"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," said Winkler.
Henry Winkler still regrets not taking up the role of Danny Zuko in the 1978's musical film, Grease.
Winkler in an interview with CNN's Chris Wallace said that he turned down the role for fear of being "typecast." He thought the character was too close to that of his role in Happy Days, Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli. "I literally thought, 'Am I ever gonna find anything with as much impact as the Fonz? How will I know? Will anybody ever ask me? I'm not getting any offers,' " Winkler recalled.
Actor Henry Winkler on turning down lead role in Grease: "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." pic.twitter.com/l3IaNcX7ZA— CNN (@CNN) November 13, 2022
Hearing that he rejected the role, Wallace asked his guest, "Are you a damn fool?" — to which the actor replied, "Yes. I am."
However, Grease went on to create an iconic status for John Travolta in Hollywood. Winkler acted in Happy Days from 1974 to 1984. He thought, " 'I've played the Fonz, I don't wanna do it again ... it has already happened. I'm already typecast.' "
However, Winkler regrets turning down the role. "I should've just shut up and had a really good time making that movie," he joked. "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," he added.
Grease casting director Joel Thurm told PEOPLE that while Winkler was never officially offered the role of Danny, he may have been talked about — but Paramount Pictures agreed to distribute the film only due to Travolta's casting. The film was a huge success, inspiring many a reunion, theatrical re-releases, and more. It also inspired a live television production in 2016.
Despite missing the opportunity, Winkler has had a successful career with more than 40 years in show business. Moreover, he has been nominated for five Daytime Emmy Awards and nine Primetime Emmy Awards, winning the latter accolade in 2018 for his role in Barry.
During the interview, Wallace also asked him how he transformed into the "epitome of cool" as Fonz on the show Happy Days. “Because I trained for many, many years to be an actor, and I got to play somebody. I wasn’t somebody who I wanted to be,” Winkler replied, adding, “And it was so much fun. They are still my family. All of the people who have survived are still very, very close. We are incredibly friendly.”
He also mentioned that the producers originally envisioned The Fonz as "a taller Italian kid." He said, “And they got you know, this short Jew from New York, but all I did Chris, all I did was change my voice,” Winkler recalled. “I introduce myself as Henry, and then as I started to do it, something overtook me … And I changed my voice like this and it unleashed me.”
Cover Image Sources: Getty Images; (L) Presley Ann (R) Central Press