Editors Note: This article was originally published in the June 2001 issue of Playboy magazine.
In May 1998 Charlie Sheen—whose party-filled lifestyle seemed to eclipse his work in films such as Platoon, Wall Street, Major League and Hot Shots—was home, alone and bored with snorting and smoking cocaine. No problem: He'd discovered an unused rig a junkie friend had left behind, and had an idea. Sheen had never shot cocaine, so he loaded up the syringe, emptied the contents into his arm and waited. To his surprise, he felt nothing. So he did it again. All at once it hit him.
Sheen is still around to tell the harrowing story because this wasn't just another self-destructive day. For once, he couldn't shake off the night of excess and restart the cycle. He ended up in the hospital, then in the tabloids and finally in court-ordered rehab. That happened in part because his father, actor Martin Sheen, publicly asked Malibu municipal court judge Lawrence Mira (who also handled Robert Downey Jr.'s case) to arrest his son and get him help before he went off the deep end. Martin's ace: Charlie was already on probation after pleading no contest in 1997 to allegedly assaulting his ex-girlfriend, and since doing drugs was certainly not part of the deal, the judge agreed.
Sheen had finally flamed out after years of living the wild life, and all he had left was a largely unremarkable career and a reputation as the last man standing when the party was over. His appetites for drink, drugs and sex—free or paid for—were extreme. In the beginning (post-Platoon, 1986), the go-anywhere, try-anything lifestyle seemed like the natural endowment of a hot, young, good-looking leading man in Hollywood. Even when the hangovers got worse and the binges lasted for days, Sheen's stamina kept him upright. He could get back into a work mode, and his abuses weren't as serious as some of his peers'. In 1995, his career took a body blow when he testified at the trial of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss and admitted to dropping more than $50,000 for her employees' services. Then he survived the near overdose.
Now, more than three years later, Sheen says he is clean, sober, healthy and looking ahead. Not only did he fulfill his part of Judge Mira's bargain, he even got off probation early.
That doesn't mean Sheen has lost his relish for living on the edge. It's just that the edge has changed. Instead of engaging in actual debauchery, Sheen made Rated X, a Showtime movie about adult-film entrepreneurs Jim and Artie Mitchell (Behind the Green Door). Sheen played Artie; brother Emilio Estevez directed and played Jim.
Then, after Michael J. Fox retired from Spin City last year, Sheen joined the cast as Charlie Crawford, the new deputy mayor with a checkered past. Sheen's reviews have been good and the show has improved in the ratings, even though it airs Wednesday nights opposite Martin Sheen as the president on The West Wing and the Fox reality show of the moment.
Sheen was born Carlos Irwin Estevez on September 3,1965, the third child of Martin and Janet Sheen. He has two older brothers, Emilio and Ramon, and a younger sister, Renee. Because his dad insisted on taking the family on location, Sheen grew up in places that his classmates could only point to on the map. The most memorable trip was almost eight months in the Philippines during the making of Apocalypse Now.
Stateside, Sheen attended Santa Monica High with neighbors Sean and Chris Penn and Rob and Chad Lowe. The group, fast friends, also made numerous Super-8 home movies, taking turns as writers, directors, cameramen, etc. Sheen says he was a normal kid, but he had some problems, including arrests for marijuana possession and credit card forgery. He also used his dad's charge card to pay a Las Vegas hooker for helping him lose his virginity when he was 15.
Though Sheen appeared as an extra in Apocalypse Now and hung out with older brother Emilio and his Brat Pack friends—wishing he could live their high lives—he became an actor because he admired his dad and "to get my parents off my back" about finishing high school. He found a job immediately in 1984's Grizzly II: The Predator. He was also offered the lead role in the first Karate Kid but had to pass because of a scheduling conflict. Instead, he waited two years for box-office magic with Platoon, and his face ended up on the cover of Time magazine.
Contributing Editor David Rensin met with Sheen on the set of Spin City and at the actor's LA condo. Rensin reports:
"In the past, a chance to interview Charlie Sheen was irresistible to the media. He has always been an outrageous and dependable quote. Charlie never minded dissing other actors or recounting a bacchanalian adventure. But he also believed in telling it like it is, or at least as he saw it. Since Sheen was often hopped-up during an interview, the results were invariably compelling.
"Today, Charlie is more wary when it comes to shooting off his mouth. That's why, before I turned on the tape recorder, he wanted to get to know me. After an afternoon of Spin City read-throughs, we met for a light meal at a local Italian restaurant. He looked at me with eyes scrunched up intently, trying to see if I was someone he'd feel comfortable telling everything to.
"Before dinner was done, Charlie suggested I go to his house for the interview. We spent a long night at his West Los Angeles condo, where we shared a heavily sugared General Foods International Coffee moment, and then met in his studio lot dressing room to go over the intimate details of his rise and fall and rise.
"The first thing that Charlie did when I turned on the tape recorder was complain about another magazine interview in which he was quoted as saying he'd slept with 5000 women. 'Not true,' he insisted, with a smile."