How Woody Harrelson Became A Hollywood Star And Grew His $70 Million Fortune

Acclaimed actor Woody Harrelson probably first clocked onto your radar when you saw him manning the bar in the 80’s NBC’s classic sitcom Cheers. But, if his Primetime Emmy Award winning performance as Woody Boyd was before your time, you’ll certainly recognize this star from his hair raising portrayal as one of Marvel’s ultimate baddies Carnage in Sony Pictures’ 2018 antihero flick Venom 2: Let There Be Carnage.

Throughout his three decade long phenomenal career in the entertainment industry, Harrelson has starred in over eighty films, sixteen television series, and has received three Academy Awards. His fame has garnered him a fortune of an estimated $70 million from starring in Hollywood’s hottest blockbuster hits within the past decades – some of which have lifetime grosses in the hundreds of millions.

Though, like in most success stories, his journey towards stardom was paved through a great deal of perseverance. From facing arrest at a young age to losing his father to a lifetime in prison, Harrelson had a steep hill to climb before making it out on top.

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The Early Years

Harrelson had a very religious upbringing. He and his two brothers were raised mainly by his mother, a lawyer who practiced Presbyterianism. His father lead a rather nefarious lifestyle. While he made a living as an encyclopedia salesmen, he lived a double life as a profession con man. Harrelson spoken candidly about his father’s affinity for gambling in Stephen Galloway’s profile of him for the Hollywood Reporter.

He’d find out where they had poker games and eventually invite a guy out on his boat — ‘I have a boat. Do you want to come out?’,” the star recounts, “After a while, there’s nothing to do, maybe fish a little. And then he’d say, ‘Want to play a couple hands?’ And before you know it, the guy’s completely fleeced.”

His father was absent for much of Harrelson’s upbringing as he was arrested in 1968 for murder, when Harrelson was only seven. This left his family in a dire situation, as they then had to live off their mother’s income. His father was released on good behavior ten years earlier than he was sentenced. Unfortunately, he returned to jail infinitely when he was sentenced with two life terms for the murder of a Texan federal judge.

Harrelson suffered his first run in with the law during his university years studying Theatre and English at Hanover College.

“I was jaywalking, me and a friend, and this cop flags us over, asks to see our ID. My friend showed his ID, but I said ‘I don’t have my ID, which I did, of course,” Harrelson tells in his Hollywood Reporter profile,” And he says, ‘Have you been out to some of these bars? Then you had to have an ID to get in’. I go, ‘Oh, good point’. So I pull it out, and as I pull it out, he goes, ‘Don’t lie to me again, punk’. And then he grabbed me, smashed me against the wall a couple of times.”

The soon-to-be movie star ran off from the police. Though he was quickly obtained, maced and further manhandled. He spent the night in jail with six charges and received by his mother the next day.

Woody’s Big Break

It took a while for Harrelson’s luck to strike in the entertainment biz. He’d spent fourteen months in New York with no acting gigs other an understudy role in a Neil Simon play called ‘Biloxi Blues’. Before his first big break in television, Harrelson went into his production for his film debut in the 1986 sports comedy Wildcats, starring of entertainment icons Goldie Hawn and Swoosie Kurtz. When he went in an open call for the hit sitcom Cheers in 1985, the show’s casting director already had someone else in mind. But Harrelson offered a stellar performance and soon took on the mantle of Cheers’ lovable barkeep, Woody Boyd. He began the show in 1985 for its fourth season, replacing acclaimed actor Nicholas Colasanto, who died that same year.

Harrelson stayed on the show for the remaining eight seasons and made numerous guest appearances on Cheers‘ spin-off series Frasier. His iconic performance granted his four Emmy Award nominations, with him winning the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series in 1989.  Harrelson began building quite the acting resume by this time, starring in five other films before leaving Cheers and hitting the jack pot in the early 90’s by starring in one of his highest grossing movies to date.

After he appeared in White Boys Can’t Jump as Billy, the overzealous basketball champ, the actor lent his talents to the 1993 film Indecent Proposal. While the Adrian Lyne directed project received overwhelming negative reviews from critics, it got garnered $18 million in the domestic box office within its opening weekend. It later went on to gain a lifetime gross of $106,614,059, making it the 10th highest grossing film in Harrelson’s extensive filmography.

The Acting Skills To Pay The Bills

By the time that that the 90’s were coming to a close, Harrelson had well solidified his spot in Hollywood. His top billing role as Hustler Magazine publisher Larry Flynt in The People v.s. Larry Flynt certainly helped in building his superstar status. The 1996 biopic, which also featured Courtney Love, gained Harrelson nominations from the Academy, the Golden Globes, and the Screen Actor’s Guild.

By the 2000’s, Harrelson was undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s favorite go-to leading men, starring in such box office hits as No Country for Old Men, The Messanger, and Zombieland. He went on to take part in one of cinemas biggest franchises, playing Haymitch Abernathy in the entire Hunger Games film series.  Each film made a killing in the box office when they hit theatres; though the franchise’s 2013 sequel Hunger Games: Catching Fire takes the cake as Harrelson’s highest grossing film. The thrilling young adult flick brought in more than $424.6 million!

Playing a major role in one of Hollywood’s biggest hit series certainty upped Harrelson’s booking fee, as he’s now said to make $5 million to $6 million per movie. He’s gone on to star in both Now You See Me movies, Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Highwaymen, and Venom. This year, after his impending appearance in the Venom franchise was teased in the first movie, Harrelson thrilled Marvel Comics fans when he portrayed Cletus Kasady (better known as Carnage) in the sequel. Venom 2: Let There Be Carnage made $90 million on its opening weekend – thus making it the second biggest October box office opening in history.  The only movie that tops it on the list is fellow antihero flick, Joker.   

Harrelson’s decades of blockbuster knock out have granted his with a net worth of an estimated $70 million. And it looks like he’s putting that fortune to good use! Recently, Harrelson made new headlines alongside his Lost in London  co-star Owen Wilson. The pair are teaming up to use their mega fortune to invest in a vegan meat company. Along with Harrelson’s wife Laura, the movie making machines are joining an investment round to fund Abbot’s Butcher, a California based company that produces “vegan meat alternatives”.

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Sources: Hollywood Reporter, Emmy’s Official Website , Box Office Mojo, Men’s Health 

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