- Hollywood TV and movie star
- Radical environmental activist
- Called the Bush administration “complicit” in the 9/11 attacks
- Outspoken opponent of the War in Iraq
Woodrow Tracey Harrelson was born in 1961 in Midland, Texas. He was a Theater major at Indiana’s Hanover College and began his show-business career in 1984 when he was cast as the bartender Woody in NBC’s popular sitcom Cheers. Harrelson played this role for nine 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 more dramatic and politically oriented roles, teaming with director Oliver Stone in Natural Born Killers and playing the famed pornographer Larry Flynt in The People vs. Larry Flynt.
An advocate for NORML, the pro-marijuana legalization group, Harrelson was arrested in in 1996 in Kentucky for possession of cannabis. His dependence on marijuana became apparent when he told a reporter, “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.”
Harrelson’s political views were influenced by his Cheers co-star Ted Danson, who had long been deeply involved in the American Oceans’ Campaign (AOC), an extreme environmentalist organization he founded in 1987; whenever Danson was unable to attend an AOC event, Harrelson would fill in for him. Since then, Harrelson has been honored for his activism by AOC and the Rainforest Action Network. In a 1996 act of protest, Harrelson climbed the Golden Gate Bridge with seven other environmentalists and hung a banner denouncing the logging of redwood forests. In 2002 Harrelson received an Environmental Leadership Award from former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev.
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 on a campaign to stop the use of laboratory testing on animals by the cosmetics and household products industries.
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 the stage and danced as 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.”
In October 2002, Harrelson wrote a column in the British publication The Guardian opposing U.S. military action in Iraq and characterizing America’s post-9/11 anti-terrorist efforts as the “racist and imperialist” actions of “warmongers who stole the White House … hijacked a nation’s grief and turned it into a perpetual war on any non-white country they choose to describe as terrorist.” “I’m an American tired of American lies,” he elaborated. “… I don’t believe we should be bombing cities in our quest for one man. We’ve killed a million Iraqis since the start of the Gulf war — mostly by blocking humanitarian aid. Let’s stop now.”
According to Harrelson, the Bush administration was “at least complicit” in allowing the 9/11 attacks to happen. He contends that Bush was “reselected” in 2004, even though the Republican beat Democratic challenger John Kerry by three percentage points and nearly four million votes. At an anti-Iraq war demonstration in March 2004, Harrelson read an anti-Bush poem he had written, which read in part: “I recognize your face, I recognize your name. Your daddy killed for oil, and you did the same.”
Viewing American history essentially as an uninterrupted narrative of cruelty and exploitation, Harrelson says: “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 U.S. foreign policy to this day.”
Harrelson and his wife Laura Louie administer a website called VoiceYourself, a forum in which they express their views on political and social issues. According to Harrelson, this website “represents the ultimate product of my life’s work.”