- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 18, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - In the summer of 1983, The Police were on top of the charts with “Every Breath You Take,” James Bond was sipping martinis in “Octopussy” and Woody Harrelson was meeting a man who would change his life.

Harrelson, the then-22-year-old soon-to-be a star of the TV series “Cheers,” was working construction in Houston when he met Frankie Hyman, an older New Yorker with a bunch of funny stories. The two became roommates, spent hours talking, debating and bonding over beers and reefer.

“He just helped open my eyes to a lot of things,” says Harrelson. “He’d seen a lot of the world. I always felt like he was one of the wisest people I’d ever met and I still do. He really had a huge impact on me.”

That sweltering summer saw both men woo girlfriends and meet a lot of interesting characters. Hyman was the second black man Harrelson had ever met and Harrelson was the second white man Hyman had ever met. So they talked about race, sex and history.


Harrelson says he knew that summer could somehow be captured in art: “My head was always about, `This could be a great play. It could be a funny play. The characters are all there.’”

And then, like a summer romance, it all ended.

Texas-born, Ohio-raised Harrelson made his way to New York that fall, where he eventually landed his first professional job, as an understudy on Broadway in “Biloxi Blues.”

From there, he became a TV bartender and built an Academy Award-nominated film career with credits such as “The Messenger,” `’Natural Born Killers” and “The People vs. Larry Flynt.”

Though Harrelson lost touch with Hyman, he found himself constantly thinking back to that summer. He even paid a private investigator to try to track down his lost friend, with no luck. Harrelson would lay awake at night and wonder how he could find Frankie.

“I’m not losing him,” he’d vow.

JAY LENO HELPS OUT

Frankie Hyman was indeed untraceable. Things weren’t going as well with him as they were for Harrelson.

“The reason he couldn’t find me is because I’m back in New York,” says Hyman. “I’m in Harlem, but I’m in the sublevels of Harlem. I’m into addiction. I’m in the darker layers. I don’t have a Social Security card active. I was buried pretty deep.”

Hyman says he had cheered Harrelson’s career with a measure of pride. He’d tell his disbelieving brother that he’d once been pals with the movie star. In the meantime, he says he battled demons and was once photographed for the cover of the New York Daily News _ in handcuffs.

Then one night in 1993, Hyman’s brother was watching TV when he swore he heard Harrelson, a guest on “The Tonight Show,” tell Jay Leno that he really wanted to reconnect with Hyman.

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