Henry Winkler Refuses to Be Defeated By Dyslexia
By Nicki Gostin Posted Jul 7th 2011 11:01PM
For most, Henry Winkler will forever be The Fonz, but he's had a long and successful career since 'Happy Days,' appearing in dozens of shows and movies like 'The Waterboy,' and 'Arrested Development.' His most recent roles include Hank's dad on 'Royal Pains,' and 'Children's Hospital.' The 65-year-old actor is also co-author of the wildly popular Hank Zipzer children's books, about an under-achiever which is based on Winkler's early struggles with undiagnosed dyslexia. His latest book is about his twin passions, fly fishing and photography. 'I've Never Met an Idiot on the River' is a slim but lovely tome filled with sweet anecdotes, astute observations and illustrated with his own photos. PopEater caught up with Winkler to talk his rituals out on the river, whether he felt 'Happy Days' ever truly jumped the shark and he gets serious about how he first coped with dyslexia.
"I didn't want to be angry, so you embrace the dyslexia rather than be embarrassed by it or defeated by it," he tells us. "Now certainly there are times when I wish I could spell, I wish I could do math in my head, I wish I could learn Italian."
How did you get interested in fly fishing?
I was taken by my lawyer down the Smith River in Montana and I loved it. No pun intended, I was hooked. You're in a beautiful place, on the water, the sound of the water is like a washing machine for your brain.
I've always heard that you're the biggest mensch in Hollywood but according to your wife in the introduction you're not such a nice guy out on the water.
What happens is I want to catch that fish so it's not really a matter of not being nice on the water, it's not being nice if I'm not alone in the boat. When I'm alone on the boat I'm an angel. We made a deal, my wife and me, that I would go alone and we meet up for lunch.
Biggest fish you caught?
Last year, it was six pounds and 25 1/2 inches. It was the greatest day ever. I mean outside of my children being born.
So third best day ever?
I would say fourth or fifth. Writing the books was number three and being able to earn a living doing what I dreamed of doing is number two.
When you're fly-fishing does it make Hollywood seem silly?
No, I'm too much of a realist. Hollywood is not silly, it's what you make of it. Hollywood as you can tell has been really good to me so I'm grateful.
It seems like dyslexia has been a defining issue for you.
I think that's certainly true. I didn't know that was going to happen. I think that at first I was ashamed then I found out when my step-son Jed was in the 3rd grade, we had him tested and that's when I found out that's what I have. Then I was angry, all that punishment, all that yelling, all that feeling bad was for naught and then I thought maybe I would not be on the phone talking to you today if I did not not struggle through my learning challenge. Because if I were to give you two words to live by it would be tenacity and gratitude. Tenacity gets you where you want to go and gratitude doesn't allow you to be angry along the way.
How did you let go of the anger?
It's a process. I didn't want to be angry, so you embrace the dyslexia rather than be embarrassed by it or defeated by it. Now certainly there are times when I wish I could spell, I wish I could do math in my head, I wish I could learn Italian.
On 'Happy Days,' when Fonzie started to become almost like Jesus with special powers did you think it was ridiculous?
I would not use the word ridiculous, what I understood was I was not him.
I meant did you think the scripts were getting silly?
No, I didn't think about that. All I thought about was if we could make it funny or not. I was really in the presence of unbelievable people like Garry Marshall and Ron Howard.
Do you have a bad word to say about anybody?
I do but I won't way them to you. Here's the other thing, these people, they're not in my life. I don't spend time with those people.
Did you always have such a positive attitude?
I did maybe that's part of dyslexia that I'm blind to things. My wife would say, 'Wait a minute did you just hear what that person said to you?' and I would say, 'No,' so it didn't get in. But I'm easily moved to revolution by disrespect. I move from zero to sixty in a second if someone is disrespectful to me.
What's the most important thing that fly-fishing has taught you?
The anticipatory fear of trying something is way worse than the actuality. That is a big lesson. I try to pass that onto my children or anybody who will listen actually.
Hello, you're the Fonz, people are always going to listen to you.
No, you'd be surprised. You've got to live in my skin for some time.
Well for me you'll always be the Fonz and I'll always listen to you.
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