Real reason behind Henry Winkler turning down the role of Danny Zuko in ‘Grease’


In the realm of iconic movie musicals, “Grease” stands tall as the quintessential production of the 20th Century, a timeless classic that has never been surpassed. Interestingly, Henry Winkler, a celebrated actor in his own right, harbors a lingering regret over a pivotal decision he made back in the late 70s: turning down the lead role of Danny Zuko.

When Randal Kleiser was assembling the cast for his directorial debut, Winkler was the initial choice to portray Danny, the charismatic but rebellious leader of a notorious motorcycle gang. However, Winkler was faced with a legitimate concern that many actors encounter in their careers – the fear of being typecast.

The fear of typecasting is a legitimate one in Hollywood, a phenomenon that has ensnared even the most illustrious stars. Tom Cruise, for instance, has often been associated with hyper-masculine action roles, while Ryan Reynolds is synonymous with witty and comedic characters. Even Angelina Jolie, despite her immense versatility, has had a notable number of femme fatale roles in her repertoire.


For Winkler, the risk of being pigeonholed was especially palpable. At that juncture in his burgeoning career, he was already embodying the role of the bad-boy greaser Arthur Fonzarelli in the popular TV series “Happy Days,” a character he’d portrayed since the show’s inception in 1974. Fonzie was the sole iconic role he had inhabited, and taking on the role of Danny while still being part of the show seemed like a surefire path to typecasting.

Reflecting on this pivotal moment, Winkler candidly admitted, “I was dumb.” In a recent conversation with People, while discussing his forthcoming memoir, “Being Henry: The Fonz… And Beyond,” he recounted the inner turmoil he experienced, grappling with the pressing question of how to avoid being boxed into a single archetype.

The role eventually went to John Travolta, catapulting him to stardom. Winkler, however, emerged from this experience with a valuable lesson: any actor facing a similar crossroads should be open to evolution. His advice? “Go with the flow. What you do is you prepare to reinvent yourself. You do something completely different and then come back to center.”

In the aftermath of “Happy Days,” Winkler’s career went through a transitional period. He refrained from acting for a span of eight years. Eventually, he dismantled any barriers that may have hindered his success. He clinched an Emmy for his role in “Barry” and garnered Golden Globe nominations for his impeccable portrayal of acting coach Gene Cousineau. In the end, Winkler’s journey is a testament to the power of adaptability and the capacity for reinvention in the ever-evolving landscape of acting.