Henry Winkler put an end to a common rumor about Happy Days in 1976

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Henry Winkler became well-known for his role as the always cool and influential character, Arthur Fonzarelli, on Happy Days (1974). Although, most people just call him "The Fonz" or "Fonzie" for short. 

He played the role for a total of 11 seasons before the series came to an end in 1984. 

In 1976, you may remember hearing the sad news that Henry Winkler was leaving Happy Days due to disagreements with the cast and ABC executives. If you believe this rumor, it's probably because you saw it published in a newspaper or a celebrity magazine. 

The rumor that Henry Winkler was leaving and that his iconic character was going with him shocked Happy Days fans. The rumor swirled around Hollywood so frequently, it probably even left him wondering "Have I been fired?"

The news spread like wildfire and Winkler said he had to put an end to it. 

"I wish you would print that 'Henry Winkler is not leaving Happy Days,'" Winker said in a 1976 interview with Argus-Leader. "People all over the country have been hearing rumors that I was walking out. I know where I was before the series started, and I know where I am now. I do not take that lightly."

The incident that prompted the rumor started because, during the 1976 season, Winkler did not show up to work for two days. According to the interview, he said he did not report to the set at the start of the season because he "held a position which was morally correct."

Winkler went on to say that he felt as though certain executives at the network were patting him on the back and ripping him off at the same time. Frustrated, Winkler took pride in what he had done for the show and decided to make a statement for higher pay.

The earning power of Happy Days did not match what he was earning in his paycheck.

"All I need is my self-respect and my life," Winkler said. "Unfortunately, respect in this town comes from earning power, not ability. So I decided to take a stand. What I did was correct."

Winkler said he stayed away from all contract negotiations and let his lawyer take the lead. After a little bit of time and a lot of persistence, his contract was improved and a larger share of merchandising was added.

Part of Winkler's inherent self-respect came from his line of work and part of it came from his hard work within Hollywood. According to the article, Winkler moved to Hollywood in 1973 and landed the role of Fonzie a month later.

During the first two seasons of the comedy series, Fonzie was just a semi-background character who had a few funny lines here and there. However, Winkler said he knew something bigger was happening as the series progressed. 

"The show went on the air in January," Winkler said. "In May, I arrived for an appearance in Little Rock and there were 2,000 people. In January this year, I appeared in Detroit for 250,000 people. Some stood in line for three to four hours to enter the stadium. There were grandmothers and there were two-year-olds. The appeal of Fonzie crosses all ages, all walks of life."

Winkler developed the character himself, adding a leather jacket, boots, and the classic thumbs-up salute. The coolness of Fonzie struck a chord with many American viewers. It was impossible to go anywhere without hearing someone yell out his iconic catchphrase: "Aaay!"

His fans created and requested an outpour of shirts, buttons, posters, bed sheets, mugs, and more. And yes, he got a pretty penny from that merchandising — as he worked so hard to do. 

"There is a lot of fantasy in Fonz; no one can be that cool," Winkler said. "But I also gave him integrity, loyalty, a sense of morality, a feeling of owning his space. Self-respect is the cornerstone of life; self-respect equals joy. I think that's why people found Fonz appealing."