The investigative podcast about the life of Charles Harrelson arrives May 5.

By Omar Sanchez
April 28, 2020 at 08:00 AM EDT
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Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images; Courtesy Spotify

At age 16, Brett Harrelson was supposed to get a fresh start. It was the late '70s, and Brett, the younger brother of actor Woody Harrelson, was sent to live with their estranged father, Charles Harrelson, after getting caught smoking weed in high school. But rather than being a stabilizing presence, Charles was embroiled in troubles of his own — the kind that would come to be described as a "crime of the century."

Forty years later, Brett is ready to talk about what he saw in the four months he lived with his father, and beyond. He does just that with investigative reporter Jason Cavanagh in the 10-part Spotify podcast Son of a Hitman, premiering May 5.

"The podcast covers so much new things about my dad," Brett tells EW. "When I thought I knew everything, there's just been way more than I realized. It's mind-blowing."

Charles Harrelson had a reputation as a high-stakes gambler, a womanizer, and a brute. In May 1979, he was arrested for the assassination of U.S. District Judge John Wood Jr. in San Antonio. It wasn't his first run-in with the law: Charles had been in prison just months before for the 1968 murder-for-hire of Sam Degelia Jr., a grain dealer, and before that he'd been acquitted in the death of Alan Berg, a carpet salesman. Charles was ultimately convicted in Wood's killing and sentenced to two life terms; he died in prison in 2007.

Cavanagh first met Brett to discuss the idea of telling his father's story about a year ago. For Son of a Hitman, he would go on to interview many more people who crossed paths with Charles, including a former lover who became a lead witness in the Degelia trail, an FBI agent assigned to the assassination case, and a nephew of the drug kingpin who allegedly masterminded Wood's slaying.

There's one voice Cavanagh hasn't been able to get yet, one you'll no doubt recognize. Within a decade of Charles' arrest, his son Woody became a rising star in Hollywood, thanks to his role as a goofy but charming bartender on NBC's Cheers. Woody Harrelson had no comment about the podcast when reached by EW through his publicist, and Cavanagh is willing to hazard a guess why.

"He's obviously a celebrity who has to deal with these sorts of questions all the time," he says.

The actor has rarely spoken about his father over the years. In a 1997 interview with Barbara Walters, Woody said the man "wasn't a saint," but that he was not given a fair trial. He said he believed Charles was innocent, and also noted that the man his father was allegedly working for was acquitted.

Brett also has his doubts about the trial that sent their father back to prison, especially in light of Cavanagh's research, which he says reveals new wrinkles in the case.

These days, in addition to helping Cavanagh with his investigation, Brett is in the medical marijuana business. It's a job that would have seemed unimaginable decades ago. It would mean a prison sentence.

"I see a lot of myself in him," Brett says of his father in the first episode of the podcast. "I know this sounds terrible, but I thought, 'I wish I could be as cool as this guy when I get older.' I wish I could know all he has done."

Son of a Hitman is the first step in that journey. Check out the trailer for the podcast here.

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