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Still crazy after all these Cheers; His outspoken views have caused as much controversy as his bad-boy roles but Woody Harrelson is mellowing.

HOLLYWOOD'S just mad about Woody Harrelson - and it seems the one-time wild man of Tinseltown is pretty mad, too. No, really mad. Stark, staring bonkers, in fact.

And Woody could not be happier with his crazy image.

He says: "I'm really beginning to realise everyone thinks I'm weird. I hear people think I'm nuts. It's a gas."

Maybe that's down to his convincing run of movie nutters from Natural Born Killers to his Oscar-nominated performance as a porn king in The People vs Larry Flynt.

Maybe it's because he's confessed to athletic sexual practices on national TV as part of his New-Age beliefs.

Maybe it's because he's been campaigning to protect redwood trees by hanging off San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

Maybe it's the time he sent a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury after the religious leader condoned disciplining a child with a "gentle slap". It read: "How long do I have to wait before I can start slapping my new-born?"

But you can put Woody's weird and wonderful turns down to his natural exuberance - with no added chemicals.

He is currently playing the wild man in the new comedy Hi-Lo Country, which opens today. It's the story of two World War Two veterans who decide to set up a cattle ranch.

It's a throwback to those old Western comedies - and Woody is the best thing in it by far.

He says he's cut back on his once-prodigious drinking and marijuana smoking. But he refuses to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude.

The 38-year-old actor, who shot to fame as nice but dim barman Woody in the hit TV comedy Cheers, admits: "We all take drugs; 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 are all kinds of ways to take emotional refuge."

After a well-publicised history of brawling, drinking and generally raising hell, Woody is finally ready to relax.

He says: "I don't want to fight and I don't want to drink. I only want to fight for what I believe in and I only want to drink fruit juice.

"When I let up on the weed - and the drinking, too - I cried every day. And I liked that. I like cryin'. And now I not only want to cry and show my crying to other people, I wanna just split myself down the middle and open my guts and just throw everything out! To the world!"

Woody hasn't had much to cry about lately. Unless you remind him about his receding hairline.

Nowadays he's a hot Hollywood property, able to demand - and get - multi-million dollar fees for his films.

He's also got a successful personal life together. Since his early hell- raising days, which cost him his first marriage, he's now sweet, mellow and relaxed. Must be all the yoga - he's now a qualified instructor

Last year he married his long-term girlfriend and former assistant Laura Louie. He grins: "I gave her a raise."

The couple now have two young daughters, aged six and three.

When he's not making movies, he uses his fame to propel his environmental messages and they are messages he firmly believes in.

He believes we should legalise hemp, the crop that produces marijuana, because it would stop the timber industry decimating forests.

The hemp, he says, will provide the same products as the trees, and he often insists his favourite designer Armani clothes be made out of hemp.

Yet he realises actors don't always cut the mustard as role models, admitting: "I want my movies to say something.

"But, personally, I think the only trait I might offer as a role model is my honesty. I'll always tell the truth.

"Now if you have somebody that is doing a whole lot of 'Just say no to drugs' commercials, but is going back and doing a lot of lines of cocaine, in some ways, they may be a role model in public, but they are hypocrites. I try to practise what I preach."

Woody says one of the appeals of his yoga is to get him to relax. Co-stars have often been amazed to find him in his trailer with his ankles behind his head between takes.

It's his political activities that cause him stress, but he genuinely believes in the causes he supports and hopes that his celebrity status will call attention to them.

On screen, most of his roles have been good ole boys in films such as The People vs Larry Flynt and White Men Can't Jump, or the bad ole boy of the ultra-violent Natural Born Killers.

In his new film Hi-Lo Country, he's just one of the boys. Woody and co-stars Billy Crudup and Sam Elliott play cowpokes who know a thing or two about riding and roping.

In reality, his co-stars weren't too happy to be planted in the saddle, but Woody was at home on the range.

The actor, who once worked on a horse ranch in Oklahoma, says: "I probably could have been a cowboy if I wasn't raised in Houston suburbs.

"There's something about their fearlessness and toughness, but at the same time, their tenderness with their friends really appeals to me."

The Woodster also starred in 1994's The Cowboy Way and says: "I've always had an affinity for the cowboy thing. Maybe in another time, in another incarnation." Woody's early life was a troubled one. When he was seven, his father, Charles Harrelson, was convicted and jailed for murder.

After doing time for killing a man in 1968, Charles is now serving 16 years of a life term for the 1979 slaying of Judge John Wood Jr.

Last week, it was announced that Woody's father will get another hearing in his battle to have his conviction overturned. Woody has always maintained his father didn't commit the second murder.

Charles, in addition to being a convicted felon, is believed to be one of "the hobos" taken away from "the grassy knoll" right after the shooting of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Atone

Maybe it was to atone for his father's violent past that Woody's early ambitions lay not in acting, but in the church.

Woody says: "I went to college on a Presbyterian scholarship.

"The irony of all the trouble I've gotten into with mostly Christians is that I was thinking of being a minister. I actually gave sermons when I was younger."

This year he'll have another chance to thump the Bible, this time on Broadway in a revival of The Rainmaker, about a calculating con-man who promises a drought-plagued town in the 1930s that he can help.

There's no word yet on whether the stage curtain will be made of hemp.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 23, 1999
Words:1138
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