The star, who has been married to wife Stacey since 1978, opens up to PEOPLE about his journey with therapy ahead of the release of his new memoir, 'Being Henry'
For Henry Winkler, one major change in the last decade has made all the difference.
In his new memoir, Being Henry: The Fonz…And Beyond (out Oct. 31), Winkler reveals his private struggles, from undiagnosed dyslexia into adulthood to an inability to form rich, authentic relationships.
"My identity was [tied] to my work because I had no other identity,” Winkler tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
It wasn’t until the last decade that he found a therapist, and through that process, a breakthrough.
In Being Henry, Winkler writes of a challenging childhood spent in New York with his German refugee parents, who did not understand his profound learning disability and would often mock his struggles with reading and comprehension.
As a young actor, Winkler would go on to use humor as a guidepost, earning laughs at the Yale School of Drama and eventually impressing Hollywood executives with a walk-on appearance on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It would lead to his meteoric rise on Happy Days, but even at the height of his fame as the show's effortlessly cool greaser, Winkler felt unmoored.
“People said, ‘So, how are you cool? Because you're the coolest guy on television." And I intellectually understood [that] being authentic is being cool. But I couldn't live it. I had no identity,” Winkler says.
He adds: "I was, if you look up the word disconnected, emotionally disconnected, in any of the big dictionaries, you will see a picture of me. It's not necessarily the Fonz, but you'll see a picture of me."
While at home between roles, Winkler writes of being adrift and insecure, and says when he was tested — including when his wife Stacey was diagnosed with cancer in the early 2000s, he felt he came up short supporting her. Winkler admits to dozing while attending her chemo treatments, and of opting to keep an acting job that sent him away while she recovered.
“I was not there,” he tells PEOPLE of those years. “I was not whole.”
Seven years ago, he began therapy, with "unbelievable" results. “That's why I say if I were to give a gift to my therapist, I would have to give her something as big as a skyscraper. Because the book is about me being who I thought I should be and inching to being something I talked about but couldn't live, which was being authentic,” he says.
His self-discovery would go on to noticeably enhance his work, including his Emmy-winning role on HBO’s Barry playing Gene Cousineau opposite Bill Hader. A decade ago, Winkler says he could not have made the washed up, easily angered acting coach “as full as Gene is,” he says.
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Today, he says, his cup runneth over (“I don't have enough buckets for the overflow”) and at home with his wife over the last decade, Winkler adds, “I am a more present husband.”
In Being Henry, Stacey's voice is included, often popping up to give her shared perspective.
The couple, who have been married for 45 years and share three children and six grandchildren, love to fish for trout together (though they always throw them back).
“I cannot admit this, but it is true. Stacey is becoming a better fisher person than I am,” Winkler grins. “Her fish are always bigger than mine.”
For more on Henry Winkler, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.
Being Henry: The Fonz…and Beyond hits bookshelves on Oct. 31.
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