“I’m not crazy anymore,” Charlie Sheen announced this past January at the Fox Network Television Critics Association party in Pasadena, California. He said it with a chuckle, but there was an unmistakable sincerity to his confession. Usually when famous actors suffer a public scandal there are apologies and pleas for forgiveness. Not too often do they come right out and admit they went bat-shit crazy.
Of course, denying his insanity might have been an exercise in futility. Few celebrities have had quite as dramatic or memorable a meltdown as Charlie Sheen. When 2011 began he was one of the highest-paid actors on TV, earning an estimated $40 million annually for starring on Two and a Half Men. And then, seemingly overnight, he went off the rails. The show took a production hiatus in late January as Sheen dealt with his public addictions to drugs, porn stars, trashing hotel rooms, etc., and during the next few months he went on a media tirade, doing increasingly erratic TV and radio interviews. He coined such catchphrases as “winning,” “tiger blood” and “Adonis DNA.” He claimed to be a warlock and a Vatican assassin who was fed up with “pretending I’m not a total bitchin’ rock star from Mars.” One minute he bragged about “banging seven-gram rocks” during a typical night of partying, and the next minute the only drug he’d admit to using was called Charlie Sheen, which he claimed normal people couldn’t take without melting their faces and causing their children to weep over their exploded bodies. He introduced the world to his “goddesses,” two girlfriends (one, Bree Olson, is a former porn star) who lived and had sex with him at his self-described Sober Valley Lodge. In March Sheen was fired by Warner Bros. for “felony offenses involving moral turpitude,” which at the time seemed to be an understatement.
It took more than a year, but Sheen is finally back on TV with a new comedy, Anger Management, on the FX network. He plays a minor league baseball player turned therapist, and it will be either a triumphant return for the troubled actor or the final nail in his acting career’s coffin. We sent writer Eric Spitznagel, who recently interviewed Jon Hamm and Craig Ferguson for playboy, to meet with Sheen and find out whether the former tiger-blood-fueled warlock is really on the road to recovery. He reports: “After rehearsal for Anger Management wrapped, Sheen and I talked in his trailer, the infamous former party bus he’s had since Spin City, which is now decorated with crayon drawings from his children and outfitted with a fridge weirdly lacking in alcoholic beverages.
“The next day, he invited me to his home in a Los Angeles gated community, just down the street from rock guitarist Slash. Once again the setting was more domestic than debauched. There was an actual apple pie cooling on the stove. ‘It’s all set dressing,’ Sheen joked. ‘As soon as you leave, all the drug paraphernalia and porn stars come out of the attic.’ Sheen made me a smoothie, spiked with nothing but strawberries. After he showed me his dad’s helmet from Apocalypse Now and we’d talked at length about baseball and why the Chicago Cubs will probably never win another World Series, we sat at his kitchen table and got down to business. During our conversation Sheen smoked so many Marlboro Reds that even my lungs hurt.”
PLAYBOY: Anger Management is the second time you play a character named Charlie, after Two and a Half Men, right?
SHEEN: The third. I was Charlie on Spin City too.
PLAYBOY: Is that by choice? Is it just easier for you to remember?
SHEEN: I think it happens a lot in sitcoms. Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano and Bob Newhart all used their real first names. It’s also easier for audiences so they’re not confused by a new character. They feel they’re already familiar with me right off the bat.
PLAYBOY: The Charlie you played on Two and a Half Men had a lot in common with you. How is the Anger Management Charlie similar to you?
SHEEN: He’s not. I hear that shit all the time. It’s like, Really, you want me to put my life on TV? Put it on fucking cable on Mars. “But it’s so similar!” Really? Have you ever hung out with me? Idiots.
PLAYBOY: So you never draw on your personal life for your fictional life?
SHEEN: Now and again there are themes that might be similar. I think that’s fine. If it’s done tastefully, it’s cool. There are times when they go too far and I’ll tell them. I’m done playing a drunken, womanizing, immature character. This time I’m playing an adult. The guy on Anger Management is professionally accomplished, a former ballplayer learning to overcome his anger issues.
PLAYBOY: You went to anger therapy, right?
SHEEN: I went for a year. I learned some good shit there. This may sound stupid, but it all comes down to sticks and stones. You know what I mean? Sticks and stones may break my bones——
PLAYBOY: But words will never hurt me.
SHEEN: Exactly. There’s so much value in that. The idea of leaving the room sometimes when you’re angry. Just leave the room! If someone follows you, go to a different room. If they keep following you, get in your car. If they follow you in your car, drive to a police station. There are ways to not engage. It’s like my dad [actor Martin Sheen] always said: Women know what buttons to push because they helped build the machine. So every time you give in to that, you’re playing right into their hands. It’s a good point. He’s a wise man.
PLAYBOY: Your dad just celebrated a big anniversary.
SHEEN: His 50th wedding anniversary.
PLAYBOY: How does somebody get to 50 years in a marriage?
SHEEN: I have no fucking idea. [laughs]
PLAYBOY: Has he given you any relationship advice?
SHEEN: Dad always stressed the value of the truth. He said you never have to look over your shoulder when you tell the truth. You never have to remember the details, because they are what they are. And you don’t have to make sure your story matches everyone else’s. Just tell the truth and you’re home free. If there are amends to be made, you make them. You own it and move on.
PLAYBOY: Speaking of telling the truth, we should talk about last year and your whole so-called meltdown.
SHEEN: Where do you want to begin?
PLAYBOY: Let’s start with the basics. What the hell happened?
SHEEN: [Laughs] I don’t know what happened. I think I cracked.
PLAYBOY: Did Two and a Half Men break your brain?
SHEEN: I don’t think it was the show in particular. It was the buildup of all the time I’ve been in the business, the divorces and everything. I started to unravel. I was mad about having to play the game—not that I was playing it well, but I’d been doing it for so long. I finally just said the things I had always been thinking. [laughs] But in the middle of a psychotic break.
PLAYBOY: Sean Penn called you a performance artist. Is it possible the whole year was one big hoax?
SHEEN: That’s cool that he said that. It’s a compliment, but it’s not what was going on. I didn’t have a master plan. I didn’t realize it was going to create such a global firestorm. At the time, it felt like I was watching a lot of it from above, you know what I mean?
PLAYBOY: Like an out-of-body experience?
SHEEN: Yeah. It was surreal. And it never occurred to me where this stuff was going to end up or how it was going to be perceived. I didn’t care about anything beyond the moment. And then I was a little shocked by how huge the whole thing became. It was like an organism you couldn’t stop. It kept growing.
PLAYBOY: Some of the things you said will haunt you forever. “Winning” is now part of the pop-culture lexicon.
SHEEN: I guess so. You know what’s interesting about that? It’s stated in the present tense. We were in the act of winning. It was current. It wasn’t “We’ve won” or “We’re going to win.”
PLAYBOY: It was an active verb.
PLAYBOY: Is that why people connected with it so much?
SHEEN: That’s part of it. The economy was in the toilet and people were dealing with their horrible bosses. So they were like, “Oh, here’s a guy who stood up to his boss, who had the balls to say, ‘Fuck it, you’re wrong, I’m right.’ ”
PLAYBOY: You kept insisting you were winning when everything that was happening in your life and career at the time seemed like the complete opposite of winning.
SHEEN: Absolutely. I was in total denial.
PLAYBOY: Was it just positive thinking? If you say you’re winning enough times, maybe things will turn around?
SHEEN: It wasn’t that bleak in my head. I felt I was winning by finally being able to speak my mind. I felt that was some sort of victory. And then it was fueled by the insane public outpouring of support.
PLAYBOY: Not only were you winning, but you called yourself a warlock.
SHEEN: I didn’t know what the hell a warlock was; I just liked the way it sounded. It’s got war in it; it’s got a kah sound. War-lock. Remember the Salem warlock society? They were going to cast a hex on me.
PLAYBOY: Because you were making a mockery of their religion?
SHEEN: Something like that. I was hurting the warlock name. I was like, “Bring it on! I’ll eat your hex for breakfast.” [laughs] It’s so fucking stupid. I’m in a beef with a warlock society? You’re kidding me, right? How do you go from making Oliver Stone movies to being in a feud with warlocks?
PLAYBOY: The list goes on and on. Tiger blood, Adonis DNA, you’re on a drug called Charlie Sheen.
SHEEN: [Laughs] Most of it came out of nowhere. It wasn’t planned, it was just random. The tiger blood? I don’t know. It’s just a very dangerous animal. And there’s a tiger in Apocalypse Now, by the way, so maybe there’s a connection there. Adonis DNA? I don’t know what the fuck that was about. That was just stupid. That went a little far.
PLAYBOY: You made a lot of allusions to war during that period, especially when talking about Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre and CBS. Did it feel as though you were in a literal war?
SHEEN: It felt like combat, yeah. I don’t know what real combat feels like, but it felt like emotional combat, like spiritual combat. One thing I can’t tolerate is being disrespected. Fuck that. I’m talking about literal, genuine examples of disrespect, where you feel unappreciated. Guys want to be respected and acknowledged. They want to feel what they contributed matters. I felt I contributed a lot, and suddenly it didn’t matter.
PLAYBOY: Why would CBS and Lorre change their minds about you?
SHEEN: Because they read things about me and believed them. They were like, “He’s crazy” or “He’s drunk” or “He’s fucked-up” or “He’s a fucking weirdo” or whatever. But if you’re special, you’re tortured. I know that sounds arrogant, but you can’t not be special and have a 30-year career. You can’t not be a little different from others and be successful for three decades. Your mind has to work a little differently than the average brain. But here’s the good news. I’m not there anymore. I’m not working with CBS or Warner Bros. or Chuck anymore. Good news for them and good news for me.
PLAYBOY: Did you ever enjoy yourself on Two and a Half Men?
SHEEN: The early stuff was fun. It was fresh, and we were still kind of finding our way. The first time [Two and a Half Men co-star] Jon Cryer and I read together, it was magic. No question.
PLAYBOY: How is your relationship with Jon these days?
SHEEN: I don’t have one.
PLAYBOY: You said some cruel things about him last year. You called him a troll and a traitor. Was that the heat of the moment, or did you really feel that way?
SHEEN: That was wrong. I whaled on him unnecessarily.
PLAYBOY: But at the time did you feel he should have defended you?
SHEEN: I made a mistake. But yes, I felt he should have come forward with some kind of support. But says who? What rule book is that written in? It’s not. He was trying to keep the shit together, trying to cover my ass, pick up the slack. He just got caught in the crossfire. He’s a beautiful man and a fucking fabulous dude and I miss him. I need to repair that relationship, and I will. I will reach out and do whatever is necessary.
PLAYBOY: Looking back on it a year later, do you have a better understanding of what went wrong, why you lost Two and a Half Men?
SHEEN: I know exactly what went wrong. CBS and Warner Bros. were in breach. That’s it. That’s why this thing never went to any kind of arbitration. They knew they’d have to admit they screwed up. They were too involved in their own egos and their own emotions. I guess that’s why I went full-court press on them, because I knew they didn’t have a case. My job was to show up and act; their job was to write. Or it was someone’s job to write, and Chuck Lorre decided he wasn’t going to do it anymore.
PLAYBOY: They would probably claim it had more to do with your drug problems.
SHEEN: That was a fucking hernia, by the way.
PLAYBOY: What was?
SHEEN: In January, before I got fired, when I went to the hospital. The hernia was real. Everybody thought I had OD’d or whatever. No, I had a fucking hernia blow out of my stomach. I called the paramedics, because that’s what you do, right?
PLAYBOY: There were tabloid reports that you had a suitcase of cocaine delivered to your house.
SHEEN: That’s such bullshit. And that’s what I got fired over. I didn’t get fired for the Plaza Hotel thing [when he was accused of assaulting a porn star]; I didn’t get fired for the Vegas bender. I got fired for a hernia. And it’s real. Check it out. [pulls up shirt] See that? [pushes out stomach and points to hernia scar] It’s there. I didn’t get it fixed because I thought we were going to court and I would have to show this from the stand.
PLAYBOY: There were rumors that the hernia happened after several days of constant partying and drugs.
SHEEN: No, that’s just not true. It was because of a Dave Chappelle sketch.
PLAYBOY: Oh, come on.
SHEEN: Remember that scene where he’s a blind white supremacist who doesn’t know he’s black? Have you seen it? It’s the funniest thing in the world. He becomes a Klansman, and he’s railing against black people. It’s insanely brilliant.