Henry Winkler’s path to greatness was everything but simple.
His parents punished him severely because he struggled in school, and over time, the taunts and name-calling—which he sworn he would never do to his own children—affected his confidence.
Years later, when he finally realized why he suffered, he wanted to use his diagnosis to motivate others, especially kids, because he knew how much it had set him back.
Winkler is a skilled actor, but it was not always easy for him. He actually had to work quite hard to get all of his successes.
And it all started when he was a young boy.
Winkler was held in high regard from the beginning, particularly in terms of his education.
Winkler revealed to The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity that her parents were “very, very, very, very, very, very, very short Jews from Germany.” “They supported education. They believed I was sluggish. I received the label of laziness. I got called a moron. I was accused of not reaching my full potential.
Winkler’s parents, however, were not accepted by him. He believed he was giving it his all.
Winkler attempted practically every trick in the book but still struggled mightily in school, which not only earned him punishment from his parents but also prevented him from taking part in school plays or dances.
“For the majority of my time in high school, I was grounded. They believed that if I remained at my desk for a period of six weeks, I would finally understand and they would end the absurdity of my lethargy. That would have been the end.
Winkler managed to graduate from Yale University with an MFA despite having difficulties in high school.
After graduation, nevertheless, he had some problems once more. It was quite challenging to read scripts.
“With your learning challenge, you learn to bargain. I made up my own. In my entire life, I have never read anything the way it was written.
He said that he could recall most of it in an instant. “What I didn’t remember, I made up and did it with conviction. Sometimes I made them laugh and sometimes I was employed,” he said.
Even though he eventually received the role of Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli in Happy Days, he acknowledged that he had trouble with table reads.
I spent ten years reading around that table with the producers, the other performers, the director, and all of the department heads when we made Happy Days, which made me feel uncomfortable. We read the scripts on Monday morning. Every word I said was stumbling. I felt absolutely humiliated. If anything is written well for me to memorize, my brain can then absorb it like a vacuum.
Winkler didn’t think about the possibility that he might have dyslexia until his stepson started having academic difficulties and was evaluated for a learning condition.
“Oh my gosh, I thought. I possess something that has a name. When I initially received it, that was.
At the time, Winkler was 31 years old.
“I didn’t pick up a book until I was 31 years old, when I received a dyslexia diagnosis. I was afraid of books. They unnerved me,” he admitted.
Winkler became upset when he realized his reading difficulties were brought on by a learning handicap.
“I became quite irate. Because all of the disagreements I had with my parents, two short Germans, were for nought. The whole grounding exercise was in vain.
However, he then turned his diagnosis into motivation for others, particularly kids, by creating a children’s book series with a dyslexic boy named Hank who attends elementary school.
Many people have identified with the series because Winkler said he frequently gets letters from young people.
“I reply to any child who writes me a letter about Hank Zipzer. “Your learning problem will not stop you from attaining your dream,” I write in every letter I send. It is only you who can prevent yourself from realizing your dreams.
Winkler has succeeded greatly despite his ongoing difficulties with his learning issue. He has published multiple books, won numerous honors for his work in Hollywood, and just recently it was revealed that his autobiography would be published in 2024.
Despite his many accomplishments, he claimed that “my fondest moment, outside of my family, regardless of what I have achieved, are the books.”
Watch him talk about his struggles below: