Henry Winkler didn't want his fans to only remember him as The Fonz

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Henry Winkler is an iconic actor who continues to add acting credits to his long resume. With a recent television series, commercials, movie roles and even a new book, Winkler has certainly come a long way from giving a thumbs up and rocking a leather jacket on Happy Days. 

Before he was Gene Cousineau on the Emmy-Award winning series Barry, and prior to touring the country speaking about his book, Being Henry, Winkler played a very important role in pop culture.

Winkler played the role of Fonzie for 11 seasons on Happy Days. The character became an icon of cool, a fashion influence, and despite his "bad boy" aura, he actually had a heart of gold. 

The Fonz became part of him through the 11 years Happy Days was on-air, but Winkler didn't want to be known as Fonzie forever — especially not in public.

According to a 1977 interview with The Miami News, Winkler said he loved The Fonz but had never met a person like Fonzie in his real life — probably for the best.

"I don't like being called The Fonz, but I don't hate him," Winkler said. "That's something the press has made up. Fonzie is a fantasy. There is no way that I could be like that man, and I don't consider it a tribute that they confuse me with him."

The impact Fonzie had on pop culture was astounding. Men wanted to be him, women wanted to date him, and only the coolest kids of the '70s knew who he was. To this day, Fonzie's face can still be seen printed on shirts and merchandise and in TV re-runs.

Winkler worked to make Fonzie feel so real that many fans had a hard time separating the character from the actor.

"It's just that I leave Fonzie in my dressing room after the show and become who I am," Winkler said. "I don't mind talking about the show at all, it's just that I don't want to be The Fonz."

Winkler said he was worried the character would typecast him into a certain type of role. It was a character he was not at all like in the real world, and one he had wanted to start to distance himself from. 

According to the interview, Winkler was looking into a variety of movie roles at the time. He said he thought television had not yet grown up yet, could be overbearing and had too much censorship where it wasn't needed.

"I have been frustrated by being one character," Winkler said. "Actually, I have taken The Fonz a long way in the years that I have been playing him. He changes in different ways every year. He's more verbal now; he laughed for the first time last year and almost cried for the first time in public."

At the time of this interview, Winkler had been working on films that included The Lords of Flatbush, Heroes and The One and Only. According to another 1977 interview with The Courier-Post, Winkler said it was his main job to create popular characters like Fonzie.

"I love Fonzie, but I won't let him box me in," Winkler said. "When somebody calls me Fonzie, I don't let it go by. My name is Henry Winkler."