Woody Harrelson
Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
March 8, 2024 ·  4 min read

From Rags to Riches with a ‘Hitman’ Father – how Woody Harrelson Became a Hollywood Inspiration

Actor Woody Harrelson has made his way onto the big screen starring in movies like ‘The People Vs. Larry Flint, ‘The Hunger Games,’ and ‘Palmetto.’ He got his start as Woody in the sitcom Cheers, which ran from 1982-1993 and won him an Emmy award in 1989. Starring in several comedies but not wanting to be typecast, he would go on to pursue action and drama roles, proving his versatility as an actor. Despite having overcome a difficult childhood, he eventually made his reputation as a Hollywood icon.

Woody Harrelson is Born

Woodrow Tracy Harrelson was born in Midland, Texas, on July 23rd, 1961. On one hand, his mother, Diane Lou Oswald was purportedly a secretary from Lebanon, Ohio. She appears to have had a humble, possibly difficult upbringing, although little is known about her early years. However, the public would learn much more about her over time.

After all, her husband was an infamous hitman, and her son, Woody Harrelson, would become a popular and well-known actor. On the other hand, Woody’s father, Charles Harrelson, was born in the late 1930s in Huntsville, Texas. He eventually moved out to California and became an encyclopedia salesman until the early 1960s when he was first convicted of armed robbery. It is believed that he was a professional hitman and allegedly took part in the assassination of JFK.

Woody Harrelson disclosed that his father left his mother in 1968. After a slew of behavioral issues, Woody, his mom, and his two brothers then moved to Lebanon in 1974. They moved into a house with his grandmother and great-grandmother, leaving one to assume they moved to be closer to her family and a support system. While Diane raised the family, Charles would eventually be convicted of murder.

Read: The Tough life of Pattie Mallette

His Father’s Questionable Reputation

In 1968, he faced a 15-year sentence, of which he served only five years, thanks to good behavior. Charles had killed Sam Degelia, a grain dealer. At this time, Woody Harrelson was 12-years-old, and in an interview with The Guardian, he said, “I’m sitting there thinking there can’t be another Charles V Harrelson. I mean, that’s my dad! It was a wild realization.”

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In 1982, Charles was again convicted of murder for killing a federal Judge, and at 21 years old, Woody Harrelson watched his father taken away for a much longer sentence. Charles would remain in prison until he passed away in 2007. He died of heart complications at the age of 68. The actor has disclosed that his father wasn’t involved in his life, telling People Magazine in 1988, “I don’t feel he was much a father. He took no valid part in my upbringing.”

Woody Harrelson Discovers His Passion

Woody Harrelson learned while attending high school that he thirsted to be on stage or screen. He was on the football team and stood up while in the bus for an impromptu performance after a game. His team’s support and response set off a desire to work toward fame. “Everybody applauded,” he said. “I loved it. I don’t care what actors say, it’s the applause that does it.” 

Versatile Career

Now, with over 80 movies under his belt, Woody Harrelson has an estimated net worth of around $70 million. “I was a pretty happy guy, but I also had a lot of rage,” he told the Hollywood Reporter, regarding his upbringing. “When I was a kid, I had real emotional problems. I would have these tantrums. [Later] And I used to fight a lot. I used to go to bars and fight the guys I thought were bullies. I’ve got scars everywhere. But it’s like my buddy says: ‘If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.’ And I guess I do live on the edge.” he continued.

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A post shared by Woody Harrelson (@woodyharrelson)

Changing for the Better

In 2002, Woody Harrelson vowed to his second wife and their daughters to be a better father, husband, and man after being caught in a hotel room with three other women. Since then, he has kept a low profile, taking on a role as an activist. The openly vegan actor has put forth efforts to help preserve the California Redwoods and supports 16 charities and organizations.

The actor has an undeniably colorful history but found a way to make the best of his circumstances. He overcame several challenges, including anger problems, a murderous father, and a single mother, to raise himself and his brothers. Despite a less-than-glamorous upbringing, he has more than made up for his struggle and advocates for making the world a better place.

Keep Reading: Catherine Zeta-Jones’ Daughter Is Growing Up Fast, And She Is A Spitting Image Of Her Famous Mom


  1. How Woody Harrelson became a Hollywood star and grew his $70 million fortune.” The Richest. Omar Letson. November 20 2021.
  2. From Rags to riches with a ‘hitman’ father – how Woody Harrelson became a Hollywood inspiration. Newsner. March 21, 2022.
  3. Woody Harrelson speaks out about 2002 foursome. People. Stephanie Petit. July 12, 2017.