Without question one of the most popular, if not the most popular sitcom of the 1980’s was Cheers. Making stars out of Ted Danson, Shelly Long and Kirstie Alley it was wildly popular and consistently good despite key cast member changes and additions. Cheers called final call in 1993 leaving the cast to make new paths for themselves and would let us see who would forever be remembered for their character only and who would blaze a bold new path. All would have varying success but no cast member may have shown more surprising talents and gone on to be the most prolific actor amongst the cast than Woody Harrelson.
Harrelson was a definite wild card when he was cast to replace the extremely popular Nicolas Colasanto who played the beloved “Coach” after he passed away. Woody was thrust into what could have been an impossible situation. Replaces loved man and character with an unknown actor whose new character had many similarities to Coach. Woody couldn’t have done any better! As the years went on he fit right in with the cast of characters and proved to be the right choice. The unknown with Woody and his character when the show ended was, would he be typecast as the dimwitted Woody Boyd? Harrelson with a determination and series of acting choices, would not let that happen.
While taking roles towards the end of Cheers in movies like, White Men Can’t Jump and Indecent Proposal audiences were able to notice that, maybe there is more to Mr. Harrelson as an actor than previously thought. But still audiences weren’t sold. Taking the role of Pepper Lewis in The Cowboy Way alongside Kiefer Sutherland seemed to be more what audiences expected. It would be two months later when Oliver Stone released his highly controversial Natural Born Killers that Woody would make people stand up and take notice. The sadistic character of Mickey Knox was the polar opposite of the innocent mild mannered Woody Boyd. With his shaved head and evil look he was starting down a path that would leave Cheers far in the past.
Never abandoning his comedic roots with such films as Kingpin and Edtv and even the critically panned Play It To The Bone, it would be his dramatic work that would define his post Cheers career. He received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of the highly controversial public figure and often condemned pornographer, Larry Flynt in Milos Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt.
Woody has always made a concentrated effort to stay diverse and open when it comes to film choices and never abandon his comedy talents and roots. With roles in the hysterical Will Ferrell basketball spoof Semi-Pro to the next year being in the powerful post Iraq war drama The Messenger for which he again received and Oscar nomination and showed that his dramatic ability is on par with the best actors in Hollywood and his comedic talents are on the same level.
Woody’s latest few movies continue on the great eclectic path he has carved for himself with the intense, gut shot movie Rampart along side the HBO political drama Game Change for which it would be no surprise if he was garnered with various nominations including the Golden Globe. He is most recently in the blockbuster movie The Hunger Games in which he initially seemed out of place but made the character his own to the point he became a great choice.
Woody will continue to awe and entertain with laughter and tears. He has become a safe bet in Hollywood without being typecast like was originally feared. He without a doubt has emerged as the true actor and most successful of the Cheers alumni, with all due respect to Kelsey Grammar whose success as Frasier is quite impressive but doesn’t contain the range and ability that Woody has shown.