yes, I was. One thing led to another, and I ended up going back to her place that night, where she ended up giving birth to me. She’s been my mother ever since. My mother is my world, so I wouldn’t trade being the Fonz for anything.

4. You’ve spoken publicly about your struggles with dyslexia, and you even wrote a children’s book series about it. Is there any advice you have for people with dyslexia today?

I would like to tell all the dyslexia people out there that it’s actually much healthier to eat several smaller meals throughout the course of the day rather than just three big meals. Not only is it scientifically proven to help you live longer, it makes you feel better all day. This advice also applies to Lyme disease people. Just to be clear, I don’t have Lyme’s disease now, and I never have had it, but I imagine the whole smaller-meals thing would be as helpful for them as I imagine it might be for dyslexia people.

5. The reality show you star on, Better Late Than Never, has you traveling the globe crossing things off your bucket list. What’s left on your bucket list?

I’d really like to be forced at gunpoint to choose to either kill one person I love or 10 complete strangers. Those kind of problems fascinate me. I have no idea which one I’d choose, so the only way to find out is to be forced to actually make that horrific call. I’m really curious to find out which one I pick.