Woody Harrelson’s early co-stars share memories

Friends recall a budding actor with ‘quite a sense of presence’ who ‘thought everybody was great.’

LEBANON — Robin Rodgers Johnson had little idea that when she cheered on her high school class clown’s library antics, she was shaping the path of future Hollywood star Woody Harrelson.

“He told me he would always give me credit for becoming an actor,” said Rodgers Johnson of Maineville. “He said without my prompting, he wouldn’t be where he is.”

Harrelson, who received his second Academy Award nomination this year for “The Messenger,” graduated from Lebanon High School in 1979. He and Rodgers Johnson dated in high school and he said in several interviews he tried out for his first school plays because of her.

Wayne Dunn, a retired Lebanon High School English teacher, directed Harrelson in a supporting role in the musical “Li’l Abner” during Harrelson’s senior year and still has a poster signed by Harrelson and the rest of the cast.

“He had quite a sense of presence,” Dunn said. “He was a very good student and very intelligent. People always think he’s a hayseed because of ‘Cheers,’ but he’s very smart.”

Dunn’s roommate at the time, Jerry Clark, also became a mentor to Harrelson. Clark took Harrelson to New York during his freshman year at Hanover College, where Harrelson saw his first Broadway show, “Bent.”

“After that, he was hooked,” Clark said. “He said becoming an actor was not a matter of if, just when.”

Clark said Harrelson was an extremely honest man who never put on airs.

“He once told me he asked Liza Minnelli to sing for him,” Clark said. “I was horrified by the story, but he said she did it. He didn’t see anything wrong with it. He thought everybody was great unless they proved him wrong.”

Clark said he thought Harrelson’s work in “The Messenger” was some of the best he has seen and would be pulling for the former Lebanon resident come Oscar night.

Even though it has been more than a decade since Harrelson was last in Lebanon, those who knew him say they remain proud of him.

“They had a premier of his movie “The People Vs. Larry Flynt” in Cincinnati and he asked for me to come specifically,” Dunn said. “That meant a lot.”

“I think it really shows his character that he didn’t forget about where he came from,” Rodger Johnson said. “It means a lot to me.

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