It's been a wild ride pretty much from day one: He was born to Janet and Martin Sheen, on September 3rd, 1965, in a New York hospital, and had just crested, wasn't even out of the birth canal yet, when the first issue arose. The doctor, Irwin Chabon, noticed that the umbilical cord was pressed up against Charlie's nose, suffocating him. "Hold!" yelled Chabon, and Janet stopped pushing, which gave him time to cut the cord. "Now!" he yelled, and Janet pushed like hell. "And out Charlie came flying, and he was blue, a blue baby," recalls Martin, who was then a young unknown actor. "There was not a sound coming from him, not a breath, nothing. He was just limp." Dr. Chabon grabbed the baby by the feet and held him up and began swatting him. Janet said, "What's wrong?" Martin said, "Doesn't look good, kid." He thought Charlie was going to die and asked for him to be baptized. But then, says Martin, "Chabon hauled off and hit Charlie once again and Charlie started screaming, and he hasn't stopped since."
Nineteen years later, he got his first co-starring movie role, in the 1984 teenagers-battling-commies flick Red Dawn, and followed that up two years later playing a slacker-hoodlum-type make-out artist in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, typecast for the first time, to considerable comedic effect. But he really didn't step out in a big way until Oliver Stone cast him in two of the decade's most incendiary films: as a bewildered gung-ho young grunt in Vietnam, in 1986's Oscar-winning Platoon, and as Gordon Gekko's ambitious greed-is-good protege in 1987's Wall Street. The reviews were glowing, the movies were important, he was all set to star in a third Stone movie, he was going places.
But things went off-kilter rather quickly. First, Stone unceremoniously jilted him for Tom Cruise to play the lead in Born on the Fourth of July, and Charlie's subsequent movie choices – comedies like Major League and Hot Shots!, and action flicks like Navy Seals – did nothing to bolster his rep as a serious actor, although many of them, especially those involving baseball, which is one of his big passions, were quite good. And then there was his personal life. By this time, three years into his career, his reputation as a party animal had already been well established. He whizzed around in a $60,000 black Porsche; he carried a sheet of paper with names of women on it, listed one through 25, some given stars like a movie review, others annotated with words like "breasts," "Jacuzzi" and "cheerleader"; he owned a bunch of guns and loved nothing better than shooting them off into the ocean; and he thought about money a lot, having concluded, as he said in 1987, that "money is energy, man. It moves things."
It was loopy stuff even by Hollywood standards. And it only got worse. In 1990, then-fiance Kelly Preston picked up a pair of his pants in their bathroom and out fell a tiny .22 revolver, which hit the floor and blasted a bullet into the toilet, ricocheting a piece of porcelain shrapnel into her arm; the way the story played out in public, however, Charlie shot Preston in the arm and that's why she soon left him and married John Travolta. A few years later, while going out with model Donna Peele, Charlie took the witness stand in the trial of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, admitted to being a huge fan, having spent $53,000 on her services. Even so, Peele married him shortly thereafter, forming a union that lasted less than a year. "You buy a bad car, it breaks down," Charlie said at the time. By 1998, his career had tanked and all he could do was wax philosophic: "What do you do when you've got studio heads that won't hire you, even though you screwed the same whores? Yet they pull you aside at a party and say that you're their hero for the things that you do?" That same year, he overdosed on cocaine, was hospitalized, entered rehab. "Pray for Charlie, pray for my boy. He has appetites that get him into trouble, but he has a good heart," his father said.
"When Charlie's sober, he's sweet, kind, loving, generous," said porn star and former girlfriend Ginger Lynn. "When he's drinking and using, he's out of control."
In 2000, however, he turned his career around, replacing the increasingly infirm Michael J. Fox in TV's Spin City for two seasons and making it an even bigger hit than it already was, and following that up, starting in 2003, with Two and a Half Men – playing Charlie Harper, a version of himself, never seen without a bowling shirt on his back, booze on his breath and a loose woman in his bed – which went on to earn him a record-setting $2 million an episode. And now, he's attempting to come back once again, in Anger Management. It's based on the 2003 Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson movie pretty much in name only and has Charlie playing a former baseball player whose own anger issues lead him to become a therapist. If Anger Management wins an audience, however, it'll most likely be due not to the quality of the show but to the immense appeal and charm of Charlie on the small screen. As Men has proved, no Charlie, no funny, whether replacement Ashton Kutcher gets signed for another (dismal) year or not.
But during all this time, not once has Charlie ever managed to get a conventional grip on his personal life. The result has been various stints in rehab, along with two more failed marriages (to Denise Richards, 2002-2005, and actress Brooke Mueller, 2008-2010), numerous run-ins with the law, warlocks putting hexes on him and the nutty rest of it. Still, it's pretty quiet in Charlie-town these days. He spends most of his time working on the show, which he has an unusually large vested interest in seeing succeed; his upfront salary might not be Men-size, but he has equity participation, and should things go well – if the initial run of 10 episodes reaches a certain ratings level, FX is obligated to buy another 90 episodes, ensuring syndication – then he stands to earn up to $200 million over time, which is one great big bunch of thing-moving energy, man.
At the moment, though, he's hanging around his home, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and trying to explain the whys and wherefores of last year's Biggest Charlie Sheen Meltdown of All Time. His place is done up in the modern style, very clean, very quiet, very tasteful. He's got a few of his baseball collectibles on display, along with a samurai sword, an imposing Meade LX200-ACF telescope, a large old-timey jukebox and a great big painting of his dad and Marlon Brando, in Apocalypse Now, the background screaming-pain red and hellish. No clutter anywhere, except for on the refrigerator doors. Stuck to them are numerous pictures of his kids, along with bagged-and-tagged mementos from various nights out on the town: a cigar half smoked by Ray Lewis, an empty cigarette pack from Sean Penn, a Sharpie that Russell Brand used to sign autographs.
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