It is almost unbelievable how he fought through the damaging discoveries of his childhood to be one of the most accomplished stars in Hollywood.
It is said that stars only shine in the darkness. But more often than not, we are so engrossed in admiring the twinkle that we do not ponder upon the dark backdrop. Insane stardom does not come easy; one loses more than just their sleep when they take on the quest of a lifetime. And when you finally achieve the dream, you look back and realize that it was the darkness that made you stronger, grittier, and more capable of attaining the goal.
Woody Harrelson was hit by a soul-crushing discovery when he was only 7 years old, and that, in a way, changed how he looked at life. In several interviews, the Hunger Games star had spoken on how his father's criminal background and subsequent conviction and death affected his life.
As you observe his career trajectory, you understand that it exudes a vibe of insanity which many believe is a reflection of his personality. As The Guardian puts it, "Woody Harrelson plays psychopaths brilliantly. It couldn't be anything to do with his dad's day job, could it?"
Woody Harrelson was born on July 23, 1961, to Diane Lou and Charles Voyde Harrelson in Midland, Texas. He has two siblings, brothers Jordan and Brett.
Harrelson was not an easy kid to deal with. It is as if he had a volcano erupting in him from a very tender age. As a child, he initially was deemed dyslexic, hyperactive, also psychologically disturbed. So much so, that he was kicked out of kindergarten and later enrolled in a school of kids with special needs.
“I had a lot of anger, a lot of rage,” he explained to Esquire. “To get kicked out of nursery school, you’ve got to go some distance. And then I also got kicked out of first grade.
“They thought I stole a purse, but I didn’t, and a teacher beat me up for stealing a purse I didn’t steal. So I went around the school breaking windows with my bare fists.”
But Woody found the care he needed at a private school.
“After that, I had the blessing of going to Briarwood (in Houston),” the 58-year-old shared. “The idea there was to educate and simultaneously give love to the child, which sounds hokey, but it worked. I’d do something that was wrong or violent, and they’d treat me with love.”
But life was destined to be tough for him and it started quite early. He was only when he discovered that his dad was a professional killer and it hit him hard.
"I was 11 or 12 when I heard his name mentioned on a car radio," he told The Guardian. "I was in the car waiting for a lady who was picking me up from school, helping my mum, and anyway I was listening to the radio and it was talking about Charles V Harrelson and his trial for murder and blah blah blah blah and I’m sitting there thinking there can’t be another Charles V Harrelson. I mean, that’s my dad!" he added.
"It was a wild realization. Then the woman got in the car and saw my face and realized something was up. She was a very kind lady.”
According to Mirror, his father was convicted in 1973 for 15 years but was released in 5. Shockingly, he was convicted and awarded a life sentence again for the same crime in 1981. Presumably, a child in his teen years would have been startled and shattered by the kind of realization Harrelson had. It is almost unbelievable how he went on to take acting classes and become one of the most accomplished stars in Hollywood.
It was only after he turned 20 that he tried to contact his father and forge a relationship with him. He also tried to get him out of jail - not that he believed that he deserved another chance but it was hard for him to see his father behind bars. “Oh yeah, oh yeah. I tried for years to get him out. To get him a new trial," he told The Guardian. "I don’t know he did deserve a new trial… just being a son trying to help his dad," he added.
This sense of empathy that Harrelson had for his father could also have something to do with his mother's gracious nature and approach towards life. While he admits that her mother never loved her husband, but she did not let her children suffer. “Well, no, she was well out of love with him," he explains. "You know, I’ve got to give her credit because she never really soured us on him, she didn’t talk negative about him, never, ever. And she could have – he wasn’t the greatest husband. Or father. But...”
He goes on to confess that he is a lot like his father but that does not scare him. And we understand why, one whose empathy trumps his seemingly dark side, cannot be scared of he darkness inside of him. On being asked if he is like his father, he explains, “Quite a bit… I was born on his birthday. They have a thing in Japan where they say if you’re born on your father’s birthday, you’re not like your father, you are your father, and it’s so weird when I would sit and talk with him. It was just mind-blowing to see all the things he did just like me.” Such as? “Idiosyncratic things. The way he laughed. The face, very similar.”
Does it scare him? "No, no," he asserts.
He also confesses that trying to save his father did create a healing friendship between the two of them. It also brought him a certain calmness, reports Mirror. While his efforts to help his dad failed and he died in 2007 in a penitentiary, Harrelson now considers himself at peace with the tainted legacy of his father and leads a happy home life with his wife of 22 years and three daughters.
There is no denying the fact that Harrelson must have gone through a lot of emotional struggles to become what he is today given that his childhood could have damaged him. He also had to suffer emotional turmoil before coming to terms with his reality and accepting his past for how it is.
Today, Woody Harrelson is an Emmy Award winner, a three-time Academy Award nominee, and a Golden Globe award winner. His work in Zombieland, Hunger Games, Now to See, Cheers, The People vs. Larry Flynt, not only got him some prestigious awards and nominations but also made him a bonafide Hollywood veteran.