Henry Winkler Remembers Robin Williams on Happy Days: “You Knew You Were in the Presence of Greatness”

Henry Winkler and Robin Williams on Happy Days
Henry Winkler, who worked with Robin Williams on Happy Days in the 1970s, shared his memories of the late comedian on the Today show  ABC/Getty Images

Robin Williams was always a star, even before he became famous. Henry Winkler felt it all the way back in 1978, when the then-unknown comic actor, 26 at the time, got his big break as the alien Mork on a season five episode of Happy Days, "My Favorite Orkan." 

On Wednesday, Aug. 13 — two days after Williams was found dead of an apparent suicide at age 63 — Winkler, 68, appeared via satellite on the Today show, where he talked about his first meeting with the late comedian more than 30 years ago. As he remembers it, the sitcom's casting directors had a hard time finding someone to play Mork. And then they met Williams.

Midway through shooting the episode, Winkler recalled, "a young, very quiet, very delicate man" arrived on set. "All of a sudden, all you see are sparks," the Fonz told Matt Lauer.

"Unless you were in the ground, you knew that you were in the presence of greatness," he added. "That's not talking because now we're making a tribute; that is the honest truth. This man was from another plane. His imagination flew out of him, out of every pore like a torrent." 

Indeed, Winkler told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday, Aug. 11, that he had a difficult time keeping a straight face opposite Williams. "There was not one time [his dialogue] came out the same. There was not one time it was not truly, endlessly, and fervently funny," he raved. "You saw it and your mouth dropped. You couldn't believe it. I've worked with a lot of people and there is and was no one quite like him."

Once Williams got his own spinoff, Mork & Mindy, there was no stopping him. "After a while, I don't think they even bothered writing comic pieces for him because he was uncontainable in this universal way," Winkler, who now stars on Royal Pains, told THR. "He was touched. He was given something."

He also gave something back, in the form of his many movies and characters. "It is so tragic, because he was so loved," the Happy Days alum said on the Today show. "It's just amazing how he touched the world."

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