NEW YORK — 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.
A few years later, 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.
Harrelson now says he just blurt it out. “Once I got to be famous, I guess it was only a matter of time that it dawned on me, ‘Well, hey, I could just go on a talk show and ask for him,’” says Harrelson with a laugh.
Within 24 hours, the two men were in touch again. Harrelson put his friend on a plane and flew him to the West Coast to help him get sober. “That was the beginning of him actually getting his hands on me and pulling me out of a very dark place,” says Hyman.
Soon they began co-writing a play — naturally, about that summer in 1983. Hyman, who had kicked drugs because of his old friend, now had another reason to thank him.
The result of their collaboration — “Bullet for Adolf” — had its world premiere this spring at the Hart House Theatre in Toronto and opens off-Broadway next month at New World Stages. Harrelson also directs.