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Winkler Brings "The Fonz" to UNCP

November 14, 2002

Henry WinklerThe teen idol of millions has a flaw.

Henry Winkler, known in TV land as "the Fonz" for 11 years on the hit show "Happy Days," revealed that he has dyslexia.

The actor, director and producer spoke to a very enthusiastic crowd of 800 October 12 at the Givens Performing Arts Center as part of UNC Pembroke's Distinguished Speaker Series.

Winkler's handicap did not prove fatal, as he went on to Yale University and to become one of America's most recognizable actors. The jacket he wore in "Happy Days" is in the Smithsonian museum.

"I am standing here tonight being mostly who I want to be," he said, encouraging others to make their dreams become real. "If you will it, it is not a dream."

Winkler, 57, delivered an inspirational message that was mixed with his trademark deadpan humor. He also gave an inside look at Hollywood and his career.

The son of successful immigrant parents, Winkler was labeled "lazy, stupid and an underachiever" as a child. He did not realize until his stepson was diagnosed with dyslexia, that he suffered from the same learning disability, he said.

"On the SAT, I ranked in the bottom three percentile, but I am finally not ashamed of that," Winkler said. "I wasn't stupid, I wasn't lazy, I was dyslexic, only no one knew what that was when I was gHenry Winklerrowing up."

"The habit of negative feelings about yourself is so pervasive and tormenting," Winker said. "If you let it take over you, you stop walking toward your dream."

"I was the king of negativity," he continued. "Don't put a period at the end of a negative thought. It can grow into a paragraph or a thesis of negativity."

Despite the handicap and his relatively small stature, Winkler succeeded at Yale and reached his goal of becoming a successful actor. His breakthrough came in "The Lords of Flatbush," starring opposite a young Sylvester Stallone.

"I did the show ("Happy Days") for 11 years and had a great time," Winkler said. "One day I said, 'Hey Ritchie, you can get a library card, and they're free.'"

Library cards issued after that one liner went up 500 percent in the U.S., Winkler said. "Who knew!"

"The energy you put out is the energy you get back," he said. "It's just as easy to be positive as it is to be negative."

Henry WinklerTo a group of middle school youngsters in the crowd, he advised, "There are no shortcuts. You can't do things half-baked. Put your time in now."

To a question about a tattoo of Roy Orbison that surfaced in the recent movie, "The Waterboy," Winkler laughed and said, "If you thought my butt was fabulous in the movie, then yes I do."

Winkler gave his trademark Fonzie thumbs up during a question and answer period following his talk and thrilled the audience with a "whooooa" and a "hey."

The actor said he would do a reunion show of "Happy Days" if Ron Howard agrees. He is currently producing the game show "Hollywood Squares," writing a series of children's books and launching a new "MacGyver" television show.

Following the show, the actor posed for photographs and did an interview with the university's WNCP-TV.

The Distinguished Speaker Series continues with James Earl Jones on February 18, actress, singer and dancer Rita Moreno on March 11 and Oklahoma basketball coach Kelvin Sampson on April 28.