Henry Winkler Regrets Turning Down Role In One Of Hollywood’s Biggest Films

Henry Winkler regrets turning down the role of Danny Zuko in the film version of Grease.

By Gareth Skarka | Published

Henry Winkler rose to fame playing the iconic role of greaser Arthur Fonzarelli, the coolest guy in the world, on the 1970s sitcom Happy Days, (as well as appearing as the character in spin-offs Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy) but it was another greaser role that he turned down which stands as one of the actor’s biggest regrets. In a new interview with CNN’s Chris Wallace, Henry Winkler calls himself ‘a fool’ for turning down the lead role of Danny Zuko in the 1978 blockbuster film Grease.

At the time, he was worried about typecasting after playing a fairly similar character in The Fonz. Now, Henry Winkler realizes he should have accepted the role anyway, considering how much of a smash hit Grease would turn out to be. Comparing himself to John Travolta, the actor who accepted the Zuko role, Winkler jokes “I go home … and I have a diet Coke. John Travolta, who has done the movie, goes home and buys a plane.”

Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in Grease

Grease was released in 1978 by director Randal Kleiser. Along with John Travolta in the role of Danny Zuko, the film starred Olivia Newton-John as his love interest Sandy Olsson. It was a massive hit at the box office, becoming the highest-grossing musical movie ever released up till that time. The official Grease soundtrack saw similar success, ranking as the second highest-selling album of the year. It has spawned a franchise, which includes a movie sequel along with planned spinoffs that are currently in the works at Paramount+.

Henry Winkler’s career hasn’t exactly suffered after turning down Grease. His role as Fonzie was so iconic that the character’s signature leather jacket is now displayed in The Smithsonian museum. He seemed destined to be forever cemented as The Fonz, but his role in 2003’s Arrested Development revitalized his career, and Henry Winkler went on to star in TV and films including The French DispatchMonsters at WorkParks and Recreation, and several Adam Sandler films. He has also taken a few turns in the director’s chair, helming the 1993 Burt Reynolds comedy Cop and 1/2 and episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Clueless.

Additionally, Winkler has recently found success, and Emmy award nominations, playing acting coach Gene Cousineau in HBO’s hit series Barry. The actor won the award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in the show’s first season and followed it up with nominations for the same award in each of the show’s successive seasons. A fourth season of Barry is currently in production, and Winkler says that it may be the last, as the show creators Alec Berg (Silicon Valley) and Bill Hader (who plays Barry) don’t want to “stretch” the show longer than it should, and compromise the show’s creativity for the sake of more seasons.

In the realm of what might have been, however, Henry Winkler still regrets turning down the Grease role. “I am a damn fool,” he said. “I only realized years afterwards.” At the time, he said, that he thought the roles of Danny Zuko and Arthur Fonzarelli were too similar. “I’ve played the Fonz,” he added. “I didn’t want to do it again.”