Charlie Sheen: Hollywood's troubled star

By Genevieve Hassan & Rebecca Thomas
Entertainment reporter

  • Published
Charlie SheenImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Charlie Sheen told the Today show he was compelled to speak out about living with HIV after being subjected to 'blackmail and extortion and a circle of deceit'

On 17 November 2015, after days of intense media speculation Hollywood star Charlie Sheen - no stranger to intense scrutiny of his wild private life - confirmed he was living with HIV, in an interview with NBC's Today show.

Sheen, the former star of the US sitcom Two and a Half Men, told host Matt Lauer he was compelled to make such a public statement to end "this onslaught, this barrage of attacks and of sub-truths".

He added that he had paid out "millions" in the four years following his diagnosis with the virus, to try to stop those who knew from making it public knowledge.

He said many people he considered friends had turned on him, leading to "blackmail and extortion and a circle of deceit".

"I think I release myself from this prison today," he said, stressing was "impossible" that he would have passed HIV on to anyone else.

The very public announcement comes after a period of relative obscurity for Sheen, who was once the highest-paid actor on American television, as star of Two and a Half Men.

He was paid $1.25m (£830,000) per episode for the ratings hit but it all came to an end when he was fired from the show after a downward spiral in his personal life that played out in public.

Two and a Half Men, about an irresponsible writer of advertising jingles who finds his nephew on his doorstep, was a runaway success when it made its debut on US network CBS in 2003.

Yet the star's role as a hedonistic, womanising alcoholic was indicative of his life behind the camera as well.

Image source, USA Today
Image caption,
Charlie Sheen told the Today show that he now 'felt the responsibility to better myself and help a lot of other people'

In his Today interview with Lauer, Sheen said his use of drink and drugs over the years had been a "bad decision" but added that he was no longer taking recreational drugs, although he sometimes "drinks a bit".

Battery charges

Sheen - the son of Hollywood veteran Martin Sheen and the brother to actor Emilio Estevez - got his big break in 1986 in Oliver Stone's Vietnam movie Platoon.

He went on to appear in Stone's Wall Street, the western Young Guns and action thriller The Rookie, opposite Clint Eastwood.

By the mid-1990s, however, the actor's partying lifestyle had become tabloid news and led to a stint in rehab.

In 1995, he was arrested and put in hospital for cocaine use. The same year he admitted under oath to spending nearly $50,000 (£31,000) at a brothel run by "Hollywood madam" Heidi Fleiss.

In 1997, Sheen pleaded no contest to misdemeanour battery charges against former girlfriend Brittany Ashland. He was given a year's suspended sentence and two years' probation.

Less than a year later, he was taken to hospital again following a near-fatal overdose and was ordered back to rehab.

By 2000, Sheen had mended his ways enough to be cast as Michael J Fox's replacement on the sitcom Spin City and a couple of years of relative calm led to his 2002 marriage to actress Denise Richards, with whom he had two daughters.

But the couple divorced three years later after Richards complained of Sheen's drug abuse and alleged death threats.

Sheen married the actress Brooke Mueller in May 2008. She would later give birth to twin sons.

In December 2009, he was arrested and charged with assaulting and threatening to kill her.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Charlie Sheen's behaviour became increasing erratic in 2011

Two months later he entered rehab again, forcing him to take a three-month break from Two and a Half Men.

Not long afterwards, he hinted he was prepared to leave the show if his request for more money from programme makers Warner Bros was not met.

Hospital admission

In October 2010, the actor was accused of causing damage to a New York hotel room. After security reported him, the actor voluntarily went with authorities for a psychiatric evaluation.

The incident was played down by his publicist, who said he had gone to hospital because he had had "an adverse allergic reaction to some medication".

The star went on to file for divorce from Mueller, citing irreconcilable differences.

In January 2011, he was taken to hospital after suffering severe abdominal pains - the result, it was reported, of a two-day "marathon party".

A day later, Warner Bros executives ordered Sheen to seek treatment and temporarily shut down production on the show so he could enter rehab.

Within two weeks, the actor said he was ready to begin shooting again after self-healing his addictions.

But production was cancelled after Sheen phoned in to a US radio show to criticise the show's creator, Chuck Lorre.

In a rambling rant, he made a series of bizarre statements, including calling himself a "high priest" and a "Vatican assassin-warlock".

He continued his attack on Lorre in numerous talk show appearances over the space of a week.

"I am on a drug, it's called Charlie Sheen," he told ABC's 20/20 programme. "It's not available because if you try it, you will die.

Image caption,
Ashton Kutcher took over as the star of Two and a Half Men in different character role to Charlie Sheen

"Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body."

It was only a matter of time before Warner Bros took action.

Sitcom return

In an 11-page letter to Sheen's lawyers, the studio's lawyers said "the totality of Mr Sheen's condition, statements and escalating destructive behaviour" made production "untenable".

It was "clear", they continued, that the actor "does not believe he has a problem and that he will continue to conduct himself in a destructive manner".

After a period in which the show was not in production, CBS announced later that year that Ashton Kutcher would take over as star of the show, playing an internet billionaire called Walden Schmidt.

Sheen's future remained uncertain after the actor seemed to be going through a form of breakdown, played out in public on the TV and the internet.

He gave interviews and posted videos of himself on YouTube and Twitter, claiming to be a "warlock" with "tiger blood" and "Adonis DNA", and coining the oft-repeated phrase "winning"

But in 2012, Sheen seemed to be back on track, landing a role in another sitcom, Anger Management, in which he continued until 2014.

He also made a brief return to Two and a Half Men for two episodes.

Asked on the Today show about his future, Sheen said that despite his initial reaction to his diagnosis leading to "a descent into substance abuse and fathomless drinking", he said he now felt "the responsibility to better myself and help a lot of other people".

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