During the eleven seasons that “Happy Days” was on the air, it brought joy to millions of fans from all over the country. Though it went off the air in 1984, it continues to be beloved to this day, as it is still widely watched on reruns.
Though fans loved the show, star Ron Howard became more and disheartened with it as it went on, and the future Academy Award-winning director finally left it after the seventh season. Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie on the show, recently spoke out to reveal why his departure was so heartbreaking for the cast.
Howard had signed on to do “Happy Days” with the understanding that it would be written around his character of Richie Cunningham. All that changed after about two seasons, when Henry Winkler’s character of Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli seemingly became an overnight sensation. Before long, Fonzie was appearing on lunch boxes, t-shirts, and posters all over the place.
Things got even worse when producers revealed that they wanted to change the name of the show to “Fonzie’s Happy Days,” a move that Howard made clear that he was not okay with. He let the higher-ups know that he would rather quit and go to film school rather than continue appearing on the show if the name was changed to that.
In the end, the name remained the same and Howard stayed, but he eventually did decide to leave after the seventh season.
“I really wanted a commitment to direct TV movies for ABC,” Howard explained to the Archive of American Television in 2006. “I’d been directing some TV movies for NBC at that point and had a really good relationship there. My dream of becoming a filmmaker was coming to fruition. I was really ambitious about that.”
Acting was taking a backseat for Howard, and he had some very specific things that he wanted if ABC were to keep him.
“I wanted a couple of things: to let me direct a TV movie or two, and I also wanted a network pre-buy,” he said. “At that time, before cable, one way of financing independent movies was if you could sell an idea directly to the network. They would commit and they were in the business of giving these pre-sales. ABC was unwilling to do any of that. I really wanted those assurances if they wanted me to continue with the show.”
It was eventually decided that Howard would leave “Happy Days” to direct movies for ABC. This was difficult for the entire cast, but particularly for Winkler, who saw Howard like a brother. The pair never let Howard’s concerns over Winkler’s character on the show get in the way of their friendship behind the scenes, and they were close throughout the show’s run.
After leaving the show, Howard returned in season eleven for the two-part episodes, “Welcome Home, Richie.” By then, Howard was a successful director of the box-office hit Night Shift.
“One of the realest, realest moments on the show is when Richie says goodbye forever,” Winkler recalled. “It was a two-parter. And when I said goodbye to Richie, he had come back now after years of not being on the show, and he was directing. When I said goodbye to Richie, I said goodbye to Ron. That emotion was deep.”
In the decades since, Winkler and Howard have remained the best of friends. In fact, Winkler is the godfather of Howard’s goddaughter, Bryce Dallas Howard.