"I think I've been an incredible example to my kids of what not to do".—Woody Harrelson.
It’s safe to say that Woody Harrelson will go down in history as one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood. His career has ranged from roles in films from every genre—from comedy to sci-fi to drama. He first became a TV star before switching to film, then going back and forth as he pleased, even before crossing over from film back to TV was seen as a forward-thinking career move. With a resume that most actors would kill for, Harrelson is still very much in demand to this day. Find out all about him with these 40 quirky facts about Woody Harrelson.
1. Back by Popular Demand
Harrelson’s big break was when he appeared as the slow-witted bartender Woody Boyd on the fourth season of the sitcom Cheers. He spent the next eight seasons on the show and was nominated for five Emmy awards for his role. Harrelson also reprised the role of Woody Boyd on two other big comedy shows: Frasier (the Cheers spinoff) and The Simpsons.
2. Crossing State Lines
Woodrow Tracy Harrelson was born the town of Midland, Texas, in 1961. However, he and his family later moved to Lebanon, Ohio, where he attended high school. Later on, he would attend college in Indiana.
3. The Random People You Meet
Speaking of college, Harrelson attended Hanover College in Indiana, earning degrees in Theatre Arts and English. In a strange coincidence, one of Harrelson’s friends during college is the current Vice President of United States, Mike Pence. Talk about going down two different paths!
4. Versatile From the Start
During his youth, Harrelson spent his summers working at a local amusement park. He was a jack-of-all-trades while he was working there, operating rides as well as being in charge of games. No doubt this experience came in handy while filming Zombieland.
5. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Woody
While Harrelson was in college, he gained an interest in Christianity. According to the man himself, "I was getting into theology and studying the roots of the Bible, but then I started to discover the man-made nature of it. I started seeing things that made me ask, 'Is God really speaking through this instrument?' My eyes opened to the reality of the Bible being just a document to control people. At the time I was a real mama's boy and deeply mesmerized by the church". Sounds like a pretty typical college experience for a sheltered Christian kid to me.
6. Chasing That Golden Statue
Harrelson has been nominated for three Academy Awards as of 2018. Two of them (for The Messenger and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) garnered him Supporting Actor nominations while the third (The People vs. Larry Flynt) had him up for Lead Actor.
7. Some Choice Words for You, Sir
A noted environmentalist and naturalist, Harrelson took umbrage when Pacific Lumber CEO Charles Hurwitz commented: “He who has the gold, makes the rules". As his own special protest, Harrelson climbed the Golden Gate Bridge and posted a sign which offered the challenging message “Hurwitz. Aren’t ancient redwoods more precious than gold?” Anyone who’s seen Three Billboards might catch a grain of irony in this story.
8. Was it a Birthday Present?
In 2003, a group of Harrelson’s musician friends—who were also part of the band Hootie & the Blowfish—produced a tribute song to him titled “Woody”, and actually released it on their self-titled album.
9. A Fanboy on a Film Set
Harrelson was one of many A-list celebrities who appeared in the WWII film The Thin Red Line, directed by the ever-divisive and ever-mysterious auteur Terrence Malick. While Malick would eventually alienate several actors who worked with him, Harrelson wasn’t one of them. Harrelson reportedly stuck around for a month after he was done filming just so he could behold the talented director at work.
10. Hey Bro, Wanna Be My Bro?
In 1996, Harrelson played the infamous founder of Hustler magazine, Larry Flynt, in The People Vs. Larry Flynt. In a case of method casting, Flynt’s brother was played by Harrelson’s real-life brother, Brett Harrelson, who also works as an actor. No doubt this was not that challenging of a job for the Harrelson brothers to pull off successfully.
11. Leaving Me Breathless
In 2001, Harrelson opened up an oxygen bar in West Hollywood. For those of you looking confused, an oxygen bar features a higher percentage of oxygen than there is in the normal atmosphere, for recreational purposes. The health benefits of taking in extra oxygen are debatable, but we’re more concerned about a future where oxygen bars become essential for human survival. At least Harrelson has his connections!
12. Don’t Get Typecast!
Harrelson has twice played the mentor role for two big film franchises. The first was as Haymitch Abernathy in The Hunger Games series and more recently, he has appeared as Tobias Beckett in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
13. Let a Good Thing End!
Ted Danson, the longtime star of Cheers, eventually expressed his desire to leave the show after many seasons. There was talk within NBC that they could continue the show without Danson by having Woody Boyd, played by Harrelson, take over the bar, as well as the lead role. However, Harrelson refused to go along with this plan, so they ended up making Frasier instead. Thank you so much, Woody!
14. Into Africa
In 1991, Harrelson decided that he needed to get away from Hollywood for a bit, which we imagine a lot of celebrities feel like doing every once in a while. What sets Harrelson apart from the average celebrity’s retreat is that he went to Kenya and lived just outside of Nairobi for several weeks. He must have really needed the distance.
15. But Four’s My Number!
In 2007, Harrelson was set to reunite with director Oliver Stone for a project known as Pinkville. The movie would follow the investigation into the horrific My Lai Massacre, which took place during the Vietnam War. It would have been Stone’s fourth film about the Vietnam War after Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and Heaven & Earth. Unfortunately, the project got scuttled in the maelstrom which was the Hollywood Writers Strike—the producers of the film got cold feet about the project and backed out.
16. I’m Good, but not That Good
There was a longstanding rumor that Cheers’ famous intro song, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” was actually sung by Harrelson, which explained why he was later cast on the show. This rumor, however, was false; the song was sung by Gary Portnoy. We’re not sure which one of them would be more flattered to have been mistaken for each other!
17. Can We Use a Stunt Bowler?
Contrary to the character he played in the bowling comedy Kingpin, Harrelson was a terrible bowler who could barely ever get a strike, according to the film’s directors. That’s what acting is for, we guess.
18. Soccer Savior
Harrelson took time to join in at Soccer Aid 2010 for UNICEF in Manchester, UK. Harrelson was brought into the game to take part in the penalty shootout. He ended up scoring the winning goal, defeating England. Interestingly, Harrelson was only brought on as a replacement for Gordon Ramsay—presumably after he’d sworn too loudly at the referee.
19. It’s Just a Movie, Woody!
While filming a scene for North Country, Harrelson had to swing a punch at fellow actor Chris Mulkey. However, Harrelson was slightly too accurate with his punch; not only did he accidentally hit Mulkey, he broke the actor’s nose!
20. Now That’s a Renaissance Man
Aside from writing, directing, and acting, Harrelson also dabbles in music every once in a while. Harrelson plays in not one, but two different bands: Manly Moondog and Three Kool Hats. Safe to say that they sound exactly like bands that Harrelson would be a part of.
21. This is Familiar…
Harrelson first worked with British director Martin McDonagh on his second film, titled Seven Psychopaths. One subplot involves an older man, played by Tom Waits, reflecting on his missing wife, with whom he’d travel the country slaughtering people. Safe to say that Harrelson could have been a good acting coach for Waits, given the somewhat similar premise in Natural Born Killers.
22. He Knows How to Name ‘Em
In 2008, Harrelson married his former assistant, Laura Louie. They currently have three daughters, all of whom had an interesting variety of names bestowed upon them: Deni Montana, Zoe Giordano, and Makani Ravello.
23. Odd Overlap
In a strange coincidence, two of the four films in 2017 that Harrelson acted in featured Harrelson’s character suffering from cancer, eventually leading him to take his own life. Don’t worry, we won’t spoil the films by saying which ones they are.
24. Restaurants are a Nightmare
Harrelson is an ethical vegan and raw foodist. This means that he actively avoids meat, dairy, sugar, and flour. Frankly, we’ve got to give him credit for maintaining a regimen like that!
25. That’s Our Woody
Production on Zombieland was actually delayed for a day when Harrelson was apprehended on the set for possession of marijuana. You knew an event like this would come up on the list eventually, right?
26. Wesley and Woody’s Beautiful Friendship
Harrelson’s first ever credited film role was the high school sport movie Wildcats, starring Goldie Hawn. Interestingly, the film was also the film debut of Wesley Snipes, who would later re-team with Harrelson for their big comedy debut in White Men Can’t Jump.
27. Hole Was One of My Favorite Bands!
Along with Harrelson, the co-lead of The People Vs. Larry Flynt was none other than notorious musician Courtney Love. Because of her drug addiction and multiple arrests, the studio producing the film refused to pay Love’s insurance fees, which would have prevented her from acting in the film. Harrelson, along with director Milos Forman and producer Oliver Stone, stepped in and paid the fees out of their own pockets. Love showed her gratitude by staying stone cold sober and professional throughout the film’s production.
28. I Got This
In the witty coming-of-age film The Edge of Seventeen, Harrelson plays a cynical teacher who never runs out of a cutting quip to throw at the main character. Interestingly, a lot of Harrelson’s quips in the film were improvised. Maybe he had some pent-up sass from all those years on Cheers playing a character who was left clueless as barbed insults were thrown all around him every day.
29. Heh, Ironic
Sometimes actors work together more than once on different projects, and this can make for some interesting contrasts. For example, Harrelson and Casey Affleck played enemies in Out of the Furnace, and then three years later, Harrelson played Affleck’s protective uncle in Triple 9. No doubt they had a good laugh about that.
30. “I am Not Resisting Arrest!”
Harrelson is an avid supporter of the right to grow marijuana and hemp. In 1996, Harrelson confronted the law in Kentucky when he planted four hemp seeds into the ground. He resented that the state refused to acknowledge the difference between hemp and marijuana. Harrelson even invited authorities and cameramen to witness his defiance and was duly apprehended on the spot. Later, Harrelson showed what a good sport he was by posing for photos with deputies at the county lockup.
31. Supports the Troops, Opposes the War
In November 2009, Harrelson appeared on The Colbert Report to promote his film The Messengers, which focuses on the US military. Colbert questioned Harrelson’s support of the troops, and Harrelson let Colbert shave his head on-camera. It was a rare example of a public figure stating that you could support the US army while still opposing the war.
32. You Don’t Snub My Character!
Perhaps due to his controversial reputation, Larry Flynt wasn’t invited to the 1997 Academy Awards, despite the fact that he was portrayed by one of the award nominees that year. Like a true gentleman, Harrelson stepped in and brought Flynn as his guest to the awards ceremony, although sadly, he didn’t win.
33. Uh Oh…
In 1985, Harrelson married Nancy Simon, the daughter of Neil Simon, in Tijuana. They hadn’t actually meant to stay married, intending to get divorced the next day. However, the marriage/divorce parlor was closed when they came back, and they spent the next 10 months in holy matrimony! Oh Harrelson, you wacky scoundrel!
34. Turns Out White Men Really Can’t Jump
While filming the basketball comedy White Men Can’t Jump, Harrelson bragged to one of the coaches on the set about his basketball-playing past. Much to Harrelson’s surprise, the coach was actually retired Detroit Pistons center player Bob Lanier. Lanier challenged Harrelson to a one-on-one game to see if he could put his money where his mouth was. Harrelson described it as “the most embarrassing 15 minutes” of his life. We believe you, Woody.
35. Movie Magic at its Finest
Because of his strict food rules, Harrelson doesn’t actually ever eat a Twinkie in Zombieland. All those ‘Twinkies’ he ate onscreen were actually made of cornmeal to accommodate Harrelson’s diet.
36. Do You Believe in Fate, Boy?
In Natural Born Killers, arguably one of Harrelson’s most well-known films, Harrelson’s character spends the film slaughtering people at random while embarking on a whirlwind romance with his partner. He is revealed to have serious issues with his father, claiming that brutality is in his blood, passed down from his dad. In a rather ominous reflection of art and life, Harrelson’s father, Charles, was a figure in the crime world who was convicted of murdering John H. Wood Jr., a federal judge. Charles actually attempted an escape from prison the year after Natural Born Killers was released!
37. Find My Father!
In The People Vs. Larry Flynt, Larry Flynt puts out a $1 million reward for the people who shot JFK. This was a rather interesting in-joke, given that Harrelson’s father, Charles, has long been suspected of being involved in the supposed conspiracy to assassinate JFK.
38. Dad? Is That You?
According to Harrelson, his father had abandoned his family as early as 1968. It wasn’t until the murder of Judge Wood led to Charles Harrelson’s arrest in 1981 that he heard his father's name on the radio and knew his whereabouts again.
39. Family is Complicated
In a 1988 interview, Harrelson stated that he was regularly visiting his father in prison. While he was certainly conflicted in his feelings towards Charles and was still trying to figure out if he could trust or love him, Harrelson nevertheless described his father as “one of the most articulate, well-read, charming people I've ever known".
40. Just Can’t Get Away From That
Harrelson appeared in the film No Country For Old Men, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. One element that wasn’t brought over from the book to film during the adaptation phase was a line where the main character reflects on the murder of a judge the year before. Since the story takes place in 1980, the murder of the judge could only refer to the demise of Judge John Wood, who was slain by Harrelson’s father, Charles. Now we see why they omitted that line for the movie adaptation.