Charlie Sheen is off CBS’ "Two and a Half Men," possibly for good, and his recent musings about hosting a talk show on HBO seem rooted in fantasy.
But the troubled actor is very much the star of his own pathetic, reality show that's playing out in his texts to news organizations, his calls to radio stations – and a couple of remarkable network TV interviews.
The Charlie Sheen Show is an exercise in sadness in which an entertainer best known for comedy program is self-destructing in front of his audience.
Reports of erratic behavior, fodder for the celebrity news machine for months, are much less an abstraction now that Sheen has exposed himself to major TV interviews. It's one thing to read reports of substance-fueled romps with porn stars. It's another to see and hear Sheen tell NBC's Jeff Rossen: "I'm sick of pretending like I’m not bitching a total fricking rock star from Mars, and people can't figure me out... You can't process me with a normal brain.” Even a more subdued interview Monday night with CNN's Piers Morgan did little to walk back the damage he'd already done.
Sheen, who earlier in the day demanded an apology and a $1 million per episode raise ("That was stupid," he later told Morgan), is clearly not of a mind most folks would deem "normal." But he’s still aware enough of his celebrity to seek attention as his career – and quite possibly his personal life – disintegrate around him.
Whether his antics are a cry for help is for the armchair psychologists to chew over. His father, actor Martin Sheen, has likened his son's demons to cancer.
Whatever the cause of Charlie Sheen's downfall, perhaps the biggest shame is that he wasn’t called more forcefully on his wild-thing lifestyle sooner. Sheen's 2009 assault of then-wife Brooke Mueller should have been a huge wake up call, but only became the top entry on an ever-growing list of destructive behavior.
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It's tempting to compare the 45-year-old actor to Mel Gibson, who has become a Hollywood pariah, largely thanks to audiotapes in which he spews vile epithets and threats. Gibson's career is in the tank, but truth be told, he hasn't been a major box office force for a decade. Sheen got a reported $2 million an episode to appear in a top-rated, long-running sitcom. It took Sheen’s ugly public feud with "Two and a Half Men" co-creator and executive producer Chuck Lorre to push the cash cow into the barn for at least the rest of this season and possibly for good.
Sheen, meanwhile, basically has replaced Gibson as a Hollywood punchline. "I just got a text message from Charlie Sheen," Oscars co-host James Franco cracked Sunday when he came on stage dressed as Marilyn Monroe.
If Sheen somehow manages to gets his life together, maybe one day he'll be able to laugh at the jokes, along with his "Today" show interview and his Tuesday night stint on ABC's "20/20," in which he declares, "I am on a drug. It's called Charlie Sheen."
But the unfortunate reality of The Charlie Sheen Show unfolding before us is that he might never get that chance.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.