Woody Harrelson's big break came in 1985, when he was cast as sweet, dim-witted bartender Woody Boyd on the wildly popular sitcom Cheers. His performance earned him five Emmy nominations and a win for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. Harrelson moved into film and has had an impressive run, in films such as Natural Born Killers, The Thin Red Line and No Country for Old Men. More recently, Harrelson won accolades for his role on the HBO crime series True Detective.
Woody Harrelson was born Woodrow Tracy Harrelson on July 23, 1961, in Midland, Texas, to parents Charles and Diane Harrelson. Harrelson's father went to prison on a murder conviction when Harrelson was only seven, leaving Woody's mother, a legal secretary, to raise him and his two brothers in Lebanon, Ohio. Harrelson was raised with a strong, spiritual foundation, which helped him earn a scholarship to Hanover College, a Presbyterian institution in Indiana.
In 1983, Harrelson earned a bachelor's degree in English and theatrical arts, after which he headed to New York City to pursue acting. His career began as an understudy in the Neil Simon play Biloxi Blues and as an extra in various films and television shows.
Rise to Fame
Harrelson's big break came in 1985, when he was cast as sweet, dim-witted bartender Woody Boyd on the wildly popular sitcom Cheers, which was in its fourth season. Woody was an instant hit with viewers, as well as with critics, and he stayed on with eight seasons. His performance earned him five Emmy nominations, including a 1989 Emmy win for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
While still on Cheers, Harrelson also continued his work as a stage actor, appearing in the James Brooks play Brooklyn Laundry in 1991, as well as the drama Furthest From the Sun (1993), a play he both wrote and directed. Harrelson also took on some supporting and cameo film roles in films such as Wildcats (1986) and L.A. Story (1991), as well his first starring role in the comedy White Men Can't Jump, co-staring Wesley Snipes. But his film career didn't take off until after Cheers was over and he starred with Demi Moore and Robert Redford in 1993's Indecent Proposal. After the success of Indecent Proposal, Woody landed the lead in Oliver Stone's controversial movie Natural Born Killers (1993), with co-star Juliette Lewis.
After starring roles in 1996's The Sunchaser and the Farrelly Brothers' comedy Kingpin (1996), Harrelson sparked controversy in the biopic The People vs. Larry Flynt. But once the controversy faded, Harrelson's sympathetic portrayal of adult-film mogul Larry Flynt earned the actor Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor. The film was lauded by critics, and his performance boosted Harrelson to A-list actor status.
After that, Harrelson landed a series of more serious film roles, including the war movie Welcome to Sarajevo (1997), the political satire Wag the Dog (1997) and the award-winning war film The Thin Red Line (1998).
Harrelson earned the attention of critics again in 2007 for the Coen brothers drama No Country for Old Men. The film won Harrelson a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Cast, along with Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin and Kelly Macdonald. In 2008, Harrelson appeared in several films, including the comedy Semi-Pro with Will Ferrell and the drama Seven Pounds (2008) with Will Smith. In 2009, he co-starred in the horror comedy Zombieland and the dystopian apocalypse film 2012. His role that same year in the critically acclaimed drama The Messenger earned him several award nominations, including Golden Globe and Academy Award nods.
Harrelson made his next big splash, and it might be his biggest to date, on January 12, 2014, the day the series True Detective premiered on HBO. Harrelson played Detective Marty Hart opposite Matthew McConaughey, and both actors served as executive producers. The show, a dark and atmospheric crime drama, was an instant critical darling and pulled in a whole new crop of fans for Harrelson. It also earned the actor an Emmy nomination for Best Actor.
In addition to acting, Harrelson has been an outspoken advocate for the environment. His activism includes efforts for preserving the California redwoods, involvement in the American Oceans' Campaign and legalization efforts for the use of industrial hemp. Harrelson challenged the constitutionality of the Kentucky state law that does not distinguish between industrial hemp and marijuana by planting several hemp seeds. He won the case, and became an advisor for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Harrelson was briefly married to Nancy Simon, the daughter of playwright Neil Simon, in 1985 during a trip to Tijuana, Mexico. They planned to annul the marriage but divorced instead in 1986. On January 11, 1998, Harrelson married longtime girlfriend and former assistant Laura Louie in a private ceremony in Costa Rica. Louie is currently a partner in their production company, Children at Play, and co-owned their health-food restaurant and oxygen bar, 02, which was located in Los Angeles. They currently reside in Maui, Hawaii, in a self-sustained community with their two children, Deni Montana and Zoe Giordano.
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