Henry Winkler may have long since retired Fonzie’s signature leather jacket, but real retirement is far from the ever-in-demand actor’s mind.In the pantheon of iconic television characters who transcended their origins and long outlived their series’ runs, Arthur Fonzarelli sits among names like Kermit the Frog and J.R. Ewing. Brought to life by Henry Winkler, the soft-spoken, richly articulate actor-producer, The Fonz was the epitome of cool with a heart of gold. Today, Winkler, 66, is still the height of coolness, appearing everywhere from Adult Swim’s Children’s Hospital and USA’s Royal Pains to this month’s Here Comes the Boom, in which a high school science teacher (Kevin James) becomes a mixed martial arts fighter to save his school’s music program, fronted by Winkler’s character. American Way caught up with Winkler to talk about arts education, his own inspiration and knowing one’s limits.
American Way: On the surface, Here Comes the Boom is a family comedy, but it also takes a look at why the arts are a critical part of a child’s education. What’s your experience with that?
Henry Winkler: The arts really matter in education. Sometimes the arts are the only way a ?student is unlocked. Maybe math is hard. Writing is hard. Science is hard. But through the voice or the body or the imagination or the instrument, maybe that student is able to unfurl his soul to the rest of the world. Yes, I’m talking about myself. The arts help complete a person. And since I started working, I have never, not once, used geometry.
AW: Tell me about your academic struggles growing up.
HW: I almost didn’t get to have the job I have today. At my school, if you didn’t have a certain GPA, you couldn’t do arts, and I was dyslexic. I struggled a lot. But I was allowed to perform, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that.
AW: You’ve written a best-selling series of children’s novels called Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever, about your experiences.
HW: It’s kind of the autobiography of my childhood. The humor is exaggerated, but the emotions are real. The greatest parts of my career have been receiving letters from students who feel like someone finally understands them.
AW: Since Here Comes the Boom deals with mixed martial arts, I have to ask: Any chance we’ll see you in the octagon?
HW: You will see me in the ring in this film — but only bringing in a stool for Kevin James. I know my limitations.