‘Happy Days’ star Linda Purl recalls Henry Winkler’s emotional meeting with a terminally ill child as Fonzie

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Linda Purl will never forget how much of an impact Henry Winkler’s iconic role had on a young fan.

The actress, who starred as Fonzie’s girlfriend on “Happy Days,” told Fox News Digital the little-known story about how her co-star made a child’s dream come true with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“This one little boy was 11 years old – terminally ill,” the star recalled. “His wish ele was to meet the Fonz.”

“Our habit was to get out of costume and makeup, completely put on our robes and our schleppy things, go over to the commissary, have dinner together and go back into hair and makeup. Henry would get out of the pompadour, out of the jacket. He would get into whatever he’d come to work in that day. This little boy was coming, and he was going to have dinner [with us]… And Henry comes in, but not as Henry but as the Fonz.”

Linda Purl starred in “Happy Days” as Ashley Pfister, Fonzie’s girlfriend.
(ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

“I thought, ‘Well, that’s silly. What’s the deal? Just be yourself.'” the 67-year-old said. “What I failed to realize until I saw it in action was that Henry knew that this young boy was not coming to meet Henry. He wanted to meet the Fonz. And Henry was very clear on the difference between the two. So, we all had dinner with this darling boy and his father. And in this case, Henry had sprung for the rest of the family to be flown out at his own expense. He didn’t even tell us this, but we learned this later.”

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Purl said that when the now-77-year-old learned that the child and his family were just staying in town for one night, he quietly extended their stay for several days. He also ensured that the studio in Hollywood would give the boy and his family his “a spectacular time.”

“As we’re sitting there… the Fonz was able to say things to this little boy that Henry wouldn’t have been able to say – sort of Fonzi-isms. You know, life wisdom of ‘Hang in there, dude. You ‘re going to be [OK].’ I had to turn away [because] the tears were flowing, most of us did. But Henry stayed strong, and he stayed on his mission and his task for that hour or so with this little boy to give him this treasured time of joy. That’s Henry.”

Henry Winkler stayed in character as

Henry Winkler stayed in character as “The Fonz” for a young fan eager to meet him.
(ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Purl appeared on “Happy Days” from 1974 until 1983. She said the cast welcomed her with open arms.

“The first time I did ‘Happy Days,’ it was one of my first jobs when I moved to Los Angeles,” Purl recalled. “I went in, I auditioned, and I happened to get the role… I came back many years later as an entirely different character. That came about because there was a casting notice [saying] they were looking for ‘a Linda Purl type.’ My agent called and said, ‘Do you think Linda could audition for this Linda Purl type?’ And I did. And thank heavens I got the role. Otherwise, I think I would’ve gone into some kind of identity crisis.”

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The

The “Happy Days” cast has maintained a strong bond over the years.
(ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

“Everything about that set was fun,” Purl said. “The regular cast members were all friends and they’ve remained lifelong friends… We are a tight bunch.”

“There was an atmosphere on the set of ‘Happy Days’ where, when you opened the door to that sound stage on the Paramount lot, you would just leave your [troubles] behind and come into this kind of bubble, a world where things were sweet, light and joyful… I think all of that feel-good vibe came into the performances that we were able to do.”

Linda Purl, right, said she has stayed in touch with the family of Heather O'Rourke, center.

Linda Purl, right, said she has stayed in touch with the family of Heather O’Rourke, center.
(ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Purl even worked on the set with Heather O’Rourke, who previously starred in 1982’s “Poltergeist.” The child star passed away in 1988 at age 12.

“To call her a dynamic talent is really good,” Purl reflected. “Of course, it’s just the saddest story. She was great and she added so much to this set because of who she was… She just fit right in. She was so sweet and innocent. Not too long ago, I saw her mother and her sister. It’s nice to stay in touch like that.”

Purl has led a successful decades-long career in Hollywood. Most recently, she’s starring in the film “Paul’s Promise.” It’s based on the true story of Paul Holderfield, a bigoted firefighter who becomes a pastor and starts one of the first integrated churches in the South during the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s. Purl plays matriarch Mimi Holderfield.

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“Every character has such an arc and Mimi is no exception,” she said. “Also as a mom, I know how just being a parent brings you to your knees. You wonder what the right answers are to the impossible questions.”

“This woman that I got to portray had hopes and dreams for her son. She longed for him to have peace. It’s a universal yearning for any parent.”

Purl said learning about the real-life Holderfield left a lasting impression on her.

“[What surprised me] was how quick his transition was,” she said. “In an instant, he’s changed. The impediments to his soul were dropped. He understood what he was losing in holding a harmful point of view. And how, if he could just shift from being a selfish human being who was fearful and angry on a dime…he was able to do a 180 and see how a loving thought could prevail and how powerfully that could operate not only in his life but in blessing so many people around him.”

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Linda Purl described Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, the setting for

Linda Purl described Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, the setting for “Paul’s Promise,” as a “magical” place.
(Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images)

Purl described why she was eager to film in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Filming began in November 2020 and finished in January 2021.

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“It’s a very special place,” she said. “There’s something in the air there. From the light to the stones and sand, it’s just magical… we were shut down a couple of times because of COVID. Several people got ill. But one of the many things I admired about our producers was their resilience in the face of tremendous adversity. It was an extremely challenging time. But the team spirit was on another level because we were all in it together.”

Purl said she’s grateful to tell unique stories, whether it’s on the big or small screen. And she hasn’t forgotten the many lessons she learned along the way.

Andy Griffith as Benjamin Matlock in

Andy Griffith as Benjamin Matlock in “Matlock.” The actor passed away in 2012 at age 86.
(NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

“When I worked [with Andy Griffith on ‘Matlock’]I was stunned by his white-hot intellect,” said Purl. “He was one of the smartest [people] I knew. He was savvy on so many levels. And that’s not something that came across in any of the characters really that he portrayed, at least not to my knowledge. He was not a particularly jovial person. He was a deeply complicated person, as many comics are… With all of that intelligence, we only saw a fraction of what he was able to do as an actor.”

“It’s interesting, when we first met at lunch, he was talking about [his 1957 film ‘A Face in the Crowd’],” Purl continued. “He said, ‘You don’t understand. That’s who I am.’ He was speaking of his own character. He had a great King Lear in him. He had a great Willy Loman from ‘Death of a Salesman’ in him. And for whatever reason, his choice of him probably, we did not get to see him take on those roles, some of the great classical roles that I know he had in his spirit dele to do.”

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These days, Purl is eager for her next role.

Linda Purl, seen here with former co-star Henry Winkler on the set of

Linda Purl, seen here with former co-star Henry Winkler on the set of “Happy Days,” said she’s always excited to tell new stories on both the small screen and the big screen.
(ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

“I’m always learning,” she said. “There’s always something else to experience, to learn, to grow, to give, to get. It’s a non-ending adventure.”

“Paul’s Promise, a Home Entertainment release, comes out on Dec. 6.

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