Henry Winkler seems like a happy-go-lucky guy. So much so that when GQ profiled him, the headline read “Henry Winkler Is Just Happy to Be Here.”
In other words, he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who complains about spending decades as a beloved actor without ever being officially recognized by the Television Academy for his efforts.
Yet that’s exactly what’s happened to Winkler. He hadn’t won a Primetime Emmy Award until Monday night. (He has, however, won two Daytime Emmys.)
Winkler’s first official role came in 1964, when he played an intern on the television show “Another World.” Since then, according to IMDb, he’s appeared in at least 125 television shows and films, including the groundbreaking sitcom “Happy Days.” During his run in Hollywood, which has lasted more than a half-century, the 72-year-old actor has earned six nominations before this year.
In the late 1970s, the actor seemed destined to take home the trophy. He was nominated for best lead actor in a comedy for three straight years (1976, 1977, 1978), for his role as the leather jacket-wearing, ehhhh-shouting, thumbs-up-giving, motorcycle-riding (and eventually shark-jumping) Fonzie.
On top of that, in 1977, he also got a nod for narrating the documentary “Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?” The movie followed the story of Dorothy and Bob DeBolt, a couple who adopted 14 children including disabled war orphans. It won an Academy Award, but he lost the Emmy.
At the turn of the millennium, Winkler again seemed sure to win an award. He was nominated twice in 2000 for best guest actor, one in a comedy and one in a drama — for “Battery Park” and “The Practice.” (Though, due to a scheduling mishap, his nomination for “Battery Park” was later deemed ineligible.)
That all finally changed on Monday night when, 42 years after he was first nominated, Winkler brought home the prize for best supporting actor in HBO’s dark comedy “Barry.” In the show, he plays Gene Cousineau, a bumbling acting coach who unwittingly begins teaching a hit man named Barry (Bill Hader) how to act. (Hader took home the best actor in a comedy Emmy for his role.)
His character of Cousineau couldn’t be more different from that of his iconic Arthur Fonzarelli. But he gives a terrific performance, one that’s equal parts hilarious and deeply moving. Most importantly, one that’s terrific enough to earn his first Emmy.
And considering his speech, he was ready for it.
“I only have 37 seconds; I wrote this 43 years ago,” the seemingly delighted actor said. “Skip Brittenham said to me a long time ago, ‘If you stay at the table long enough, the chips come to you,’ and tonight I got to clear the table.”
In between, he repeated the words “Oh my God” again and again.
As his speech went on, he grew more and more excited.
“I can’t stop yet,” he said. “My wife, Stacey. Oh my God. My cast and crew, and the kids! Kids! Jed, Zoe and Max, you can go to bed now! Daddy won!” (His youngest child is 35 years old.)
“At 27, I started doing the Fonz, and I’m 72 and I’m standing right here in front of you with [this statuette],” he said backstage, before sharing some of his acting advice with reporters.
“Be yourself, be honest about your ability, prepare so that you are not a flash in the pan,” he said, according to Variety. “When I first started here in Hollywood … I thought of myself as a tree or sapling. I planted. I wanted to grow and be strong until I couldn’t do this anymore. And what a great tree it is.”
Winkler’s fans and colleagues seemed pleased with his victory.
“Find someone who looks at you the way every single person at the Emmys looks at Henry Winkler,” tweeted the Ringer’s Alison Herman.
“My sexual orientation is Henry Winkler saying ‘Daddy won!’ ” joked writer Maris Kreizman.
“Just clapped for Henry Winkler loud enough to drive my dog off the couch,” tweeted Slate’s Sam Adams.
Former “Happy Days” co-star Ron Howard offered kind words to Winkler and shared a photograph of them together at the Emmys.
Even Kenan Thompson, who lost to Winkler earlier in the night, randomly brought up Winkler’s win just before giving out the award for best drama. Thompson noted that he was proud of Winkler . . . before joking that Winkler certainly doesn’t need his praise.