Henry Winkler Says He Regrets Turning Down John Travolta's Grease Role: 'I Should've Just Shut Up'

Henry Winkler attends New York Magazine's Vulture Festival 2022; John Travolta, Grease
Henry Winkler attends New York Magazine's Vulture Festival 2022; John Travolta, Grease

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images; Alamy Stock Photo Henry Winkler (L); John Travolta in Grease (1978)

Henry Winkler missed out on some serious greased lightning in a bottle.

In an interview with CNN's Chris Wallace that aired over the weekend, the 77-year-old actor said he was offered the role of Danny Zuko in 1978's musical film Grease, which would go on to help cement John Travolta's icon status in Hollywood.

According to Winkler, he turned down the role despite having a bit of a dry spell in his own career at the time — for fear of being "typecast," as he felt the character was too close to that of his Happy Days character, Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli.

"I literally thought, 'Am I ever gonna find anything with as much impact as the Fonz? How will I know? Will anybody ever ask me? I'm not getting any offers,' " Winkler recalled.

After Winkler said he was offered the role of T-Birds leader Danny, Wallace, 75, asked his guest, "Are you a damn fool?" — to which the actor replied, "Yes. I am."

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At the time, Winkler — who starred on Happy Days throughout its decade-long run, from 1974 to 1984 — thought, " 'I've played the Fonz, I don't wanna do it again ... it has already happened. I'm already typecast.' "

"I should've just shut up and had a really good time making that movie," he said, joking, "Now, I go home, I say no, and I have a Diet Coke. John Travolta goes home, and has done the movie, and buys a plane."

Grease casting director Joel Thurm tells PEOPLE that while Winkler was never officially offered the role of Danny, he may have been been talked about — but Paramount Pictures agreed to distribute the film only due to Travolta's casting.

The musical teen film has become a cultural phenomenon since it hit theaters, inspiring many a reunion, theatrical re-releases and more. The popularity of the movie and stage show also inspired a a live television production back in 2016.

Travolta, 68, penned a heartfelt tribute to his onscreen love interest Olivia Newton-John, who played co-lead Sandy Olsson in the film, after her death in August at age 73. "Yours from the moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!" Travolta captioned his social-media post, in part.

Henry Winkler, US actor, wearing a brown leather jacket and white t-shirt in a publicity still issued for the US television series, 'Happy Days', USA, circa 1977
Henry Winkler, US actor, wearing a brown leather jacket and white t-shirt in a publicity still issued for the US television series, 'Happy Days', USA, circa 1977

Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images Henry Winkler as the Fonz on Happy Days circa 1977

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Despite missing out on Danny, Winkler has led a prolific career of his own in the 40-plus years since Grease premiered, post-Happy Days.

He has been nominated for five Daytime Emmy Awards and nine Primetime Emmy Awards, winning a latter accolade in 2018 for his role in Barry.

With his first acting credits dating back to 1964, Winkler said during the PEOPLE & Entertainment Weekly Red Carpet Live pre-show at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards back in September that it's funny to see his fans' age by what they recognize him by.

"Happy Days, Scream, Waterboy, Parks & Rec, Arrested Development and now Barry," he said, listing a few of his hit shows and movies.

As for how he was feeling at the time, "I am relaxed," Winkler said. "I can take it in, I'm not so worried."