- TV and movie star
- Environmental, Animal Rights, & Peace activist
- Advocate for marijuana legalization
- Describes himself as an "anarchist"
- Admirer of the late Fidel Castro
- Considers the anti-American Marxist Howard Zinn one of his "great heroes"
Woodrow Tracey Harrelson was born on July 23, 1961, in Midland, Texas. His father was a contract killer associated with organized crime, and was incarcerated during most of Woody Harrelson’s childhood. “We were poor,” Harrelson says of his boyhood years. “But my mom always took care of us [and] we always had food. It was a lot to raise three kids on her own as a secretary, but she did it and she sure did look after us.” Harrelson’s father was eventually sentenced to life in prison for the 1979 killing of federal judge John H. Wood Jr.
Harrelson was a theater and English major at Indiana’s Hanover College, where he graduated in 1983. He subsequently began a show-business career in 1985 when he was cast as the bartender Woody in NBC’s popular sitcom, Cheers. Harrelson went on to play this role for the next eight seasons.
After Cheers ended in 1992, Harrelson made several relatively successful movies, including comedies like White Men Can’t Jump and Kingpin. He also pursued some more dramatic and politically oriented roles, teaming with director Oliver Stone in Natural Born Killers (1994) and playing the famed pornographer Larry Flynt in The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). For a more detailed overview of Harrelson’s acting career, click here.
In the early 1990s, Harrelson became involved in the American antiwar movement, attending a peace rally in Los Angeles in January 1991. Also around that time, he developed a camaraderie with Ron Kovic, the disabled Vietnam veteran whose antiwar activism had inspired the 1989 movie Born on the Fourth of July. Shortly after Harrelson’s appearance at the Los Angeles rally, he was slated to serve as the grand marshal of New Orleans’ Endymion parade celebrating Mardi Gras on February 9, 1991. But when members of the Board of Endymion learned that Harrelson had taken part in the L.A. demonstration, they cancelled the actor’s scheduled participation in the New Orleans parade. They said in a prepared statement: “While recognizing that Mr. Harrelson, like every American, has the right of opinion and expression, the Board of Endymion reminds all that New Orleans Mardi Gras is non-political.”
The Peace for Cuba International Appeal
Harrelson was an endorser and signer of the Peace for Cuba International Appeal (PCIA), a letter written in 1994 by individuals closely tied to the International Action Center, an organization controlled by the Marxist-Leninist Workers World Party. This letter, which called for an end to the trade embargo and travel restrictions that America had aimed at Cuba, was also endorsed by such notables as Ramsey Clark, Alice Walker, Brian Becker, Teresa Gutierrez, Quentin Young, Gloria La Riva, Thomas Gumbleton, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, Mario Obledo, Rev. Lucius Walker Jr., Martin Sheen, Maxine Waters, John Conyers, Ossie Davis, Noam Chomsky, Ed Asner, Richard Falk, Howard Zinn, Pete Seeger, William Kunstler, Corliss Lamont, and Paul Sweezy. The 1994 letter was similar, in its tenor and content, to a January 18, 1992 letter that PCIA had posted in People’s Weekly World, the newspaper of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA).
Marijuana Smoker, Advocate for Marijuana Legalization
Harrelson has long been an advocate for the legalization of marijuana and hemp, and a supporter of the pro-marijuana legalization group NORML. In 1996 he was arrested in Kentucky for possession of cannabis. Harrelson’s dependence on marijuana became apparent when he told a reporter in November of ’96: “When I let up on the weed — and the drinking, too — I cried every day!” “We all take drugs,” added Harrelson. “Everybody I know is a drug addict of some kind. How else could we live on this planet in its present condition? It’s either pot or coffee or sugar or booze or sex. There’s all kinds of ways to take emotional refuge.”
In a 2013 interview with Details magazine, Harrelson, lamenting that marijuana had not yet been legalized in the United States, said: “I can’t imagine that it’s going to happen, no. The deeper issue is, what does it mean to live in a free country? In the U.S., something like 80 percent of people in prison are there for ‘consensual crimes.'”
In April 2016, Harrelson’s effort to obtain a license for his Simple Organic Living company to sell medical marijuana at a dispensary in Hawaii was denied.
In a March 2017 interview, Harrelson announced that, after many years of smoking marijuana, he had recently stopped: “I am a party animal. But on the other hand, I haven’t, I’m now extremely moderate, and I actually stopped smoking pot almost a year ago.” When the interviewer noted that he himself had become “less productive” as a result of the damage that marijuana had done to his mind, Harrelson replied: “Yeah, that was a little bit of my issue [also]. Just 30 solid years of just partying too fucking hard.” The actor then added : “I don’t have a problem at all with smoking. I think it’s great. I think it’s a great drug, in terms of… Even cops say that the side effect is euphoria. Or the … what do you call it?… The effect of it is euphoria. But when you’re doing it all the time, it just becomes … Well, you know. I feel like it was keeping me from being emotionally available. I really don’t want this interview to turn into a whole thing about that.”
Harrelson’s political views were influenced by his Cheers co-star Ted Danson, who served a stint as president of the American Oceans Campaign (AOC), an environmentalist organization which he founded in 1987. After meeting Danson, Harrelson himself began to attend AOC events. At one point, he was named as an honorary director of the Rainforest Action Network.
In a 1996 act of protest, Harrelson and eight other environmentalists climbed the Golden Gate Bridge and hung a banner denouncing the logging of redwood forests. After he and the others were arrested on charges of trespassing, failure to obey a peace officer, and public nuisance, Harrelson said: “I shamelessly and proudly call myself a tree hugger.”
In 2002, Harrelson received an Environmental Leadership Award from former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Renewable Energy & Animal Rights
Harrelson’s other pet causes include renewable energy and animal rights. He is a vegan and has worked with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on a campaign to stop the use of laboratory testing on animals by the cosmetics and household products industries.
In 2019, Harrelson wrote a letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, asking him to put an end to the so-called “Bacon Bash” event in Bandera, Texas, during which screaming, terrified pigs were chased, grabbed, and stuffed into sacks by participants – as revealed in a video by PETA. Said Harrelson in his letter: “I was shocked to learn about the cruelty that pigs are subjected to at something called the ‘Bacon Bash’ […] This violent spectacle encourages children and adults alike to scare, injure, and torment animals for entertainment. The world doesn’t need more bullies. Texas law prohibits inflicting unnecessary and unjustified pain and suffering on animals, so I implore you to make sure that the law is upheld here—and to issue an executive order banning this event.”
Admirer of Fidel Castro & Communist Cuba
An admirer of Fidel Castro, Harrelson in March 1999 went to Cuba as a participant in an artistic and athletic tour. During one of the tour’s events, an inebriated Harrelson took to the stage and danced while Bonnie Raitt sang “USA, what the hell are you so afraid of [vis a vis Cuba]? It’s only 90 miles away, a happy little island.” When Harrelson met Castro in person, the two men embraced each other warmly.
In April 1999, Harrelson said: “The Cuban people are among the happiest people I have ever met…. And the vast majority love Fidel Castro.”
Harrelson’s Contempt for America and the Bush Administration, & His High Regard for Howard Zinn
In October 2002, as a U.S. invasion of Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq seemed increasingly likely, Harrelson wrote a guest column for the British publication The Guardian. Titled “I’m an American Tired of American Lies,” Harrelson’s piece was a broadside against America generally, and against America’s foreign interventions specifically. Some excerpts:
“The man who drives me to and from work is named Woody too…. [He] and I agree about a lot of things, but one thing we can never agree about is Iraq. He thinks the only language Saddam [Hussein] understands is brute force. I don’t believe we should be bombing cities in our quest for one man [Osama bin Laden]. We’ve killed a million Iraqis since the start of the Gulf war — mostly by blocking humanitarian aid. Let’s stop now….
“I am a father, and no amount of propaganda can convince me that half a million dead children is acceptable ‘collateral damage.’ The fact is that Saddam Hussein was our boy. The CIA helped him to power, as they did the Shah of Iran and Noriega and Marcos and the Taliban and countless other brutal tyrants. The fact is that George Bush Sr. continued to supply nerve gas and technology to Saddam even after he used it on Iran and then the Kurds in Iraq. While the Amnesty International report listing countless Saddam atrocities, including gassing and torturing Kurds, was sitting on his desk, Bush Sr. pushed through a $2bn ‘agricultural’ loan and [Britsh Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher gave hundreds of millions in export credit to Saddam. The elder Bush then had the audacity to quote the Amnesty reports to garner support for his oil war.
“A decade later, Shrub [George W. Bush] follows the same line: ‘We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people.’ I’m sure half a million Iraqi parents are scratching their heads over that. I’m an American tired of lies. And with our government, it’s mostly lies.
“The history taught in our schools is scandalous. We grew up believing that Columbus actually discovered America. We still celebrate Columbus Day. Columbus was after one thing only – gold. As the natives were showering him with gifts and kindness, he wrote in his diary, ‘They do not bear arms … They have no iron … With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.’ Columbus is the perfect symbol of US foreign policy to this day.
“This is a racist and imperialist war. The warmongers who stole the White House (you call them ‘hawks’, but I would never disparage such a fine bird) have hijacked a nation’s grief and turned it into a perpetual war on any non-white country they choose to describe as terrorist….
“[I]n wartime people lose their senses. There are flags and yellow ribbons and posters and every media outlet is beating the war drum and even sensible people can hear nothing else. In the US, God forbid you should suggest the war is unjust or that dropping cluster bombs from 30,000ft on a city is a cowardly act. When TV satirist Bill Maher made some dissenting remarks about the bombing of Afghanistan, Disney pulled the plug on him. In a country that lauds its freedom of speech, a word of dissent can cost you your job.
“I read in a paper here [in England] about a woman who held out the part of her taxes that would go to the war effort. Something like 17%. I like that idea, though in the US it would have to be more like 50%. If you consider money as a form of energy, then we see half our taxes and half the US government’s energy focused on war and weapons of mass destruction. Over the past 30 years, this amounts to more than ten trillion dollars. Imagine that money going to preserving rainforest or contributing to a sustainable economy (as opposed to the dinosaur tit we are currently in the process of sucking dry).
“I give in to [Woody], and we stop for a few beers. He asks me what I’d do in Bush’s shoes. Easy: I’d honor Kyoto. Join the world court. I’d stop subsidizing earth rapers like Monsanto, Dupont and Exxon. I’d shut down the nuclear power plants. So I already have $200bn saved from corporate welfare. I’d save another $100bn by stopping the war on non-corporate drugs. And I’d cut the defense budget in half so they’d have to get by on a measly $200bn a year. I’ve already saved half a trillion bucks by saying no to polluters and warmongers.
“Then I’d give $300bn back to the taxpayers. I’d take the rest and pay the people teaching our children what they deserve. I’d put $100bn into alternative fuels and renewable energy. I’d revive the Chemurgy movement, which made the farmer the root of the economy, and make paper and fuel from wheat straw, rice straw and hemp. Not only would I attend, I’d sponsor the next Earth Summit. And, of course, I’d give myself a fat raise.”
In a 2003 televised conversation with Professor Howard Zinn, Harrelson said: “I have very few heroes, and you’re one of my great heroes, and it’s a real privilege and an honor to be sitting here with you.” Demonstrating that he had learned to hate America by reading Zinn’s works, Harrelson also said:
- “I read A People’s History of the United States. And I [had previously] thought that the United States maybe had just more or less recently gone off track … What I didn’t realize is that from the very beginning, from when Columbus met the Arawaks, there was just nonstop violence and just taking over their, bullying people and taking over their resources … I think A People;s History of the United States should be required reading in every high school.”
- “When the Pilgrims first came over, they started doing the same shit that they’d learned from their [British] government, which is that we’re gonna, you know, burn the crops and rape and kill and pillage and take their land.”
In 2004, Harrelson worked on a political advertising campaign for MoveOnPAC, the Political Action Committee of MoveOn.org. The ad campaign’s objective was to help defeat President George W. Bush’s re-election bid that year.
In October 2005, Harrelson wrote a commentary denouncing America generally and the Bush Administration specifically:
“I’m sure that many of you, like me, have been flustered lately. The worst president [George W. Bush] in history has been reselected. The upside is we don’t have to go through the tedium of voting anymore because Diebold and Triad will decide for us. Mother Nature has never had a harder time of it. All those industries I affectionately call ‘The Beast’, already fat with subsidy and tax breaks, are having a field day with the repeals of environmental law and passing of pro-industry legislation. Of course there’s Afghanistan and Iraq to consider, soldiers and civilians dying and the nagging question: ‘How many lives per gallon does greed cost?’ […]
“I have long despised the corporate welfare afforded mining companies […] Hell, Bush is daily doing favors for his buddies, like recently capping class action lawsuit awards so the good ol’ boys have less to worry about. […]
“Most people around the world and in the U.S. recognize that this oiligarchy doesn’t fight wars to spread freedom and democracy. Most people know an oil war when they see it (long before weapons of mass destruction weren’t located). Yes, some of the people believe the ‘big lie’ but what else might be expected with our mainstream media daily singing the company line: ‘We’re bringing democracy and freedom to the Middle East’. We killed over 5% of Iraq’s population, half of them children. I wonder how much losing a grandmother, a brother and a child excites a person about the march toward so-called democracy? And what would you call this same person, fighting back against those who stole so many of his loved ones: an insurgent?
“The media won’t ask the obvious questions. For example, when they had loads of information coming in from several FBI agents as well as warnings from Russia, Britain and several other foreign intelligence agencies before 9/11, predicting what would happen, why were reports stifled and investigations stopped? Investigative journalist, Greg Palast, had this to say: ‘There is no question we had what looked like the biggest failure of the intelligence community since Pearl Harbor but what we are learning now is it wasn’t a failure, it was a directive.’ I am reading a book now called The New Pearl Harbor by David Ray Griffen. I’ve been stuck in the position of ignoring my gut — knowing things don’t stack up. Even though our government obviously took advantage of 9/11 by making it their ‘Reichstag’, I told myself, ‘Surely they weren’t involved’. After reading this book I can’t doubt that our government was at least complicit in allowing 9/11 to happen. […]
“God forbid we dissent in these flag-waving times. I read the other day about the IRS going after the NAACP and several other non-profit groups who just happened to criticize Bush. […]
“As the polar ice caps melt, the weather changes, our government pushes to drill in the Arctic refuge, our forests are razed and half of every dollar we pay to our government goes to the biggest industry of all, the War industry, I can’t help but feel the press of hopelessness. STILL I have this glimmer of hope, looking to gain wattage. […] The most powerful weapon the Beast has in his arsenal is our cynicism. So please, my fellow ‘Evolutionaries’, keep the faith, because our Mother [Earth] requires it …”
Harrelson Claims That Most American Wars Are Devoted to “Spreading Capitalism” and Seizing Oil
In a November 2009 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Harrelson said: “[I]t’s one thing to be anti-war — and appropriate right now, because like most of the wars we’ve had since World War II, they’re wars based more on spreading capitalism than on spreading democracy.”
In a 2013 interview, Harrelson said: “The government may change faces from time to time, but it’s not like we fight wars for democracy—we fight wars for capitalism and for oil. I keep coming back to the same goddamn subject. I guess because it’s what really bugs me the most.”
Harrelson Says He Is “An Anarchist”
In a May 2013 interview with Politico, Harrelson said: “I don’t believe in politics. I’m an anarchist, I guess you could say. I think people could be just fine looking after themselves.” Regarding the differences and similarities between Democrats and Republicans, he said: “It’s all synchronized swimming to me. They all kneel and kiss the ring. Who’s going to take on the oil industry or the medical industry? People compare Obama to Lyndon Johnson, but I think a better comparison is between Obama and Nixon. Because Nixon came into office saying he was going to pull out of Vietnam, and then he escalated the war. A lot of us were led to believe that Obama was the peace president, but there are still, I think, 70,000 troops in Afghanistan. Corporations like Grumman are so powerful that—I don’t know, is this the kind of shit we want to talk about? It’s making me depressed.”
In November 2015 interview with The Guardian: “It would not be unfair to call me an anarchist. Because I am really not a believer in big government. If you mention big government, that sends up a lot of red flags. I suppose, in a limited way, big government is necessary.”
Harrelson’s Views on Religion
In a May 2018 appearance on late-night host Jimmy Kimmel’s television program, Harrelson said that he and Vice President Mike Pence had been friendly with one another in the early 1980s when they were both students at Hanover College, but that they probably could not be friends today because Pence’s Christian faith was characterized by “that kind of fervor that you really don’t want.” Harrelson explained that he had been quite religious in his younger days, but that he had drifted away from his faith so he could live his 20s and 30s in “extreme hedonism,” whereas Pence was “still quite religious and just a whole different brand of religious.” Later in the conversation, Harrelson said: “It was good for me at the time that I started to shift off [from religion]. I had studied theology and I started to see how manmade the Bible was.” Moreover, Harrelson told Kimmel that, as a result of having read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, he was now once again a believer in God — but not the God of Christianity.
Harrelson’s Immense Wealth
As of December 2021, Harrelson’s net worth was approximately $65 million.