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Woody Harrelson Shares Memories of His Jailbird Father

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Woody Harrelson covers Men's Journal. (Courtesy of Men's Journal).

In interviews over the years, Woody Harrelson has often talked about his mother Diane and gushed about what a great job she did raising him and his two brothers as a single mom in Texas and Ohio. The actor has said little about his father Charles because, frankly, he barely knew him. But in a new interview with Men's Journal, Harrelson finally reveals the last time he ever saw his jailbird dad as a free man before he died from a heart attack in his cell in 2007 — and the moment that ruined their already-fragile relationship.

Here's the back story … Even before Diane and Charles split when Woody was 7, the elder Harrelson was in and out of jail for a string of offenses. Then in 1973, he was convicted of killing a grain dealer and was sent away to prison for 15 years, although he was released for good behavior after serving just five. His first stop? To see his son, who was then a senior in high school. "I came back from a track meet and saw him sitting on the living room couch," Harrelson, now 50, tells the magazine in its April issue. "I didn't even know he was out. I saw him, and I just started bawling. The next day, we were in his car, and my dad picked up a roach clip with a little roach in it, lit it, and offered it to me. Well, to me, this was a terrible thing. I had a really intolerant attitude about that drug, which is the ironic thing," jokes the actor, who is now an avid activist for the legalization of marijuana and hemp. "I got so furious with him that I didn't go out with him that night, and he left the next day, and the next time I saw him, he was in prison again." (Charles Harrelson was convicted of killing a Federal Judge in 1979 and was sentenced to life.)

But even though the father and son were separated by bars, they were still connected — thanks to "Cheers." For eight seasons, Harrelson portrayed dim-witted bartender Woody on the NBC comedy that also starred Ted Danson, Kirstie Alley, and Kelsey Grammer, and some of his biggest fans were none other than his father's prison mates. "He was, at the time, in Huntsville — no, I think it was Atlanta," recalls Harrelson, who won an Emmy for the role. "They'd vote on what to watch, and they used to always vote for this other show that was on at the same time 'Cheers' was on. My father never told anybody I was on it. Somehow, someone got wind of it, told everybody, and every Thursday night after that, they voted 'Cheers' unanimously. That's one of the cool things that happened."

[Related: Julianne Moore on Portraying Sarah Palin in 'Game Change']

Harrelson's career has only grown exponentially since, and this month he's promoting not one, but two highly-anticipated films: HBO's "Game Change" and "The Hunger Games." Although the latter is expected to surpass the success of "Twilight," Harrelson wasn't initially interested in the role of Haymitch, the often drunk mentor of District 12 Tributes Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). After turning it down, he says, "the director, Gary Ross, called and said, 'I don't have a second choice, you're the part. You have to do this.' And I said, 'In that case, let's do it.'"

[Related: Watch the Trailer for 'The Hunger Games']

His mind wasn't as easily swayed when it came to playing political consultant Steve Schmidt in "Game Change," about the Republican party's candidacy in the 2008 election against Barack Obama. Although Harrelson balked at the idea of spending time with his real-life character because "I wouldn't imagine myself wanting to have anything to do with the guy," he admits, "I really found myself liking him." But that doesn't mean that Harrelson has changed his political affiliation. When asked if the movie made him more sympathetic towards Republicans, he immediately responded, "F—k no! The s—t those people say just makes me weep for humanity!"

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