"The Fonz" has been a dyslexia advocate for years.
Henry Winkler is best known for playing one of the most iconic TV characters of all time, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzerelli, on “Happy Days.” But at 77, his career is still going strong as he plays acting coach Gene Cousineau on HBO Max’s critically-acclaimed “Barry.”
But success hasn’t been easy for Winkler. He had a challenging time in school as a child because he had undiagnosed dyslexia. The disorder also made it extremely difficult for him to memorize lines as an actor.
“When I was growing up in New York City, no one knew what dyslexia was,” he said, according to The Reading Well. “I was called stupid and lazy, and I was told that I was not living up to my potential. It was, without a doubt, painful. I spent most of my time covering up the fact that reading, writing, spelling, math, science—actually, every subject but lunch—was really, really difficult for me.”
At 31, after his stepson's learning disabilities were diagnosed as dyslexia, Winkler learned that he also has the disorder. The diagnosis helped him develop strategies that make it easier for him to memorize his lines and continue his success in entertainment.
Since then, he has advocated for people with dyslexia and has written over 30 children’s books, including the "Hank Zipzer" series about a hero who has dyslexia.
Winkler appeared on the April 18th episode of “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” where he comforted the host whose daughter, River Rose, 8, has dyslexia.
“She was getting bullied at school for not being able to read like all the other kids,” Clarkson said. Winkler assured Clarkson that her daughter wasn’t alone, citing the fact that 1 in 5 kids have the disorder.
“It’s more common, I didn’t know that,” Clarkson said.
“She’s in the tribe,” Winkler responded.
What’s cooler than being in the same tribe as Fonzie?
“It really empowered her that y’all are so open about it,” Clarkson said, noting that her daughter’s school had a program about dyslexia that mentioned numerous celebrities have the disorder.
Winkler then looked directly into the camera and shared some great advice for Clarkson’s daughter and the millions who struggle with dyslexia. “How you learn has nothing to do with how brilliant you are,” he said.
Winkler’s bold declaration made Clarkson well up with tears. “My makeup artist is going to kill me,” she joked.
Winkler’s simple message is something everyone should hear: Your ability to learn isn’t necessarily a sign of your intelligence.
"Many people mistakenly believe that the ability to learn is a matter of intelligence," Ulrich Boser writes in Harvard Business Review, adding that “learning strategies can be more important than raw smarts when it comes to gaining expertise.”
Kudos to Winkler for being a tireless advocate for people with dyslexia and educating the public about the disorder. As the Harvard Business Review says, learning is about finding the right strategies. The better we understand learning disabilities, the more we can help those who struggle to find the strategies that work for them—just like The Fonz.