Robin Williams’ star-making television debut on Happy Days, star Henry Winkler told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Monday, came on short notice and with a steep learning curve.
“We rehearsed Monday from 10 o’clock in the morning until Friday, 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and then we shot the show Friday night, 7 o’clock,” Winkler — best known for playing “The Fonz” on the popular sitcom — explained to Maddow in a phone interview. “Wednesday, we still didn’t have an actor. Wednesday afternoon, Bobby Hoffman, who was the casting director, brought a young actor. First time [on television], usually did stand-up to the set to start rehearsal. And I’m telling you, Rachel, no hyperbole: you knew you were in the presence of somebody very special — of greatness.”
Williams’ appearance in the episode, “My Favorite Orkan,” became a springboard for him to co-star in the spinoff Mork & Mindy. Throughout his career, Williams earned three Academy Award nominations for Best Actor before winning the 1998 award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Good Will Hunting. He was found dead in his home in northern California on Monday at the age of 63.
“It was not chutzpah. It was not nerve,” Winkler said in describing Williams’ fast-paced improvisational style. “It was his soul, it was the way he was put on the Earth. You said something to him, he sucked it in, and he blew it out, and it came out with such originality and so powerfully, your jaw dropped.”
While working on Happy Days and Mork & Mindy, Winkler recalled, Williams would continue returning to local comedy clubs to hone his stand-up act.
“He was a miracle,” Winkler said. “I’m not kidding. It took your breath away. And how was he when he was just talking to you? As quiet and as gentle as the breeze. No matter when you saw him, no matter how long it was, you were first met with a hug. He talked to you like you were the only human being in the world at that moment.”
Watch Maddow’s interview with Winkler, as aired on Monday on MSNBC, below.
And some of Williams’ scenes opposite Winkler from his Happy Days debut, as posted online, can be seen here.