Henry Winkler Regrets Turning Down Iconic Role That Made John Travolta a Star

Henry Winkler became a TV icon in the 1970s thanks to his role as Arthur Fonzarelli on Happy Days. The Fonz is one of the most beloved characters in TV history, and he will forever be tied to Winkler’s legacy as an actor. As it turns out, Winkler almost played another iconic, leather jacket-wearing character in the 1970s. Henry Winkler was offered the role of Danny Zuko in Grease, the character that helped make John Travolta a household name.

Winkler was offered the lead role in 1978’s Grease, but turned it down out of fear of being typecast as Fonzie. Winkler didn’t want to be locked into playing just one kind of role, but he revealed in a recent interview with CNN’s Chris Wallace that his typecasting happened regardless. He referred to himself as a “damn fool” for turning the part down.

“I only realized years afterwards,” Winkler explained. “I thought, ‘I’ve played the Fonz. I don’t wanna do it again, but it’s already happened, I’m already typecast.”

“I should’ve just shut up and had a really good time making that movie,” Winkler continued. “Now, I go home, I say no, and I have a Diet Coke. John Travolta goes home, and has done the movie, and buys a plane.”

When the offer for Grease came in, Winkler was hoping for something that would have the same type of cultural impact as his work on Happy Days, but he felt the characters were entirely too similar.


“It was so bad that not only could I not find work, but I was sitting at my desk at Paramount and I literally thought, ‘Am I ever going to find anything with as much impact as the Fonz?'” Winkler said. “How will I know? Will anybody ever ask me? I’m not getting any offers.”

Ultimately, Winkler continued on playing the Fonz for a total of 11` seasons of Happy Days, and Travolta went on to be a major leading man in Hollywood. Things seemed to work out just fine for both of them.