Five days ago, we closed a profile built around an interview with Charlie Sheen that will appear in the April issue of GQ. Since then, Sheen has continued doing what the article describes—texting and emailing the media (on Friday, he sent images of his new "Death from Above" tattoo to Entertainment Tonight) and calling in live to radio shows.
But Sheen also did something new: lobbed insults at his employers, specifically Chuck Lorre, the co-creator of Two and a Half Men, the top-rated sitcom on which Sheen stars. In a choice of words many saw as anti-Semitic, the actor referred to Lorre, who was born Charles Levine, as "Chaim Levine"—a name that Lorre himself has sometimes used. Sheen also called his hit show a "puke fest that everybody worships" and called the bosses who'd urged him to clean up his act "AA Nazis" and "blatant hypocrites." Sheen's spewing of vitriol appears to have pushed CBS and Warner Bros. Television to act. In a joint statement, the two companies suspended production of Two and a Half Men for the season, leaving at least 200 people out of work and canceling four planned episodes.
While there has been no word yet about whether the show will be canceled for good, Sheen himself has been voluble—if contradictory—on the topic. One minute, the 45- year-old actor has said he plans to show up to work even though the show's sets are shut down ("I'm going back to work," he texted Good Morning America from an island in the Bahamas, where he was vacationing with three women—a model, one of his ex-wives, and a porn star—on Thursday). The next minute, he has said that he can't imagine working with the "turds" who run the show ever again. "Can you imagine going back... with those knuckleheads?" he told Pat O'Brien later that same day. "It would go bad quickly... We're pretty much done." Whatever his plan, Sheen seems determined to engage his corporate overlords in full-scale combat. On Friday, in a Fox Sports Radio interview with Pat O'Brien, he suggested CBS and Warners were in "absolute breach" and appeared to be gearing up for a legal battle. "We are at war," he said. "It's about to get really gnarly."
So wacky and self-destructive have Sheen's comments been that it's hard to imagine he's telling the truth when he repeatedly says that he has cured his addiction "with my mind," leaving him "100 percent clean" of drugs and alcohol (though on Saturday, RadarOnline.com posted results–and photos—of a preliminary urine test the site said it had conducted in his home; Sheen passed). On Alex Jones' show, for example, he interspersed his zingers about Lorre with references to trolls, F-18 fighter pilots and Vatican assassins. He reportedly texted RadarOnline.com that he was in talks with HBO about a new show—Sheen's Corner—that would pay him $5 million an episode (an assertion promptly denied by HBO, which like Warner Bros. Television, is owned by Time Warner). On Saturday came another grandiose claim: Sheen reportedly told TMZ.com that he's writing a tell-all book to be titled When the Laughter Stopped. He wants the bidding for the publication rights to start at $10 million.
So what's driving Sheen? One answer is Apocalypse Now, the 1979 war epic that starred his father, Martin Sheen. As he told GQ, the movie—whose set he visited as a child—is nearly always in his thoughts (an assertion he only amplified with that new tattoo, which quotes the death card that Robert Duvall's character, Kilgore, throws on his victims in the film). "I'm not just my dad," Sheen said this week in one radio rant. "I'm putting up the river to kill another part of me, which is Kurtz. I'm every character in between, save for that little weirdo with his guts strapped in, begging for water. That's not me. But there are parts of me that are Dennis Hopper."
Sean Penn, the actor who grew up making Super 8 movies with Sheen, told GQ that he's always seen his friend as something of a performance artist, raising the odd possibility that Sheen's behavior is his own weird form of agitprop. Is the man who started life as Carlos Irwin Estevez mocking the Hollywood celebrity meltdown by staging the Mother of All Meltdowns? Is he bi-polar? Or is he just an addict who's circling the drain? What follows is the full story on how Sheen became Sheen.
People are always asking Charlie Sheen, "What are you thinking?" The drugs, the drink, the porn stars, the alleged violence, the trashed hotel rooms... why?
"Here's a peek into my insanity," he tells me one afternoon in February. "People say, 'What are you thinking?' and here's the truth. It's generally a quote from Apocalypse Now or Jaws."
It's Sheen's fourteenth day of sobriety (this time around), and he's calling from a baseball diamond on the west side of Los Angeles. Batting practice is like therapy for the former star athlete, people who know him say, and he's spent the past few hours hitting balls with his friend Tony Todd, whom he met in Little League when they were 8 years old. This has been "the best day ever," says Sheen, 45. His voice is relaxed and fluid. He sounds like he's on the mend. But when I say as much, he's quick to correct me.
"We're past 'on the mend,' " he says. "We're not dealing with normal DNA here, you know what I'm saying? All those other sissies and amateurs, they can take their fucking time." But not Charlie Sheen, the star of CBS's Two and a Half Men, the top-rated comedy on television. He needs to get back to the set. "I heal as fast as I unravel. It's a blessing and a curse. I feel I have to. There's families out of jobs. There's work to do."
As we talk, he addresses his latest binge only obliquely at first. "In regards to this whole recent odyssey, I'll just say this: It was epic," he says. "There are two rules at my house right now: You park your judgment at the door, and you enjoy every moment. People can interpret that however they want. Enjoy every sober moment. Enjoy every loaded moment. Just enjoy every moment. It's not a rehearsal, you know?
He'll expand on that later. But first, why Jaws and Apocalypse Now? There are a couple of scenes that play in his head, he says. One is the town-hall meeting in Jaws, in which Robert Shaw (as shark hunter Sam Quint) tells the assembled throng, "This shark—swallow you whole. Little shakin', little tenderizin', down you go." "That's the greatest speech ever," Sheen says.
Then there's Apocalypse Now, which holds a near sacred place in his consciousness. Charlie was 10 when his father, Martin Sheen, went to the Philippines to star in the movie and almost died during filming, suffering from a severe heart attack. Charlie and the rest of the family rushed to his bedside. His father's brush with mortality haunts Charlie to this day. So does the movie.
" 'I am beyond their timid, lying morality. Therefore I'm beyond caring,' " Sheen recites, quoting a letter written by the madman Kurtz (Marlon Brando) that Sheen's father, playing Captain Benjamin L. Willard, reads aloud in the film. But "the best line in the movie" comes later, Sheen says, his voice surging with pride. "Dad says, 'Even the jungle wanted him dead, and that's who he really took his orders from, anyway.' Even the jungle wanted him dead, and that's who he really took his orders from, anyway. How deep is that? I mean, wow."
Late on the night of January 25, Kacey Jordan received a Twitter message saying Charlie Sheen wanted her to come to a party. Jordan, who is 22 and best known for portraying Cindy Brady in the adult film Not the Bradys XXX, was excited. She'd never met the actor, though they'd talked once about a year earlier. That was when another "client" of Jordan's put her on the phone with Sheen. Charlie told her he loved her work—which was saying something, since he was a collector of adult films (and thus was surely aware of Jordan's distinctive genitalia, know in the porn world as K-Puff). He wanted to meet then, she says, but he wasn't in a good place. "He's like, 'I've been in trouble,'" Jordan says. "A couple of days later, he went into rehab. I was like, 'Damn it!'"
Now Jordan saw her chance. When promised a $5,000 payment, she headed to Sheen's five-bedroom, $7.2 million home in Beverly Hills. What she found, she says, wasn't what she expected. Sheen was disheveled, with wine stains on his shirt. There wasn't much meat on his five-foot-ten-inch frame. He looked depleted. Then there was his mouth: "His teeth were all gold. I see him as that guy on that show—you know, a celebrity. But he told me he has to put on fake teeth for his show."
Right after Jordan arrived, around 11:30 p.m., she says, Sheen asked her to be part of his "porn family." Earlier in the evening, Sheen had attended a dinner at the home of his friend George Santo Pietro, ex-husband of Vanna White. At some point during the boozy meal, Sheen had agreed to rent Santo Pietro's mansion for $250,000 a month. He and a clutch of babes were all going to live in it, Sheen told Jordan. Would she be his blonde? "He said that he was going to take care of us. It was just going to be a big party house. He was all about partying, partying, partying, partying. Never a rest." Jordan had heard that Sheen had given another girl a Bentley. She wanted one, too. Count me in, she said.
Jordan was one of three porn stars who were with Sheen that night when the drug dealer showed up. The man carried a Gucci satchel, from which he produced five snowball-sized lumps—$20,000 worth—of cocaine. "Charlie goes, 'I'll take it all,' " Jordan recalls. And with that, their vodka-and-red-wine bender transformed into a full-on toxic event. For the next twelve hours, she says, Sheen seemed never to go five minutes between hits off his little green pipe. "He was in self-destruction mode," Jordan says. "He talked about how he was going to retire. He was like, 'I don't care.' "
As the hours passed, the other girls peeled off, and Jordan was left alone with Sheen. They watched some porn in his red-velvet-upholstered screening room as Sheen continued to smoke cocaine, Jordan says, sometimes insisting on exhaling into her mouth. Dizzy and anxious, she says, she drank more vodka to calm down. Eventually they ended up in Sheen's bedroom, where they had sex briefly. Afterward, "he was like, 'Will you blow me? Blow me while I do a hit.' So I did that," she says. Then he asked if she would hold him. "I think he was scared. I could see the pain." So she did that, too.
Fifteen hours after Jordan arrived, Sheen wrote her a check for $30,000, which she immediately drove to the bank and cashed. But the evening would leave her with a lingering sad feeling. "He is unhappy, and he probably relates to the porn girls, thinking they're unhappy, too," she says.
Her last glimpse of Sheen, naked under a sheet, sticks with her. "As I was walking away, I could see him just sitting in the bed, hunched over with his pipe," she says, likening the image to a scene from Sid and Nancy. "That night I knew: This is the most self-destructive person I have ever met."
At 6:35 a.m. on January 27, about sixteen hours after Jordan left Sheen's house, a friend called 911 saying that the actor was intoxicated and in severe pain. By week's end, Charlie's publicist would announce he was going into rehab—again—and the CBS sitcom that pays him about $1.8 million an episode was on hiatus until Sheen could return. It would be at least the fourth time in the actor's life that he had sought formal treatment for addiction, and the second time in less than a year.
The incident was merely the latest in a series of bizarre events that have punctuated Sheen's life. Last fall, he trashed his room at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, prompting Capri Anderson, yet another 22-year-old porn star, to barricade herself in the bathroom. She later alleged he was drunk and behaved threateningly toward her (a charge Sheen denied; he eventually sued Anderson, accusing her of extortion). During the fracas, his second ex-wife, Denise Richards, and their two daughters were sleeping in a room across the hall.
A year before that, on Christmas 2009, Sheen was arrested in Aspen, Colorado, for allegedly threatening his then wife, Brooke Mueller, with a knife. That divorce will be finalized in May. And then there's the way his automobiles tend to fly off hillsides—as his co-star on Two and a Half Men Jon Cryer made light of in January, appearing on Conan O'Brien's show. Describing a typical chat on the set of their sitcom, Cryer joked, "I said, 'How ya doing, man?' and he said, 'I'm doing okay, except that somebody stole my car and ran it off a cliff last night.' And normally you would not believe that from somebody. But from Charlie Sheen you believe that, because that happened to him. Twice!"
Yet unlike some other infamous troublemakers who wear out the affections of those around them, hit bottom, and begin the long fade-out into obscurity, Sheen remains on top. In the weeks after his most recent debacle, the ratings of his sitcom spiked 30 percent.
Sheen's character on Two and a Half Men is a lovable scamp named Charlie Harper who drinks too much, watches porn, and chases, as he said in one recent episode, full bottles and empty women. Sheen himself has acknowledged certain parallels, but his friends say he's more complicated than that. The real Charlie, they say, is wry, self-deprecating, and hyperarticulate—but also has a boyish sweetness that can make him both charming and vulnerable. "When you divorce the moral judgments, which I prefer to do, I see a guy who has a clearer view of the nature of the world around him than is sometimes comfortable to have," says Sean Penn, who grew up with Sheen. "Those are the sort of people who have a tendency to find altered states. But he's a very ironic character. He's got pretension in the crosshairs of his wit. I think to a large degree he's saying, 'Guys, we're only going to be here once, so lighten the fuck up.' "
Penn, like many who've known Sheen for decades, says while "it certainly appears that he pushes things to an edge," he hasn't observed Sheen putting himself in danger. The wild Sheen, you see, tends to party with strangers or people you rent by the hour. The sober Sheen is the kind of guy who remembers your wedding anniversary, asks after your sick kid, and leaves a $500 tip on a $42 check. Once, Sheen rented out the Houston Astrodome just so a few friends could shag balls. On-set he's known for not putting himself above anyone else—the camera operator, the boom guy, the script supervisor. Except, of course, when his binges put their work on hold, costing them their paychecks.
"He was always a gentleman on the set," recalls Jim Abrahams, who directed Sheen in two films in the '90s. "Addiction is a disease, and he's got that disease. I hope he gets a handle on it, because he's got a wonderful soul."
But when it comes to getting a handle on it, Sheen may be, oddly, at a disadvantage. "Most people run out of money, they burn out, whatever, and then they finally hit rock bottom," says Eddie Braun, Sheen's stunt double and running buddy of twenty-five years. "Charlie is not going to hit rock bottom financially, because he's got so much money he can't piss it away. He can go anywhere and have instant 'friends.' Just add water and they're there."
Sheen was the best man at Braun's wedding; Braun was a groomsman at Sheen's first two and officiated at the third. Both men have tattoos of stingrays on their left ankles (as do three other friends, Corvette lovers all, who called themselves the Stingrays for a time: actors Nicolas Cage and Cary Elwes and musician Phil Roy). Braun loves Sheen fiercely and agreed to talk to me only after asking the actor's permission. But he doesn't pull his punches.
"Listen, the people closest to him wish we had a solution," says Braun, who, like several of Sheen's close friends, doesn't drink to excess or do drugs. "Charlie apparently is in his own downward spiral. Every time I'm gone on location, I worry. Because there are just three options: rehab, jail, or death."
The first time Charlie Sheen checked into rehab, in August 1990, he was 24. In his quarter century on the planet, he had fathered his first child, Cassandra. He had starred in two motion pictures that would go down in film history—Platoon and Wall Street—and a dozen more movies. He worked hard and played even harder. "I don't know how else to play," he tells me. He'd grown up around the entertainment industry, the third of four children of Martin Sheen and the artist Janet Templeton Sheen.
Martin's surname at birth had been Estevez, but he opted for a stage name. Three of his kids stuck with Estevez—Emilio, Ramon, and Renée. Charlie, born Carlos Irwin Estevez, was the only one to use Sheen. Friends say his father was, and is, his hero.
Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece about the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now, took the whole family to the Philippines, where Martin—then a three-pack-a-day smoker who was given to getting "so drunk I couldn't stand up," he has said—had the heart attack that almost killed him. He received last rites from a priest who did not speak English. He was 36. "Charlie, of all the kids, was hit the hardest by it," Martin would say later. "He was very sensitive to my condition and really scared that I might die. He felt lost. And very vulnerable."
It was in the Philippines that Charlie first became enamored with make-believe, says his friend Roman Coppola. The two boys spent hours together playing with gory stage makeup. Back in junior high school in L.A., Charlie enlisted his friend Chris Penn's elder brother Sean to be the camera operator on several Super 8 films. "He had one stellar performance as a body in a refrigerator with a blue, frozen face," the elder Penn recalls. But Charlie's real childhood love was baseball. A great pitcher, he had dreams of going pro. To this day, he says, "I would trade an Oscar for one at-bat in the major leagues."
But Charlie lacked both the talent and the discipline to be a pro athlete. A challenging kid, he got arrested for marijuana possession and credit card forgery in his teens. At 15, he used his dad's charge card to pay a Las Vegas prostitute to rid him of his virginity. A few years later, after a dispute with a teacher, he left Santa Monica High School. By then his brother Emilio, three years his senior, was about to become a star in The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire.
Charlie was 18 when he landed his first leading role. It was 1983 when director Penelope Spheeris chose him to star in The Boys Next Door, a little movie about a couple of small-town teenagers who go on a killing spree while driving cross-country to L.A. Just over a decade earlier, Martin Sheen had starred in Badlands, Terrence Malick's classic dramatization of a real-life killing spree conducted by two teen lovers while on a road trip. Spheeris recalls that at one point, Charlie said he wanted to wear a blue jean jacket like the one Martin had worn in Badlands. Spheeris says that when she asked if he was sure, "he admitted to doing it as an homage."
Months later, at a screening of the film, Spheeris and the younger Sheen were sitting next to each other in a Santa Monica theater when Martin took the seat right behind them. "When the violence started, you could hear him back there groaning," Spheeris says. "Ultimately he stood up and said, 'I can't take any of this anymore.' And he left. I looked over at Charlie, and he goes, 'Doesn't he remember he did almost exactly the same thing in Badlands?' "
It wouldn't be the last time that the son would follow in the father's footsteps (or in another context, that the disapproving father would storm out). In 1985, just six years after Apocalypse Now's release, Charlie was chosen to lead an ensemble of young actors playing soldiers in Oliver Stone's autobiographical Vietnam War drama, Platoon. Stone's goal was to make the filmmaking pro- cess as true to life as possible, so the scene in which Charlie's character smokes dope for the first time was filmed with real weed. Sheen has spoken of "the stonosity of it all." Adding to the trippiness was that the film was shot in the Philippines, near where he'd visited as a child.
Both Apocalypse and Platoon were Oscar-nominated for Best Picture; only Platoon won. But Charlie still believes Apocalypse is the better film. "Platoon is okay," he tells me. "It showed the war from the ground level, from the boots up. But Apocalypse isn't just about the war. It's about life. It's the greatest film ever made."
Soon father and son acted together in the 1987 classic Wall Street, also directed by Stone. In one scene, Bud Fox (Charlie) visits his dad (Martin) in the hospital after he's suffered a heart attack. The scene, which closely mimicked what they'd really experienced, was wrenching. "We both knew what that scene was. We'd done it already," Martin says in a documentary about the making of Wall Street, noting that Charlie "wept uncontrollably" that day. "I did, too. I adore him."
But despite their bond, or perhaps because of it, there was friction between them about how Charlie was living his life. Charlie acknowledged as much in that same documentary, describing how he used their conflict to help prepare himself for a key scene, when a tearful Bud is arrested for insider trading. "We did it a couple of times, and it felt stupid and phony," Charlie says, adding that in real life, his dad had written him a letter "about how my priorities were askew and I spent my money like a drunken sailor." He kept the letter with him, and before the next take, he reread it. "The letter found something in me that triggered enough remorse or shame or whatever. It got me to that place."
After Wall Street came out, Charlie was offered more roles than he could possibly accept. In 1990 he starred in four movies and appeared in two more—a staggering pace. But none were of the caliber of his earlier work. Oliver Stone, the man who'd made him a star, had once promised they'd collaborate like Martin Scorsese and DeNiro did, Sheen has said. But then, over time, that idea faded away.
Stone had offered Sheen the role of Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July, and Sheen went so far as to meet with Kovic. But Stone never followed up. The role went to Tom Cruise, who would garner an Oscar nomination. Similarly, Stone and Sheen discussed another idea: a dramatization of John F. Kennedy's assassination that would pivot around Lee Harvey Oswald. According to a source familiar with the discussions, Stone told Sheen he'd play Oswald. Then a buzz started building around Dances with Wolves, starring Kevin Costner. Stone built JFK around him instead.
The second time Charlie Sheen got treated for addiction was in May 1998. He was 32, and he had no choice. Emerging from his first rehab stint in 1990, Sheen felt his life looked promising. Director Jim Abrahams, the king of the film parody, who already had Airplane! and The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! under his belt, tapped Sheen to star in not just Hot Shots! but also its sequel. Abrahams remembers Sheen as the ultimate professional—gracious, prepared, a team player.
The first day on-set of Hot Shots! Part Deux was a case in point. Sheen arrived looking as muscular as Sylvester Stallone, whose Rambo was going to be spoofed in the film. "We all kind of gasped when he took his shirt off. He was really cut," Abrahams recalls, stressing that he had not told Sheen to bulk up. "He just did it. He saw who he was making fun of, so he got himself a trainer. It was very encouraging to the rest of the cast and crew to see what ends he had gone to."
Sheen acknowledged to Abrahams that there were holes in his memory—scenes "in movies he didn't remember making. He was pretty open about it." But if he was using while they were working together, Abrahams says, Charlie kept it at a strict remove.
Other times, however, it bled over. Spheeris remembers getting a call from Sheen not long after she'd directed the 1992 comedy Wayne's World. He wanted her to accompany him to meet with a big-name producer.
"Literally, during the meeting, Charlie passed out," Spheeris says, recalling how his head drooped to one side. As the meeting broke up, the producer asked Spheeris to stay behind. "He looked at me and said, 'There's no way he could do this, is there?' And I said, 'Not if this is the way he's living now, no.' " Charlie's family was noticing, too. During one hard-partying phase, one of his brothers had a get-together, and Martin and Janet showed up, according to someone who was there. When they saw Charlie drinking heavily, Martin said, "I'm out of here." And he left, hitchhiking home. (No family members would be interviewed for this article.)
Around this time, Charlie was writing a lot of poetry, and many of the poems revealed a striking self-awareness. A copy of a book he self-published to give to friends includes one poem called "On the Edge of Forever," which reads in part: "Is it safe? Do you know? This path you have chose, / Or has all of your in- stinct gone straight up your nose? / Is it black, is it white, / Can you tell from your cave? / Or a flash in the night, / Of your own hollow grave?"
Sheen's sex life, meanwhile, still followed a pattern he'd established his first time at bat: prostitutes. In July 1995, he testified at the trial of "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss, acknowledging that he'd paid her more than $50,000. A few months later, Sheen married a model, then divorced the following year. On December 20, 1996, he was arrested for allegedly beating his porn-star girlfriend, Brittany Ashland, who claimed he'd knocked her out and threatened to kill her. (In June 1997, he pleaded no contest and got two years' probation.)
What followed was a period of abject despair. In a no-holds-barred Playboy interview in 2000, Charlie discussed his confusion about "how I went from making multimillion-dollar deals on movies and fucking Playmates to being unemployable and fucking a, um, five-months-pregnant Mexican whore with Cesarean scars." He recalled "just feeling my spirit dying.... Not really wanting to be an active member of the human race." Ultimately he decided that since he couldn't stop using, he would "turn up the volume." On May 20, 1998, he OD'd after injecting cocaine into his arm. Martin went on television and acknowledged his son's overdose, intentionally triggering the revocation of Charlie's probation. A judge mandated that the younger Sheen check into rehab.
At the end of Wall Street, Martin, playing Bud's dad, Carl Fox, had explained why jail was just what the doctor ordered. "It's gonna be hard on you," he told Bud. "But in some kind of screwed-up way, it's the best thing that could have happened to you." Now Martin was saying much the same thing to his real-life son. Still, Charlie committed to his next project—Rated X, a cable movie about two San Francisco porn entrepreneurs—over his father's objections.
Emilio directed Rated X and starred as Jim Mitchell opposite Charlie, who played Jim's self-destructive brother, Artie. The script, based on true events, required both actors to snort huge amounts of faux cocaine and ended with Artie's death. That worried Martin, who told Emilio, "You're going to lead him back into the pit of insanity!" But Charlie saw it differently. Playing an addict who died was "a gift," he has said. "Anytime I even began to think 'Good God, what am I missing?' that thought was replaced with 'I'm playing a dead man.' "
It appears that the third time Charlie Sheen checked himself into rehab was February 2010.
On Christmas 2009, Brooke Mueller told the Aspen police that during an argument, she'd told Sheen she wanted a divorce. According to the police report, Mueller said Sheen became enraged. Holding a knife to her neck, he allegedly told her he would have her killed.
When interviewed by officers that night, Sheen was polite and cooperative. He told police the argument erupted when Mueller got jealous of one of his daughters from a previous relationship. He said he didn't threaten Mueller with a knife. His breath smelled of alcohol.
Friends say that twelve years earlier, fresh out of rehab, Sheen had been determined to stay sober. He resuscitated his career by stepping into Michael J. Fox's shoes on the successful sitcom Spin City. Then, in 2003, he signed on to a new venture, a comedy about a cad named Charlie, his sensible brother, Alan, and Alan's son, Jake: Two and a Half Men.
The show was a huge hit—and friends say at the beginning of its run, Charlie was definitely substance-free. But that wouldn't last. In Tour of the Inferno, a film about the making of Platoon, actor Tom Berenger recalls a day on the set when he gathered his fellow cast members together and issued a warning: "I have the feeling this is going to be one of the great movies. It could be the best film you're ever in. It may be unfortunate if it happens too early in your life, because there's never anywhere else to go." Was that the problem? Did Charlie peak too early?
Sean Penn is skeptical. "We're talking about the son of a movie star, who had a certain realistic irreverence for the business and the way that people were subject to successes and failures," he says, adding that to him, Sheen has always had the personality of a performance artist—self-revealing no matter the cost. "He's so deeply invested in a humor about himself. That's what Charlie is to me: He's an honest public figure."
Friends have a similar explanation for Sheen's liaisons with hookers: honesty. "He doesn't want to mislead women into thinking they're going to be the next girlfriend," Braun says. With a pro, by contrast, there are no misunderstandings: "He'd rather take the heat than take advantage of girls." Which would be easier to, uh, swallow, if Sheen didn't allegedly keep on hiring hookers when he was in committed relationships.
In the period between rehab number two and rehab number three, he would marry and divorce actress Denise Richards and then marry Mueller, with whom he has twin boys. Both women would ultimately accuse Sheen of frightening and violent behavior. In 2006, Richards filed a declaration that listed Sheen's various transgressions—obsessive gambling, pornography, prescription-drug abuse, trysts with prostitutes—and alleged Sheen had threatened to kill her.
Richards also called out Sheen's handlers for "only looking at [his] financial condition and refusing to address [his] emotional and mental condition." In so doing, she raised an issue that simmers beneath any discus- sion of Sheen: What, if any, blame should be placed at the feet of Sheen's managers, not to mention Warner Bros. (which makes the show)? Sheen's contract is said to lack a mo- rality clause that would allow Warner Bros. to fire him for improper conduct. But some have noted that given that the studio loses millions for every episode the actor misses, the execs there may be loath to punish Sheen even if they could.
For his part, Chuck Lorre, co-creator of Two and a Half Men, has been making reference to Sheen's excesses in the so-called vanity cards he places at the end of each episode. One episode that aired on Valentine's Day, as produc- tion on the show remained at a standstill, was punctuated by a Lorre card that read in part: "I don't drink. I don't smoke. I don't do drugs. I don't have crazy, reckless sex with strangers. If Charlie Sheen outlives me, I'm gonna be really pissed."
In Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, the 1991 documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen says of his near-death experience in the Philippines, "I just knew: If I wanted to live, it was my choice. If I wanted to die, that was my choice, too." Martin chose the former; he's been sober for more than twenty years. Today his youngest son faces that same crucial choice.
Last August, Charlie pleaded guilty to misdemeanor third-degree assault in the Aspen incident with Mueller. In October he trashed his room at the Plaza Hotel. In November he filed for his third divorce. In mid-January 2011, he reportedly went on a bender in Las Vegas with porn star Bree Olsen, then failed to show up on time to work the following week. Two weeks later, Charlie was assembling his "porn family," coke pipe in hand. Then came the hospital stay and prompt assurances from his handlers that Charlie had entered a rehab facility.
But those initial reports were misleading. Charlie had agreed to undergo treatment, but he was doing it his own way, hiring a sobriety counselor to come to his house. During his first substance-free week, a friend says, he spent more than $1 million on cars, adding to his already large automobile collection with the help of a private dealer. At the end of his second clean week, he called in to the sportstalk radio program The Dan Patrick Show and lambasted his bosses for not resuming production. "I'm ready. They're not," he said. But in the same call, he admitted that a previous stretch of sobriety left him "bored out of my tree."
If only Sheen could slay the shark that is his addiction once and for all, like Quint in Jaws, his friends say. If only he could put his own private Kurtz to rest. "But you cannot preach to somebody. I mean, you can, but then he just secludes himself from you," says Braun, his stunt double and loyal friend, adding that he has talked to Sheen's parents about that paradox. "They say, 'Why not tough love? Just cut him out of your life.' I say, 'Well, that's all well and fine, but then you don't know where to find him when he's passed out somewhere.' "
When my phone rings on that February afternoon, I ask Charlie if he's told the porn stars to lose his number. "No comment," he says, though he cops to being a sucker sometimes. He gets used "a lot," he says, "because here's the thing: I'm not a grifter, so I can't really spot 'em coming. And I won't trade any part of my essence to get better at seeing that, because then I'm in their world, and it's a world I despise."
But all that's in the past, he says. "I spent the first forty-five years living a semi-inauthentic life. Now my promise to myself is that everything I do will be authentic."
Sheen says that for too long he was "being the guy that I thought they needed me to be and always feeling like I was the last person taken care of in the mix, you know. Always. Always the last guy considered. And listen, that's over. It's done. It's pissing everybody off, because they always had an expectation based on predictable reactions. And now they don't, and they don't know what to do."
It's hard to know who "they" are. His ex-wives? His parents? His favorite porn stars? I ask him, after all the hard work he's done getting clean in the past, what is it that keeps luring him back to the party? "All that shit was inauthentic," he says. The partying? I ask. "No," he says. "The fucking AA shit. The sobriety shit. It was always for other people. I just wanted to get a job back and get enough money to tell everybody to go fuck themselves and then roll like Errol Flynn and Frank Sinatra—the good parts of those guys."
Is he saying that this time he's approaching rehab more authentically? I ask. Or is he saying the opposite: that rehab itself is inauthentic? "I'm going to ride the winds of the universe," Sheen says mischievously, and for a moment he sounds like Kurtz's sidekick, the strung-out photographer-philosopher played by Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. "How about that? How about that? "