JACKSON TWP. Henry Winkler aka "The Fonz" came to Stark County and people from Stark County and beyond packed the Kent State at Stark Conference Center to get a glimpse of the man who played such an iconic character in American television.
While Winkler talked about the Arthur Fonzarelli character and how he got and then molded the role, the visit was to deliver a message of encouragement, tenacity and gratitude.
The audience heard about his struggles with learning; how his parents were not highly supportive; and how a child who could barely spell or read and who was in the bottom 3 percent academically because of dyslexia started writing children’s books in 2003. Since then, Winkler has written more than 30 books, most of which are about a boy named Hank who struggles with learning.
Winkler, who is 71 years old, was born in New York City. While he called himself "learning challenged" throughout his talk, he did earn a bachelor’s degree from Emerson College and a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama. After appearing in numerous commercials and plays, he soon made his way to Hollywood.
Winkler was cast as "The Fonz" on his birthday, Oct. 30, 1973. The character was part of ABC's "Happy Days" series and it was one of his first acting jobs after moving to Hollywood. Winkler talked a bit about the character, including the famed leather jacket he wore that is now on display in the Smithsonian Institute. He also mentioned the iconic motorcycle and why he had the motorcycle in almost every shot.
"I don’t like motorcycles and I never learned how to ride one. I just look good sitting on one so I had to do things like roll the bike into Arnold’s," Winkler said.
The audience learned a great deal about Winkler in less than an hour. He talked about how his German-born parents called him dumb dog in German, told him he wouldn’t be successful as an adult and weren’t attentive to his troubles with learning in school.
"Everyone in this room is an unbelievably powerful human being," Winkler said. "Every word you say counts because children hear those words and absorb them."
He said his father owned a business selling wood and wanted him to get involved with the business. Winkler had other ideas because he said he, "ate, dreamt and slept thinking about becoming an actor," and that he didn’t have a backup plan. He found the will and the way to becoming a successful television and movie actor, producer and director.
He had several one-line messages to share with the audience including, "Never put a period on a negative thought." Winkler said exercising that statement has changed his life.
"If you will it, it’s no longer a dream. Always say 'I’ll try.' If we help kids do what they’re great at and help them meet their destiny. We will make America great again and that’s for sure," Winkler said.
Winkler read a few paragraphs from his second book, "I Got a "D" in Salami" and someone from the audience asked how was he was able to read so well. He quickly responded that he was the one who wrote the book and that he reads from his books at most of his talks, so he has some of it memorized.
One of his latest books is titled, "I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River, Reflections on Family, Photography, and Fly-Fishing."
Fly-fishing is another accomplishment that took him by surprise.
"I never thought I could get the casts right to do fly-fishing. I’m having the greatest time with it," he said.
After his talk, he took a few questions from the audience. One audience member asked him a question about education.
"One thing I know is that you are not defined by what you do in school. You are defined by your brilliance, your imagination and how you walk on this earth. I promise you, that is the truth. If you have something that you want to do and you will it, it will become more than just a dream. I don’t know why, but the earth revolves on that thought," he said.
Winkler was exciting, charming, funny and maybe a bit shorter than some people may have expected. He was also direct about where he started and how he got to where he is today. The audience showed their appreciation for his coming and sharing with them by giving him a standing ovation.
He said that he still has the "pull toward the negative" but fully believes in his mantra of never putting a period on the end of a negative thought. In the end, Winkler thanked everyone for coming and for listening to him because he said, "my parents never did."