Henry Winkler is not ashamed to be the inspiration for the phrase “jump the shark.”
“I am one of the only actors in the world who has jumped the shark twice,” Winkler, 77, told Yahoo Entertainment on Tuesday, September 26. “Once on Arrested Development and once, of course, the original on Happy Days. I’m very proud — very proud.”
While playing Arthur Fonzarelli on the beloved sitcom Happy Days, Winkler leapt over a shark on water skis during Fonzie’s three-part trip to Hollywood, which kicked off season 5 in 1977.
Years later, University of Michigan alum Jon Hein was having a conversation with friends about scenes and story lines that caused viewers to lose faith or interest in television shows. “Somebody said, ‘Happy Days … when Fonzie jumped the shark,’” Hein later explained to his alumni magazine Michigan Today in 2016. “There was a pause in the room because we all knew exactly what he meant.”
Hein used the conversation as the inspiration for his now-defunct website JumpTheShark.com, which he launched in 1997, 20 years after Fonzie’s big Hollywood adventure aired on television. The site went viral and the phrase “jump the shark” soon became shorthand for the moment that a television show went off the rails.
Winkler has maintained a sense of humor about the implication that his shark jump tainted Happy Days, which continued until the season 11 finale aired in 1984.
“We were No. 1 for years after it,” the Barry alum told Yahoo Entertainment. “I met Jon Hein … and did his radio show once, so here we are. We’re both standing!”
Winkler also poked fun at the infamous scene during a season 2 episode of Arrested Development, which aired in 2005.
“And I’ve skipped breakfast, so, I’m off to Burger King,” Winkler’s character, incompetent lawyer Barry Zuckerhorn, says in one scene before jumping over a fake shark lying on the ground.
In addition to addressing the legacy of the death-defying stunt, Winkler told Yahoo Entertainment how he ended up doing it in the first place.
“My father kept telling me to tell [Happy Days creator] Garry Marshall that I water skied,” he recalled. “I said to Garry, ‘My father wants you to know I waterski. Next thing I know, I’m waterskiing!”
Winkler noted that he did “all the waterskiing” for the scene, except for the iconic jump itself. “They wouldn’t let me do stunts. Not only that, but I didn’t know how to jump! I knew how to waterski, but I didn’t know how to jump like they do in the show,” he explained.