Actor Woody Harrelson went from humble beginnings as a young boy growing up in Midland, Texas, to a Hollywood star thanks to his breakthrough role as bartender Woody Boyd in ‘Cheers’. Since the hit comedy about a group of locals who meet to drink and socialize in a Boston bar, wrapped in 1993; Harrelson has been nominated for an Academy Award three times including Best Supporting Actor for ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ in 2017.
When not on location shooting his latest movie, he lives a quiet life in Maui, Hawaii, with his yoga teacher wife and their three daughters. Although everything appears to have worked out the best way it could for Harrelson, he was not the first in his family to achieve notoriety.
He is the son of hitman Charles Voyde Harrelson.
Born on July 23rd, 1938, in Lovelady, Texas, Charles Voyde Harrelson made history when he assassinated federal judge John H. Wood Jr. The contract killer also claimed credit for a dozen other contract killings by 1982 when he was convicted of firing the sniper’s bullet that killed Wood outside his San Antonio home.
This became the first killing of a judge in the 20th century. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Jahn later said, “Anyone whose life (Charles Harrelson) touched suffered from it.”
Now, Spotify has announced they will release a 10-part podcast series titled ‘Son of a Hitman’ in May. The series which features a real-time investigation by host and journalist Jason Cavanagh will also include in-depth interviews with the Harrelson family.
Here are five fast facts you need to know…
5. Woody’s Father Was A Professional Gambler Turned Hitman
Charles Harrelson and his first wife Diane Lou Oswald had three sons – Brett, Jordan, and Woody. Harrelson worked as an encyclopedia salesman in California before turning his hand to gambling.
Thomas Sharpe, the lawyer who defended Harrelson, said, “He was what they call in Las Vegas a ‘card mechanic.’ He’ll hand you a deck of cards, you shuffle them, he’ll cut them and give you the cards he wants you to have.”
When Woody’s father eventually left the family, the three sons stayed with their mother. Later, in an interview with People magazine, Woody said, “I don’t feel he was much of a father. He took no valid part in my upbringing.”
4. His Father Claimed To Have Been Involved In The JFK Assassination
In 1968, Charles was arrested three times for separate murders in Brazoria and Hidalgo counties. He was acquitted of murdering carpet-firm executive Alan Berg and sentenced instead for his part in shooting grain dealer Sam Degelia Jr. According to the hitman himself, he was paid $2,000 in the murder-for-hire scheme.
Then in 1978, he was released and the following year, he shot and killed Judge Wood Jr whilst he was on his way to work. The hit was allegedly ordered on behalf of Jimmy Chagra, an El Paso drug kingpin then facing trial in Wood’s court. Harrelson was handed two life sentences.
Charles also claimed to have been involved in the JFK assassination and the podcast series ‘Son of a Hitman’ will shine a light on what his sons – Brett and John – believe truly happened.
3. Woody First Heard Of His Father’s Arrest On The Radio
A young Woody had no contact with his father after he walked out on the family and first learned of his arrest on the radio.
Speaking with The Guardian, the ‘Natural Born Killers’ star recalled, “I was 11 or 12 when I heard his name mentioned on a car radio. 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! 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.”
Woody said he returned home in shock and spoke to his mother about what he’d heard. Adding, “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.”
2. His Father Enjoyed Life At The Tough “Supermax”
In 1995, Charles Harrelson – alongside two fellow inmates – attempted to escape from Atlanta Federal Penitentiary using a makeshift rope to scale the wall but they surrendered after warning shots were fired from the guard’s tower. Charles was transferred to a Colorado federal prison known as ‘Supermax’ which also houses domestic terrorist Theodore Kaczynski and former Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Despite being alone in his cell 23 hours a day and only permitted one hour of daily exercise, which would be taken alone in a fenced pen; Harrelson spoke about how much he enjoyed prison life.
In a personal letter to Bob Tiernan, a Denver attorney and close friend, Harrelson writes:
“I s’pose you might think boredom is a problem for me. Not true. The silence is wonderful. And feeling left alone is great. Nobody bothers me. Being able to take a shower anytime, stay awake all night if I wish, … read or write or watch whatever TV channel (some 70 channels are available) or listen to the 10 or so radio stations … offers something akin to independence.”
He added, “We’re able to see nothing outside the walls except the sky. Part of the plan here is sensory deprivation. It probably works on some of the residents. I’m pretty sure it hardly bothers me at all.”
1. Woody Bankrolled A $2 Million Appeal For His Father
In 1997, Woody Harrelson bankrolled an expensive appeal for his father which amounted to more than a couple of million in legal fees. At the time, the actor said, “I can’t attest to whether he’s guilty or innocent. But a lot of sources lead me to believe it wasn’t a fair trial.”
In a separate interview with People magazine, Woody revealed:
“This might sound odd to say about a convicted felon but my father is one of the most articulate, well-read, charming people I’ve ever known. Still, I’m just now gauging whether he merits my loyalty or friendship. I look at him as someone who could be a friend more than someone who was a father.”
While in prison, Charles became what he called a “snitch.” He allowed police to record his conversations with an accused killer and as a reward, he received five years’ probation, which was later expunged from his record. By the time the Supreme Court refused to review his conviction in 2004, both father and son had long before given up on any bid for his freedom. Charles told the Dallas Morning News, “I’ll probably die right here in this facility, which is fine.”
On March 15th, 2017, Charles Harrelson was found dead in his cell having suffered a heart attack. He was 69.