The Heartbreaking Real-Life Story of Woody Harrelson

Growing Up Feisty In Texas

When Woody Harrelson took a look back at his childhood, he realized he was a lot to handle. The actor told Esquire that he “had a lot of anger, a lot of rage,” during his formative years in Midland, Texas. He explained that he even managed to get kicked out of both nursery school and the first grade. The incident in question involved a young Harrelson being accused of stealing a purse by a teacher.


As if that wasn’t bad enough, Harrelson then went throughout the school smashing the windows with his bare hands. That path of devastation could have set Harrelson on a dark path, but luckily for him, he found the inspiration to turn his life around when it really mattered. If he hadn’t, millions of people around the world wouldn’t know his name.

Putting His Mindset Down To His Father Leaving

Harrelson told GQ that his father left the family home when he was just seven years old. The actor explained that the absence of his father affected his mindset, and he felt he was “too soft” around the time his dad left home. Not content with being so vulnerable and sensitive, Harrelson made a vow to himself; to toughen up.


That vision of a tougher Woody meant picking fights with just about anybody, something that Harrelson has the scars to prove. Harrelson said he was vulnerable to tantrums and fits of rage as he tried to maintain his tough image and mentality. Even when he became an adult Harrelson didn’t back down from a fight, fighting guys he thought were bullies in the bars he would go to.

His Father’s Own Hollywood Story

Many of us are influenced by the people around us and the things we experience when we are young. Those years can shape the people we become, and when you consider who Harrelson’s father was, it’s no surprise the actor had some troubles in the past. Harrelson’s father, Charles, could have been the villain of a blockbuster movie thanks to his antics.


Although he left home when his son Woody was seven years old, Charles would cast a shadow over the family. Charles Harrelson was sentenced to two life terms after slaying a federal judge. The actor’s father was a real-life hitman, and it seems pretty clear why Harrelson doesn’t like to talk much about his dad. While serving his two life sentences, Charles Harrelson passed away in jail in 2007.

A Charming But Dangerous Father

Although Harrelson doesn’t like to talk much about his father, he did give an insight into who the man was in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. Harrelson doesn’t have many memories of his dad after he walked out on his family, but he does remember a few stories. During his interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Harrelson explained that his father was a charming man who was also a gambler.

Business Insider

He explained that his dad would make a lot of money gambling, comparing him to a con artist. Harrelson said that his dad would invite people onto his fishing boat for what they thought was a relaxing trip onto a lake. That’s when he’d ask them if they wanted to play a few hands of cards, and where he would fleece them for everything they had.

Growing Up With A Strong Female Influence

While he was growing up, Harrelson might not have had his father to influence him, but he did still have strong leaders. Before becoming an actor Harrelson was just a boy, and he grew up with several strong female characters in his family who guided him. Harrelson explained to GQ that he fondly remembers growing up under the influence of his mother, grandmother, and great grandmother.


In fact, he had a great relationship with his great grandmother, Polly, whom Harrelson called “a real pistol.” Harrelson grew up fascinated by the stories of his great grandmother, and he felt like “everything about her was great.” Although Harrelson didn’t have that strong father role model to look up to, with people like Polly in his life, he still learned right from wrong.

An Early Experience With The Police

Harrelson might have learned right from wrong thanks to his strong female leaders, but that didn’t stop him making bad choices. Before he was starring in hit movies like ‘Zombieland,’ Harrelson was trying to make a name for himself. Instead of making a name for himself in a good way, Harrelson got himself noticed by the long arm of the law when he was a young man.

Indie Wire

Harrelson was busted by a cop for jaywalking, but it wasn’t something the future Hollywood star wanted happening to him. He gave the officer a hard time, even lying to the cop by claiming he didn’t have any identification on him. That’s when the cop realized Harrelson was lying because he needed that ID to gain entry into the bars, with the officer shouting, “Don’t lie again to me, punk.”

Things Began To Escalate With The Cops

Lying to the police officer about his identification was just the beginning of Harrelson’s brush with the law. The officer shoved Harrelson against the wall to give him a hard time about lying. Needless to say, Harrelson didn’t enjoy this experience, and that’s when he decided to bolt and run away from the officer.


He didn’t get very far, however, as the cop called for backup, and it wasn’t long until Harrelson was surrounded by men in uniform. After a struggle to get him into a van, the officers then had to pull over to arrest someone else. When those doors opened, Harrelson bolted free, even though he was handcuffed. The officers caught up with the future star, maced him, and brought him to the station where he spent the night in a cell.

A Struggling Actor In New York

Harrelson wasn’t the first actor who moved to New York, only to struggle to find work. After studying English and Theater at college, Harrelson moved to the big city with a friend to look for acting jobs on Broadway. Harrelson figured he would pick up a job in summer productions without a problem, but of course, he didn’t.


The actor struggled to be cast in anything, and after zero offers, he began considering regional theater just to get some acting experience. After being jobless for quite some time, he got his big break. Luckily for Harrelson, he was cast as an understudy on a Broadway production, which changed his fortunes. It wasn’t long after being given the role in a Broadway play that Harrelson found himself on our TV sets every night in the sitcom ‘Cheers.’

Embarrassed By His Own Lack Of Integrity

There aren’t many people who get to their fifties and have zero regrets about their past. Harrelson is no exception, and he recalls doing something regrettable in his early career. The budding actor had been cast in a play by director and actor John Cassavetes in Los Angeles. Harrelson was working closely with the director during his early 20s but heard about an opportunity to star in a film set in Rome.

Washington Post

That’s when Harrelson walked out on Cassavetes and the play, only to miss out on the part anyway. Harrelson told GQ that the director probably would have let him come back, and he regrets not taking that chance. The actor felt as though Cassavetes took a chance on him, and he lacked the integrity to stick with the guy betting on a young Harrelson.

Partying Too Hard In Celebration

Harrelson was delighted to learn he had landed the role of Woody Boyd on the sitcom ‘Cheers.’ The show would go on to become one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, and landing the role was a big deal for Harrelson back in 1985. It was a sign that he was on his way to the top, and so the actor celebrated this milestone, frequently.


Harrelson claims he became a party animal when he hit the big time, and believes he wouldn’t get away with the stuff he did back then today. The actor says social media wouldn’t allow him to do the things he did back then, with cameras around every corner. Harrelson believes if he were to do now what he did when he was younger, he “would be hung from the rafters.”

Getting Caught Cheating In London

Although Harrelson was an established star by the 2000s, he still loved to party. The actor was filming on location in London in 2002 when he found himself in a bar, surrounded by women. A couple of women approached him and asked Harrelson if he wanted to “take a walk on the wild side.” Naturally, Harrelson was curious, and after agreeing that he would like to see how wild things would get, a third woman joined the party.


The actor was joined by the three women at his apartment, but was spotted by a member of the paparazzi. Unfortunately for Harrelson, his image was plastered over the papers, and he couldn’t keep his future-wife, Laura Louie, from finding out. Harrelson had to do a lot of groveling to get his partner back on his side following the indiscretion.

The Hardest-Working Man In Hollywood?

There is no denying that Harrelson’s acting career has created a certain lifestyle for him. Harrelson chose to move to Hawaii to enjoy a chilled out life, but before moving to the island, he was all about the parties and work. The actor knows he partied hard in the past, and he certainly wasn’t afraid to enjoy the benefits that came with becoming a Hollywood star.


As Harre


lson grew older he might have found himself partying less, but that doesn’t mean his work ethic was diminished. The actor continued to work hard and feature in as many productions as possible once he became an established A-lister. That hard-working attitude helped to make him famous, but it’s also the source of one of his big regrets in life: spending too much time away from his family.

Beginning To Doubt His Life Choices

In an interview with NPR in London, Harrelson expressed a thought that maybe he had “spent too much time running around doing these movies.” The star followed that up by saying he was extremely proud of everything he had done in show business but said he needed to spend more time at home. Harrelson has been married to Laura Louie since 2008, and together they have three daughters.

The New York Times

The actor’s schedule has been incredibly busy over the past few decades, and he gave his fans an insight into the hectic life he has created for himself. During his interview with NPR, Harrelson explained that in the past year, he had only been home for one week. That meant 51 weeks missing out on home life, something that Harrelson claimed is “just not fair on my family.”

Escaping The Spotlight In Africa

Being one of the main stars of ‘Cheers’ brought a lot of attention to Harrelson, even when he didn’t want to get noticed. The star was trying to enjoy his fame, but by 1991, he discovered it was a double-edged sword. Sure, being famous opened a lot of doors for Harrelson, but it also put everything he did under a microscope.


The actor found it increasingly difficult to unwind without finding himself the center of attention, so he came up with a plan to give himself some space. Harrelson jetted off to Africa and found himself living in a tent in Kenya to get away from it all. This wasn’t your typical Hollywood star’s retreat, but it did allow Harrelson to get out of the celebrity bubble to recharge his batteries.

Fighting On The Set Of ‘North Country’

Growing up, Harrelson felt like he needed to fight with a lot of people as a way to show how tough he was. Of course, it’s something the star eventually grew out of, but that didn’t mean he stopped being feisty when he became an actor. An incident on the set of 2005 drama ‘North Country,’ would see Harrelson’s fellow actor Chris Mulkey suffer a broken nose at Woody’s hands.


This was, however, a complete accident, and not a sign of Harrelson losing his temper. The pair were acting out a fight scene when Harrelson’s punch was a little too realistic as it connected with Mulkey’s face. It seems that Harrelson might have lost where he was at for a moment and mistimed his punch to make it connect.

An Unplanned Wedding

Harrelson found himself getting married to Nancy Simon, the daughter of playwright Neil Simon, in 1985. The pair tied the knot in Tijuana, but they hadn’t intended their matrimony to be serious. In fact, they were planning on getting divorced the very next day but ran into a little problem.


The wedding venue that the couple got married in was closed the next day, which forced a change of plans for the couple. Instead of having a one-day marriage, the couple’s relationship status wouldn’t change for another ten months. They finally managed to get a divorce, and Harrelson didn’t find true love until 1987 when he hired Laura Louie as his personal assistant. Harrelson and Louie worked closely for many years and finally got married in 2008.

Being Held At Gunpoint

As a way to celebrate being cast in ‘Cheers,’ the then-budding actor went out and bought himself a Porsche. He was excited to have landed his first major acting role, but Harrelson got a big shock as he approached his fresh new car in a Hollywood garage. Someone came up to Harrelson with a gun and demanded he gave them his belongings, but that wasn’t all.


The robber also said he was going to count to five, and if Harrelson hadn’t given him the Porsche keys, he was going to pull the trigger. Worryingly for Harrelson, the guy’s count was at four, but he was saved at the last second as someone else entered the garage and scared the robber away. Harrelson told the Hollywood Reporter he thought his life was over, but miraculously, he was saved.

Getting Embarrassed On The Set Of ‘White Men Can’t Jump’

When Woody Harrelson was cast in the 1992 sports drama ‘White Men Can’t Jump,’ he began to fall in love with his own basketball skills. The actor’s character is a hustler who pretends he sucks at basketball to win money on street courts. Just because his character was good at basketball didn’t mean Harrelson was able to match his skills.


The actor felt confident about his game and began bragging to one of the on-set coaches about how good he was. That coach happened to be former Detroit Pistons center, Bob Lanier. The former NBA star challenged Harrelson to put his money where his mouth was, which quickly humbled the actor. Harrelson described his one-on-one with Lanier as “the most embarrassing 15 minutes” of his life.

Trying To Hold Down A Job

Many actors go through struggles early in their careers, and that often means working several jobs to pay the bills between roles. Harrelson wasn’t immune to feeling the pinch during his younger years, and the star claims that he once worked 17 different jobs in a year.

Most out of work actors end up taking any job they can get to make sure the rent is being paid, and it seems Harrelson was willing to do anything. That kind of attitude just shows how hard Harrelson was willing to work to make it to the top. However, the actor said he spent a lot of time trying to get rich and famous, but once he got there, he found it all to be hollow.

Born To Play Woody

It must have been fate that Harrelson was named Woody. When Harrelson was cast in ‘Cheers,’ his character shared his first name, and it was a role that the star would become very familiar with over the years. Harrelson has played Woody in three different TV shows during his career. He first played Woody in ‘Cheers,’ and then reprised his role in ‘Frasier,’ a spinoff to the sitcom.


The third time Harrelson portrayed his Woody character from ‘Cheers’ came in an episode of the ‘The Simpsons.’ Luckily for Harrelson, there is no danger of him being typecast, but for a long time, the actor worried he wouldn’t star in anything other than ‘Cheers.’ The star struggled to find other work during the shooting of the sitcom, but once he left, his career exploded into life.

Putting An End To ‘Cheers’

Harrelson had been looking to expand his range after many years on the set of ‘Cheers.’ When Ted Danson made noises about wanting to leave the series, the showrunners thought they could save the sitcom with Harrelson. The plan was to have Woody Boyd take over the bar and become the lead actor, but there was just one problem, Harrelson wanted to move on.


Harrelson refused to go along with the plan to keep ‘Cheers’ alive, which forced the writers and producers to head in a different direction. That’s when they came up with the idea of ‘Frasier’ being a spinoff, which turned out to be the right move. ‘Frasier’ became a huge success, leaving the memory of ‘Cheers’ intact without keeping it going for too long and becoming stale.

Getting Arrested On Purpose

In 1996, Harrelson decided to protest laws in Kentucky regarding the rights to grow a certain plant that many people smoke. He confronted the law because it didn’t make a distinction between that plant and hemp, which can be used in manufacturing goods. Harrelson resented the fact the state didn’t acknowledge this distinction and invited the authorities and cameramen to watch his protest.


The actor planted four seeds into the ground and was duly arrested by the Kentucky police officers. To show what a good sport he was about the whole thing, Harrelson then had no problems posing with the officers responsible for processing his arrest. He posed with the officers for photographs at the county jail, which helped bring further attention to the problem he was protesting in the first place.

Fighting For Attention On The Set Of ‘Cheers’

Harrelson was 23 years old when he found himself hanging out in LA auditioning for ‘Cheers.’ It would be the role that made him famous, but you wouldn’t have known it to look at him during his audition. He already had a role on Broadway lined up, so there was no pressure to get the job on the sitcom.


The actor auditioned looking like he’d just been shooting hoops on the basketball court, and this wasn’t a great first impression. Although the casting crew loved his audition, Harrelson’s ‘sloppiness’ upset some of the cast members, namely, Ted Danson. The testosterone was in the air when Danson and Harrelson got in the same room, and the young actor was challenged to a basketball game. Harrelson won that, and also the chess and arm-wrestling contests the cast members were throwing at him.

The Beginnings Of A Lonely Life

Before Harrelson had arrived on the set of ‘Cheers,’ he used to love hanging out with people. The young actor explained to The Guardian that he was sociable, but the pressures of keeping up appearances on ‘Cheers’ were beginning to take their toll on him. Harrelson explained that pressure to talk to people he didn’t even know changed his mindset.


Instead of embracing his newfound fame with humility, it seemed that Harrelson adopted a kind of ‘rock star’ persona. He explained it had a negative impact on the way he approached people, forcing him to become less outgoing and more arrogant. The pressure of becoming a huge star had a harmful effect on Harrelson, who now began to find it hard to truly connect with people following his status change.

Not As Good At Bowling As Expected

In the 1996 comedy movie ‘Kingpin,’ Woody Harrelson plays a down-on-his-luck professional ten-pin bowler. Harrelson’s character, Roy Munson, doesn’t let the fact he lost his bowling hand stop him from making his way back to the top of the sport. You might have thought that spending so long shooting a movie in bowling alleys would have improved Harrelson’s game, but it didn’t.


The star admitted that it wasn’t him who was bowling all of those strikes because he’s a terrible bowler. Instead, the movie used a double who actually knew what they were doing to secure those impressive bowling shots. It just goes to show that there is a good reason why movies invest so much money into using doubles for so many scenes.

Receiving Negative Attention For His Movie

Harrelson had gotten his breakout role in ‘Cheers’ during the 1980s, and by the time the 1990s rolled by, he was a superstar. The actor boosted his popularity when he starred in the 1992 sports drama ‘White Men Can’t Jump.’ However, he faced a backlash for the 1994 violent thriller ‘Natural Born Killers.’


The movie was controversial because of its violent nature, and all of that negative attention began to affect how Harrelson felt. All of the criticism surrounding the film started getting to Harrelson, who said, “It was terrible” in an interview with Fade In. We’re sure Harrelson was proud of the work he had done on the movie, and hearing it being so roundly criticized must have stung his pride a little.

Finding Another Controversial Role

The experience of the ‘Natural Born Killers’ backlash was tough for Harrelson, but not so bad that he would stop taking risks. Two years out from his first public backlash, Harrelson found himself in the middle of another. When Harrelson starred in the 1996 legal drama ‘The People vs.Larry Flynt,’ he found his name in the headlines again.


Harrelson was actually nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in the film, but that was overshadowed by the controversy of the film’s subject. The actor explained to the Hollywood Reporter that he “needed to back away from this job” following the backlash. He and the crew had given everything to this movie, only for a leading feminist to discourage women from going to see the movie famed for defending free speech.

Inviting Flynt Along To The Oscars

When ‘The People vs. Larry Flynt’ hit movie theaters, it caused a huge stir among the media. People protested the movie due to the attention it brought to the adult entertainment industry. Harrelson portrayed Larry Flynt in the film, but the real-life Larry didn’t get invited to the Academy Awards in 1997.

Us Weekly

The film was up for several awards that night, and it seems as though Harrelson felt like Flynt should have been welcomed along. He wasn’t, so Harrelson took it upon himself to invite the controversial figure to the Hollywood ceremony as his guest. Unfortunately for Harrelson, this would be yet another case of the actor being up for an Oscar award but falling short. Hopefully, Harrelson can eventually find that role that lands him the ultimate award any actor can receive.

Claiming A Reporter Was A Zombie

Harrelson confessed to being a wild child when he was younger, but even when he became an established star, he could be unpredictable. The actor didn’t drop his fighting ways just because he was a famous performer, as one photographer found out when Harrelson took offense to him. Harrelson reportedly punched a photographer and then claimed he did it because he thought the person was actually a zombie.


The photographer allegedly filed a complaint against Harrelson following the incident, which damaged his camera. Harrelson claimed he was at the airport with his daughter when he was stunned by the photographer who he “quite understandably mistook for a zombie.” The actor had only just wrapped filming ‘Zombieland,’ and claimed he was still in character when the incident occurred.

Getting By With A Little Help From His Friend

After the incident with the photographer blew over, Harrelson admitted he got a little help through that situation from a very special friend. Harrelson became friends with Paul McCartney through their activism and shared passion for veganism, and he spoke with the former Beatles member after attacking the photographer.

The Sun

The actor explained to McCartney that he had just got done shooting for ‘Zombieland,’ and that’s when the singer advised Harrelson to say he thought the guy was a zombie. Harrelson said he was feeling awful about the attack, but that McCartney helped turn his mindset around with his positive attitude. Considering the attack on the photographer happened over ten years ago, we’re guessing Harrelson has managed to put it all behind him now.

Regretting Not Seeing Polly One Last Time

At one stage of Harrelson’s career, he found himself living in the Big Apple. New York is a far cry from Texas, but thankfully for Harrelson, his wealth allowed him to head back home whenever he had a break in his schedule. On one such occasion, Harrelson headed back home but left with a huge regret. The Hollywood actor was reminded to go and visit his great grandmother before he went back to New York, but Harrelson ran out of time.

USA Today

Harrelson skipped seeing her because he was going to miss his flight, and he thought he would catch her next time. Unfortunately, there was no next time, as Polly passed away before Harrelson could see her again. Harrelson explained to GQ that he wished he had gone and recorded some of her famous stories about his family.

Protesting In His Own Special Way

Like many Hollywood actors, Harrelson stands up for what he believes in. The actor once climbed the Golden Gate Bridge to make a statement to a rich and powerful CEO, Charles Hurwitz. The CEO once made his money through the Pacific Lumber organization and claimed it’s the people with the wealth who, “make the rules.” This stuck with Harrelson, who had his own unique response.

The New York Times

The Oscar-nominated actor got to the top of the famous bridge, and posted a sign that questioned if the value of ancient trees wasn’t worth as much as a precious metal. It seems that Harrelson took it upon himself to bring attention to environmental issues right in the middle of the United States. Even as he gets older, there’s still a wild spirit inside Harrelson that won’t let him ignore issues he feels are important.

Delaying The Production Of ‘Zombieland’ After Getting Arrested

One of Harrelson’s biggest movies of recent times was the horror-comedy ‘Zombieland,’ which saw the world overrun by hordes of reanimated bodies. Although Harrelson was the star of the show, and the most senior actor among the main cast, his actions actually caused a delay in the movie’s production. Harrelson was arrested on the set for possession of a then illegal narcotic.

The Slanted

The actor might have thought the set was a safe place, but it turned out he wasn’t allowed to bring his narcotics to the production. Because of the arrest, the movie’s production was delayed for a day while the cast had to wait for Harrelson to work out his legal predicament. There was only a day’s delay, and ‘Zombieland’ went on to become an instant classic.

A Wild Taxi Ride In London

It seems that Woody Harrelson is fond of getting a little crazy in England’s capital city. On a trip to London in 2002, Harrelson found himself in trouble with one of the local black cab drivers. The actor was taking a taxi cab to his hotel room from a nightclub when things got interesting. According to the taxi driver’s reports, the Hollywood star broke an ashtray and door lock in the back of that cab.

The Telegraph

As if that wasn’t wild enough, Harrelson then reportedly jumped from the taxi and hailed another. A taxi chase ensued before the police were able to slow Harrelson down for long enough to get him out. Harrelson spent the night in a London jail cell, but not before he ran away from the police officers, who ran after the actor and arrested him.

Determined To Star Alongside Courtney Love

Heading into the production of ‘The People vs. Larry Flynt,’ Harrelson was excited to be working with the rock star, Courtney Love. She was the lead singer of Hole, a band that Harrelson was actually a big fan of. However, there was a problem, and Love’s history of addiction and arrests meant she couldn’t get insurance to appear on the set.


The production company wasn’t willing to pay the huge fee for Love’s insurance, so Harrelson, alongside director Milos Foreman and producer Oliver Stone, stepped in. The trio personally paid the bill for Love’s insurance, and the gesture didn’t go unnoticed by the rocker. Love remained sober throughout filming, putting in a memorable performance and even earning a Golden Globe nomination in the process.