Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fonz star Henry Winkler reveals he created 'aaaaay' catchphrase to cover up misery of undiagnosed dyslexia

From The Daily Mail in the UK:

An entire generation will remember the leather-jacketed, bequiffed Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli in Happy Days.

But few would know that one of the most famous catchphrases in seventies television history was created to hide the crippling undiagnosed dyslexia with which Fonz star Henry Winkler was struggling.

Learning lines and reading scripts was a nightmare for the actor, until he came up with a coping mechanism.

The 65-year-old actor told The Times: 'Learning the lines was so hard I reduced an entire paragraph to a sound, "aaaaay".

'And I could use different intonations of "aaaaay" as well. I could make it mean all sorts of things from "Don't mess with me", to "I am hungry".'

Playing the Fonz made Wilder a global favourite in the seventies - but the actor, who was made an OBE by the Queen last month, said that inside he was far from self assured.

Winkler, who spearheads the My Way! campaign which promotes awareness of special needs, said his academic life was miserable.

At school, he says he was ‘the class dunce, someone who was less able, not that bright. Stupid’.

He finally realised at the age of 31 what his problem was when his stepson Jed was diagnosed with dyslexia.

Winkler told The Times: 'The first thing I felt was anger, because I thought, Oh my God, all that feeling bad was for nothing. If only I had known.'

Despite his difficulties, Winkler went on to enjoy incredible success as a much-loved actor.

Happy Days ran from 1974 for ten years, and by the end the Fonz was a global phenomenon, voted the 4th greatest TV character of all time.

His portrayal of the Fonze won Winkler two Golden Globes and three Primetime Emmy nominations.

Winkler is now known to a new generation for his books about Hank Zipzer, a boy with dyslexia, whose experiences are based on the actor's own childhood struggles.

British ambassador Nigel Sheinwald, who presented Winkler's OBE in September, said: 'Through (Winkler), thousands of young people have seen a role model and an inspiration for overcoming their learning challenges.'

The honour was given in recognition of the star's services to children with dyslexia and special educational needs.