Henry Winkler, best known as Fonzie on Happy Days, had a far-from-glamorous childhood. Born to immigrant parents who escaped Nazi Germany, Winkler faced difficulties due to an undiagnosed reading disorder.
Unfortunately, his parents were unaware of his dyslexia and labeled him as “dumb,” even going as far as calling him a ‘Dummo Hund,’ or dumb dog.
This led to a difficult upbringing and impacted his self-image.
Despite these hardships, Winkler never gave up on his dreams. He applied to 28 colleges and was accepted into two. Eventually, he received an acceptance letter from the prestigious Yale School of Drama. His talent shone during an improvised Shakespearean monologue, which propelled him to success.
While Winkler thrived on-screen, portraying the charismatic Fonzie, his dyslexia still affected his reading and coordination. Even when offered the lead role in Grease, he declined to avoid being typecast.
A Turning Point
At the age of 31, Winkler’s perspective on dyslexia changed when his stepson Jed went through a dyslexia test. It was then that Winkler realized they shared the same struggle. He acknowledged dyslexia as a silent barrier that had impacted his own life. Overcoming auditions by memorizing scripts, he used humor to mask any inadequacies, claiming to provide the ‘essence of the character.’