There will be the cruel ones – those who will joke about Charlie Sheen now. Of course, Charlie made it all easy for them over the years with his antics, the tiger blood, and the “winning” mystique of the wild bad boy. They can have at him because the Charlie Sheen we saw on Today talking with Matt Lauer has the strength to take it and then some.
I must confess that I have never liked Charlie Sheen because he seemed so cavalier about the good fortune that he had and invested so much energy into his wild ways that were detrimental to himself, those who loved him, and his career. He went through women faster than the L train going through the tunnel under the East River, and yet there were flashes of sheer brilliance in films, especially Platoon and Major League.
I never watched Two and a Half Men or the series Anger Management, but that was not because of not liking Charlie but more that I am not too fond of TV sitcoms. The last one I watched regularly was Seinfeld and, since that went off the air in 1998, you can understand that I have been out of the loop for some time.
Still Charlie made his presence known in the tabloids and online. When he had the falling out with the producers of Two and a Half Men, I must admit that I enjoyed watching him run amok in interviews. He could be hilarious as Donald Trump is right now – always keeping you watching to see the next crazy thing that he would say.
Looking back on the possibilities for Charlie, they seemed limitless at the start of his career. The son of gifted actor Martin Sheen and brother of actor Emilio Estevez, Charlie came from Hollywood nobility but acted something like Prince Hal in Henry IV, with any willing accomplice becoming his Falstaff.
But Charlie was much less than that character, who would eventually fulfill his potential as Henry V; no, in the end Charlie was much less than Hal and more like Hamlet or Achilles. Charlie was the tragic hero in many ways, with his multiple tragic flaws more debilitating than Hamlet’s procrastination or Achilles’s famous heel.
The problem with tragic heroes is that despite their prowess and nobility and inner goodness, they are unaware of the flaw that will be their undoing. Sadly, Charlie always seemed aware that his behavior was destructive – ruining marriages, relationships with his family, and his career; however, none of that was enough as he kept on going with the candle burning at both ends – a veritable moth attracted to countless flames.
But all this changes now – the Charlie I saw on Today has become a matured, self-aware, and humble man. The arrogance once visible in Hot Shots! or when playing himself everywhere else is gone now. He seems so calm now, almost at peace – with both his diagnosis and his coming to terms with the life he has to lead now.
Lauer asked tough questions and pulled no punches, but Charlie countered relentlessly and honestly. There were no body blows, and Charlie held his head high despite having to admit to doing some despicable things with less than reputable associates. Spending millions of dollars on prostitutes and then even more money on having them and others keep quiet about his HIV seems heartbreakingly more like depriving his children of a brighter future than anything criminal – but perhaps that is the greater offense for which he now must make amends.
Appearing during the interview with Sheen, Dr. Robert Huizenga, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine (UCLA) and Charlie’s physician made it clear – “Charlie has contracted HIV; he does not have AIDS.” Dr. Huizenga is treating Charlie successfully but spoke of the millions out there who have HIV and are not treated. “I anticipate Charlie can save many more lives coming forward with his revelation than I could ever have aspired to as a doctor.”
This is the new Charlie Sheen – one who expects to make a difference instead of causing havoc. He says, “I accept this condition not as a curse or scourge, but rather as an opportunity and a challenge. An opportunity to help others. A challenge to better myself.”
So is Charlie Sheen now a tragic hero? No, his life used to be tragic – the drugs, the people who wished to harm him, his own self-destruction almost bringing him to the point of annihilation – now Charlie has taken a different path and seems a changed man.
In a rather eloquent “open letter” about his HIV diagnosis, Charlie reveals his plans for the road ahead. He says, “My partying days are behind me. My philanthropic days are ahead of me.” It is nice to see that Charlie is handling this like a real man – no excuses and no blaming others. If he can indeed help others – even save other lives – Charlie’s story has a much happier ending than anyone could have imagined for him a few days ago.
In his letter Charlie also quoted Ernest Hemingway’s “Grace under pressure.” It seemed very apropos that he chose Hemingway, a great talent that became destroyed and ultimately vanquished by his own hand. Charlie seems to have learned from that and says he is moving forward “with courage and grace.”
For the first time I can say “I like Charlie Sheen” – the new Charlie Sheen to be specific. May he find peace and happiness on the journey that lies ahead of him.
Photo credit: Samantha Okazaki / TODAY[amazon template=iframe image&asin=079284646X]