Actor Woody Harrelson, 56, shares his birthday with his father. He grew up in Texas and credits the majority of his morality to his mum, Diane.
“I do feel she was a great influence on me and instilled a lot of good values about the way you treat people, behaving honourably (which I don’t always do). But she was a great role model for that and still is,” he told The Guardian recently.
As for his father, Charles Voyde Harrelson, who died in 2007 aged 68, Woody learnt from him to keep an open mind. Charles left Diane when Woody was seven years old but “he was gone long before that”.
Even so, the pair – father and son – were friends by the time Charles died and it doesn’t scare Woody how similar they were as people.
“They have a thing in Japan where they say if you’re born on your father’s birthday, you’re not like your father, you are your father,” he told The Guardian in a 2012 interview. “And it’s so weird when I would sit and talk with him, it was just mind-blowing to see all the things he did just like me. Idiosyncratic things. The way he laughed. The face, very similar.”
Why might he be scared of being like his father?
Because Charles Voyde Harrelson was a contract killer.
In 1968, Woody’s father was paid $2000 for the murder of Sam Degalia Jr, a grain dealer and father-of-four in McAllen Texas. In 1973, after an initial mistrial, Charles was sentenced to 15 years prison, though he was released after five years for good behaviour.
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Then, on May 29 1979, the year after he was paroled, Charles shot dead U.S. District Judge John H. Wood Jr in the parking lot outside the judge’s townhouse in San Antonio Texas. Again, Charles had been paid for the killing, this time by a drug dealer who was scheduled to appear in front of the Justice who was notorious for handing down heavy drug sentences.
It was the first murder of an American judge in the 20th century and attracted huge media attention. So, too, did the arrest.
Charles was arrested in September 1980 after a six-hour standoff with police. He finally surrendered, saying he had killed the judge and also President John F. Kennedy – who’d been assassinated in 1963. He said later this admission was false, that he said it to prevent the police from shooting, The Press Courier reports.
Woody spoke to The Guardian of the first time he discovered his dad was a killer.
“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,” he said.
“And anyway I was listening to the radio and it was talking about Charles V Harrelson and his trial for murder and I’m sitting there thinking there can’t be another Charles V Harrelson. I mean, that’s my dad! It was a wild realisation. Then the woman got in the car and saw my face and realised something was up. She was a very kind lady.”