During an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” the 73-year-old “Barry” star said he was rehearsing his lines on the set of the sitcom, where he starred as Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli from 1974 to 1984, when an Illinois state trooper reached out to him.
The actor said the state trooper called the set directly and asked for his help in a dire, real-time situation.
“He said, ‘I have a 17-year-old kid on a ledge and he is threatening to jump off and he will only talk to you,’” Winkler recalled the trooper telling him at the time. “I don’t know where I got the nerve to take the phone and start talking to this kid.”
Winkler remembered that the young man told him that his name was John and that he was an aspiring actor and wanted to jump because his career wasn’t going very well.
“‘So you’re 17, you haven’t made it yet. OK, let me ask you a question... Do you collect records? Do you have a record collection?’ Because at that time they were vinyl. I said, ‘Do you have a record collection?’ He said yes. I said, ‘OK, before you jump John, will you just will them to me?’”
The actor explained to Kimmel that he was desperate to get the young man thinking about anything but hurting himself and hoped that obligating him to send the records would prevent him from doing anything in the moment. He bargained with him that if he stepped off the ledge they could talk about acting, which the 17-year-old agreed to do.
“‘I was 27 when I got The Fonze, John. I think you’ve got 10 good years to keep trying. How about that?'” Winkler said. “'Will you do that? Can I get back to rehearsing?'”
With that, the star hung up and, presumably, the boy was safe.
“I never heard about him,” Winkler concluded. “I have not thought about that story in a while… I don’t know where I got the nerve to talk to him. I just thought, ‘I’m going to maybe take him in another direction…’ I never got the records.”
“Happy Days” ended its run in 1984, but the actor has gone on to play memorable roles in shows like “Arrested Development” and his Emmy-winning role in HBO’s “Barry.” He was nominated for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for his role as the curt acting teacher Gene Cousineau in Season 2 of “Barry.”