During its ten years on our screens, Happy Days was one of the biggest shows on television. And thanks in part to reruns, many people from across the generations have fond memories of watching the exploits of Richie Cunningham, The Fonz and their friends. Since the series finally came to the end of its original run in 1984, though, a lot has happened to the cast – and what some of the show’s stars look like now may even come as a bit of a surprise.
As Happy Days fans know, the sitcom – which first hit the airwaves in January 1974 – was set in an idealized version of 1950s America. And at the heart of the narrative was Milwaukee, Wisconsin, teenager Richie Cunningham and his spirited family, with Richie famously portrayed by former child star Ron Howard.
In the show, Richie’s father, Howard, runs a hardware store, while his mother, Marion, is a stay-at-home mom. The teenager also has two siblings: a brother called Chuck and a little sister named Joanie. And, of course, the Cunningham clan have someone staying in their garage apartment: Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli – or simply “The Fonz.”
Interestingly, though, The Fonz was not initially intended as one of the stars of the show; instead, the first few episodes focused on Richie and his other friends, Ralph Malph and Potsie Weber. But all that changed when Henry Winkler’s super-cool character became a firm favorite among fans.
And when Happy Days’ ratings began to decline in its second season, its creators changed tack. While the series still provided a nostalgic look at adolescent life in the ’50s, the comedy quotient was upped – meaning The Fonz would begin to take center stage.
In fact, audiences couldn’t get enough of Fonzie – the suave high-school dropout with a penchant for ladies and motorcycles. In the end, then, Richie and The Fonz became friends, and the iconic greaser ultimately moved in with the Cunninghams.
What’s more, Winkler would go on to receive top billing on the Happy Days credits with Howard. Then, when Richie’s storyline saw him drafted into the army and so leave Wisconsin behind, The Fonz became the show’s main character. But, naturally, Happy Days wasn’t just all about Fonzie and the Cunninghams.
Fans will recall, for instance, The Fonz’s cousin Charles “Chachi” Arcola, who manages to steal the heart of Joanie Cunningham. And towards the end of Happy Days’ run, the young couple would even receive their own spin-off show in Joanie Loves Chachi. The series failed to emulate the success of Happy Days, however, and it only survived for two seasons.
Then there was Happy Days’ popular diner owner Al Delvecchio, who is portrayed on screen by Al Molinaro. “Big Al,” as he becomes known, goes on to marry Chachi’s mom, Louisa. He also has a twin brother: a priest called Father Anthony Delvecchio, whom – conveniently – Molinaro also plays.
With a strong cast at its helm, Happy Days became the leading television show in the U.S. between 1976 and 1977. And the series not only had a great influence on other shows of the era, but it would also become one of the most successful series of all time.
What’s more, Happy Days fan favorite The Fonz became one of the most merchandised characters of the 1970s. He remains so iconic, in fact, that his leather jacket forms part of the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent exhibition at the National Museum of American History. It’s fair to say, then, that the role made a star of Winkler.
The sheer popularity of Happy Days saw successors hit screens, too. There was Joanie Loves Chachi, of course, as well as the short-lived Blansky’s Beauties; Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy even became hits in their own rights. And of 2008 there has also been a Happy Days musical, which continues to tour around the U.S.
So, thanks in part to that stage production, Happy Days’ legacy has continued to endure. But what became of the actors and actresses that made the series a success? Well, although a number of its stars are now sadly departed, some are still very much in show business.
Winkler has continued to pop up on our screens, for example, even after Happy Days’ end. And his role in the ’50s-set show saw him land some prestigious honors, too. The actor took home two Golden Globes for his portrayal of The Fonz, for example, while he also earned three Primetime Emmy Award nominations – including one in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series category.
Despite the critical acclaim that he earned for his portrayal of The Fonz, however, Winkler kept his feet firmly on the ground. He even took the time to read letters sent by admirers – some of which he responded to over the phone. On Oprah: Where Are they Now – Extra in 2015, Winkler explained, “I read all of the fan mail… There were some letters that were just incredibly heartfelt, from every age.”
However, Winkler’s attempts to reply to fans didn’t always go to plan. He explained, “I would call those people if they left their phone number. And then I would spend 20 minutes going, ‘No, no, no, it’s really me.’” So many people refused to believe that The Fonz had phoned them, in fact, that Winkler eventually stopped calling – even though his intentions had been well-meant.
But being the star of one of America’s most loved shows seemingly didn’t take up all of Winkler’s attention. After all, while he was still part of the Happy Days cast, he found time to appear in movies such as The Lords of Flatbush, Heroes and An American Christmas Carol. Winkler also narrated and produced Academy Award-winning documentary Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?, which was released in 1977.
Then, following his time on Happy Days, Winkler turned his attention to directing and producing. That said, he didn’t completely give up on acting. He even reunited with Ron Howard to portray a morgue attendant in Night Shift – a movie that his former Happy Days castmate directed.
Winkler’s screen time continued into the ’90s, too, thanks to appearances in TV film Absolute Strangers and comedy series Monty. And in 1996 he had an uncredited role in Scream, in which he starred as potty-mouthed principal Arthur Himbry – with the actor’s turn in the hit horror providing somewhat of a shot in the arm for his career.
In any case, the 2000s saw Winkler take up parts in Law & Order and The Bob Newhart Show. He also lent his voice to popular animated series, portraying characters in King of the Hill, The Simpsons, South Park and Family Guy.
And in more recent times, Winkler teamed back up with Howard to star as lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn in Arrested Development. In 2016 he even dipped a toe in the reality genre by producing and starring in Better Late Than Never alongside William Shatner, George Foreman and Terry Bradshaw.
Off-screen, meanwhile, the multi-talented Winkler has also tried his hand at children’s writing. Drawing upon his own experiences with dyslexia, he has penned a series of books about a boy named Hank Zipzer who also deals with the learning disability. The actor wasn’t actually diagnosed with the condition until the age of 31, and as a child it had a negative image on his life. In his stories, then, Winkler calls Zipzer the “world’s greatest underachiever.”
Now that we know what became of The Fonz, let’s take a look at Winkler’s co-star Howard. Even before Howard’s time on Happy Days, his time on screen as a child star – including a memorable spell as Opie in The Andy Griffith Show – had practically made him a household name. The young actor had also enjoyed a handful of film roles before taking up the mantle of Richie Cunningham.
And Happy Days only served to further Howard’s profile and made him one of the most recognized faces on television. Even so, the actor ultimately changed tack and chose to spend more time behind the camera; he has since become one of Hollywood’s most prolific directors.
Howard made his directorial debut in 1977 with the comedy Grand Theft Auto. His first major success came, however, with Night Shift. And Howard has headed up a number of high-profile productions since then, too, including Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code and Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Howard’s talents haven’t gone unnoticed either, as in 2002 he won the Best Director Oscar for his work on A Beautiful Mind. Then, seven years later, he received an Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking Award at the Austin Film Festival. So, it’s safe to say that Howard’s career has gone from strength to strength following his time on Happy Days.
Aside from his directing duties, Howard also serves as a producer through his company Imagine Entertainment. The outfit is responsible for a number of films and television shows including 8 Mile, 24 and Arrested Development – the last of which Howard also narrated.
But while Winkler and Howard may have always been destined for big things, they weren’t the only actors to enjoy fame after Happy Days came to a close. Take, for example, Marion Ross, who played Richie’s mother, Marion Cunningham. She later starred in shows such as The Love Boat and Gilmore Girls before carving out a career as a voice actress.
Yes, Ross has since provided voice-overs for animated shows including SpongeBob SquarePants and King of the Hill. In 1996 the actress also received a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Supporting Actress Golden category for her performance in The Evening Star. Then, after a long and successful career in acting, in 2018 Ross announced her retirement from show business – mere months before her 90th birthday.
Then there’s Tom Bosley, who played Ross’ on-screen husband Howard Cunningham on Happy Days. And like Ross, Bosley too went on to star in The Love Boat, while he also enjoyed success in Father Dowling Mysteries and Murder, She Wrote. But his acting career actually began on stage, and in 1960 he took home a Tony Award for his performance in Fiorello!
Unfortunately, Bosley passed away in October 2010 after experiencing complications associated with a staph infection. His agent Sheryl Abrams later confirmed that he had been suffering from lung cancer. In death, Bosley left behind his wife Patricia Carr, and he was laid to rest in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park at Hollywood Hills Cemetery.
And Bosley sadly isn’t the only Happy Days star who is no longer with us. Erin Moran, who played Joanie Cunningham, passed away in April 2017 at the age of 56, with her death owing to complications caused by stage four throat cancer. Moran struggled with depression after her time on Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi. She also ultimately moved to Indiana, where she had reportedly fallen on hard times prior to her passing.
Meanwhile, Scott Baio – who played Moran’s on-screen love interest Chachi – similarly continued to act following his time on Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi. He has subsequently enjoyed roles in Diagnosis Murder and Baby Talk, although many may also know him for his work on long-running 1980s show Charles in Charge.
What’s more, Baio’s personal life has been the subject of two reality TV shows: Scott Baio Is 45… and Single and Scott Baio Is 46… and Pregnant. The second series followed the star as he became a father for the first time with his wife Renée Sloan. The couple were initially expecting twins but sadly lost one during pregnancy, although they later welcomed a daughter named Bailey.
Another actor who spent their formative years on the Happy Days set alongside Baio and co was Anson Williams. There, he played Warren “Potsie” Weber – Richie’s dopey but endearing buddy. And after the popular series came to a close, Williams too remained in show business, working as a director and producer.
From behind the camera, Williams has served on a number of TV shows including Baywatch, Melrose Place, Beverly Hills, 90210, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Williams also married his Happy Days co-star Lorrie Mahaffey in 1978; the marriage came to an end eight years later, however, and the father of five has been wed to Jackie Gerken since 1988.
Richie’s other good friend on Happy Days was, of course, Ralph Malph, who was played by Don Most. And following his time on the series, Most appeared on shows such as The Love Boat, Glee and Star Trek: Voyager. The actor has a love of music, too, and now tours the country with his swing act.
So, we’ve covered just about all the main stars of Happy Days – except, that is, for the man who portrayed Al Delvecchio. Al Molinaro had turned to acting later on in life, and prior to his time on Happy Days he’d worked in real estate and collections.
There seems to have been some luck involved in getting that big break, too, as Molinaro apparently won his Happy Days role after attending an acting class with the sister of the show’s creator, Garry Marshall. Then, following his time on the series, he appeared on The Love Boat and Joanie Loves Chachi; he also popped up on screen in The Family Man, which ran for just one series. Sadly, though, Molinaro passed away aged 95 in 2015.
Naturally, then, a lot has happened in the 35 years since Happy Days last aired – not least of all to the people who starred in the show. Some of the cast have used the series as a springboard for their careers; others, on the other hand, have never managed to replicate the success that they enjoyed with the sitcom. But whatever became of Happy Days’ actors, they will be fondly remembered in the hearts of many as having once been part of one of television’s most-loved shows.