Henry Winkler, the man who shot to fame in the 1970s as the star of the TV series Happy Days, has been enjoying especially happy times lately.
His acting career, put on hold for several years while he produced and directed shows, has recently blossomed again: He plays the music teacher in the new Kevin James movie Here Comes the Boom (opening Oct. 12), a quirky father in USA Network's Royal Pains and a bumbling attorney in the Netflix show Arrested Development. He's also just published his 23rd novel for children and on Nov. 14 he opens on Broadway in a new comedy called The Performers.
While Winkler was becoming a household name as "The Fonz" on Happy Days, he watched his mother suffer a debilitating stroke. We caught up with the energetic 67-year-old on a recent visit to Washington, D.C., where he was advocating for stroke patients.
Q. Your own mother had a stroke and you were a caregiver for her?
A. I was a caregiver when I could. I was in Hollywood, and my mom lived in New York. My sister was there, so I was a co-caregiver, and then we had someone eventually live in because it became really difficult.
Q. The coordinating-care-at-a-distance caregiver is very difficult.
A. The most difficult part is giving support from a distance. I would fly into New York and spend time with her, and I watched the will to live drip out of her.
Q. I understand she was afflicted with upper limb spasticity — which some people call a stroke arm.
A. Yes, that's exactly right. Usually, the patient has come home; they're no longer under the doctor's care. The therapy is winding down. And all of a sudden, they are taken over by their muscles. And it is uncomfortable. It is more than that — it is painful. Sometimes the fingernails grow into the palm, because they cannot open their hands. They cannot wash their hands. And then there is the psychological component. The person just feels out of whack with the rest of society. People look at them strangely.