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Fonzie Says 'Aaay!': Facts And Stories Of Henry Winkler's 'Happy Days' Character

Icons | November 15, 2019

Henry Winkler as the Fonz on 'Happy Days.' Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

On Happy Days, Fonzie's "Aaay" could mean just about anything. The one-word catchphrase uttered by Henry Winkler, who played the Fonz (Arthur Fonzarelli), expressed everything from humor to seriousness. Though it's not even really a word with an official spelling -- "Eyy" or "Eeey" or Ayy" -- it's the one-syllable line that viewers associate with the character and the show, which ran from 1974 to 1984. Fonzie was a perfect TV character, and despite the stereotypical early-'60s tough-guy facade, there was a lot more to him -- especially as the show went on and he became its center.

We Almost Didn’t Get Henry Winkler As The Fonz

Dolenz Vs the Fonz (posthard)

Looking back, it’s impossible to think of any other actor playing the Fonz. Even today, it’s impossible to see Henry Winkler and not think “ayyy.” Unbelievably, the role of the unforgettable Fonz almost went to Micky Dolenz from the Monkees.

According to Dolenz, “It actually came down to me and Henry Winkler. We’re good friends and still laugh about it. I remember when Henry first walked into the interview. He saw me and said, 'Oh, crap, Micky Dolenz is here. I’ll never get it.' But I’m so glad he did, because he was a much better Fonz than I would have been. He is the Fonz!”

Henry Winkler’s Fonzie Inspiration

It's easy to see where Winkler found his Fonz (neogaf.com)

Amazingly Fonzie, for those old enough to remember, wasn’t meant to be the star of “Happy Days.” Nevertheless, the Casanova in a leather jacket stole the show and quickly overshadowed every other character. The producers of the show had no choice but to put “eyyy” front and center.

Of course, if you know where Winkler got his inspiration for the coolest guy in Milwaukee, it’s no surprise that the Fonz became the star of “Happy Days.” Winkler told the Archive of American Television that it was none other than Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa himself, who gave the Fonz his preternatural cool. “I studied Sly. Sly Stallone. He played the character. But what Sly really was inside, was funny, witty, and unbelievably articulate. And a brilliant writer.” Their time together on Lords of Flatbush gave Winkler ample time to study Stallone. 

The Legend Of The Leather Jacket

What if Fonz was never allowed to wear his iconic leather? Source: biography.com

One of the most famous garments in the history of American television, once a prized exhibit at the Smithsonian, Fonzie's leather jacket almost never got its chance to shine. Apparently, higher-ups at ABC forbid the Fonz from wearing his quintessential because they feared that the jacket would make him look like a hoodlum. That’s why in the first few episodes the Fonz is rocking a forgettable white windbreaker.

Thankfully, producers of the show cleverly found a loophole. The Fonz would be permitted to wear his leather if he was near his motorcycle. Putting the Fonz astride his hog changed the leather jacket from gang colors to “a piece of safety equipment” in the eyes of higher-ups. Producers sold executives on the idea that without his leather Fonzie would be in danger on his bike. Once they got the green light on that incredible sell job, they decided to simply always put him next to a motorcycle. 

Fonzie’s Gifts To Pop Culture

Fonz on his way to "Jumping the shark." (inews.co.uk)

Besides the sweet leather jacket, Fonzie gave pop culture some gems we still use today. For instance, “Jumping the shark,” originated from a season five episode where Fonzie pulls an Evel Knievel-like stunt by jumping over a shark on water skis. The bit came so far out of left field that the phrase stuck and is still used today when a show egregiously overreaches. There’s also a chance that the episode saved the actual Evel Knievel’s life by doing it before the adrenaline junkie could.

Another trope spawned by Fonzie is when a secondary character takes over the show due to their popularity. “Pulling a Fonzie” aptly describes a creative takeover, forced by overwhelming demand. 

The Man Behind The Fonz

It's not hard to see how Winkler stood out (retroplanet.com)

Henry Winkler may not have as many interesting tidbits as the great Fonz but the award-winning actor has undoubtedly had his moments. Once, while on the set of Happy Days, Winkler received a call from a state trooper who told him that a 17-year-old kid was going to jump off a roof unless he talked to the Fonz. 

In an incredibly high tension situation, Winkler got on the phone and talked to the kid as the Fonz. He jovially asked if he could have the kid’s record collection if he jumped. But if he didn’t, Winkler would help him get into acting. The kid who mentioned to Winkler he wanted to be an actor relented and safely got off the ledge. Score one for Winkler.

Tags: Famous Quotes From The 1970s | Fonzie | Happy Days | Henry Winkler | TV In The 1970s | What Did He Do?...

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!