Charlie Sheen can get in more hot water in more ways than just about anyone ever. In the past year or so alone, he's – well, no doubt you already know all about it: the rants against his former boss, Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre ("that low-rent, nutless sociopath"), the parading around of his live-in so-called goddesses (one, a porn star, the other, a former nanny), the court-ordered removal of his kids from his house, the lunatic verbiage ("Vatican assassin warlocks," "tiger blood," "winning!" "banging seven-gram rocks"), the $100 million breach-of-contract lawsuit – filed against Warner Bros, and Lorre, the entities behind Men, which earned him $25 million, with more on the way, the My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat Is Not an Option Tour (turned out defeat was an option, though; it kind of sucked), and so on. Last June, he finally exhausted himself and went silent, surfacing only to take the occasional swipe at Men and to exit a Guns N' Roses concert looking boozy if not bombed. In other words, recently, he's been a very good boy indeed.
But now, tonight, right at this very moment, he is courting trouble once more. He's out at a clubby Hollywood steak-house called Boa, happily working his way through the charred-tuna tartare. A twenty something girl has come over and presented herself. She says her name is Erica and that she just tried out for the role of his 15-year-old daughter on Anger Management, his new show on FX, but was turned down. She pouts. Dark hair, short skirt, really tight blouse, she looks scrumptious when she pouts. She turns sideways a little, showing herself off in profile. "They were like, 'You nailed it, but your body doesn't match a 15-year-old's.'"
Charlie, 46, leans out, wipes his lips with his napkin, and says, "Well, I'm no physiology expert, but I have to support them on that."
And then, just like that, it's on. Pretty soon, they're shuffling around the outside patio, smoking cigarettes. Pretty soon, Charlie is saying, "Are you married, engaged? How is it that you and I have not met up until this moment? How do we let this not be the last time we ever see each other?" Pretty soon, Charlie has her digits in his cellphone. It's really quite spectacular how it happens. Charlie's eyes are all lit up and sparkly. He's forward without being aggressive. The gravel in his voice makes it sound like a barroom brawl, but his vibe is easygoing, warm, friendly, fun. What's not to like?
"That's one of the prettiest girls I've seen in a long time – sit-down-and-weep pretty," he says later on, overflowing with poetic emotion. "Someone like her should only exist on a Sunday. Did you see the tons of cute piled on top of her beauty? Man, I've got to get out more! That was fucking sexy as hell, man." Sitting back, he goes on, "People think that a girl comes up and I'd be like, 'Yeah, whatever.' No, I'm like a nine-year-old sitting here with his buddy, going, 'Oh, my God!' That's the Charlie Sheen nobody knows. I'm not this fucking weirdo. I don't create havoc, mayhem, wreckage. I mean, I did for a while. But it was never part of the master plan. I was just trying to keep shit propped up while it was crumbling."
A while later, he texts Erica, suggesting they get together soon, but, in fact, she is not destined to become tonight's problem. Nor are the three or four shots of tequila that Charlie downs so easily.
Instead, tonight, it's one of the gold teeth inside Charlie's mouth – specifically, the number 12 tooth, upper left, a pre-molar that snapped off on a potato chip and was replaced with gold. Ridiculous as it sounds, FX has demanded that any time Charlie steps out in public, that gold tooth needs to be camouflaged with paint. Seems they don't like the way it makes Charlie look. Seems they think it makes him look ghetto. He sighs. "A year ago, I would have been like, 'Fuck you, it's my tooth!' But why be the dick? What's the point? To show them? Show them what? Anyway, it's become this whole big deal, so now I'm like, 'OK, you're entitled.'"
But, of course, Charlie being Charlie, that tooth isn't painted tonight, and when he smiles, it's flashy and Fort Knox brilliant, and there sure are lots of paparazzi out front, just waiting for him to make an appearance. He takes a moment. He takes a breath. It could be worse. He could be in jail, or (allegedly) wrestling some girl around in the Plaza Hotel, or flinging dollars at a stripper. Much worse. "I forgot to paint my tooth, that's all," he says. And yet he really does want to toe the line. So off he sails, out the back door, into a waiting car, avoiding the photographers, avoiding conflict, showing off a more mature side of himself, the Charlie Sheen nobody knows, trying to get things right for almost the first time ever in his life, if only he can.
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.
Outside, on the patio, looking out toward the pool, Charlie lights up another Marlboro Red ("I do 40 a day – no, 30") and holds forth as he does, in the most amusing of ways, with his growl of a voice. First order of business, of course, is Chuck Lorre, the proximate cause of the meltdown. "I can't help myself with this guy, sorry," Charlie says, looking like he doesn't really want to help himself anyway. "He's a turd. A turd! The good news is, he's no longer stuck to my shoe." Charlie's main beef with Lorre (and he has bazillions of them) was Lorre's refusal to write more episodes when, surprise, surprise, Charlie finished a show-mandated 2011 stint in rehab earlier than expected (it was done at home, which Denise Richards nicknamed Sober Valley Lodge, in a record two weeks). Lorre's decision not only cost Charlie a bundle of money but also the rest of Men's cast and crew. So, Charlie went off. But nothing has explained what fueled Charlie to go off the way he did, carpet-bomb style. Everyone thinks drugs, due to his long history of drug abuse, primarily with cocaine, "banging seven-gram rocks, because that's how I roll," and the like. But he insists no drugs were ingested; he took several drug tests during that time, all of which came back negative. "Charlie smoked cigarettes like a chimney, but other than that, no drinking and no drugs," says porn actress and former Sheen goddess Bree Olson. "He was just pissed off. And not afraid to show it."
"I am on a drug," he told ABC's Andrea Canning. "It's called Charlie Sheen. It's not available because if you try it once, you will die. Your face will melt off, and your children will weep over your exploded body."
Bipolar disorder was the next most common explanation, but Charlie wasn't having any of that, either. "Wow! What's that mean? Wow. And then what? What's the cure? Medicine? Make me like them? Not gonna happen. I'm bi-winning. If I'm bipolar, aren't there moments where a guy crashes in a corner, like, 'Oh, my God, it's all my mom's fault'? Shut up. Shut up! Stop! Move forward."
So, if not drugs or mental illness, what was it?
Taking a stab at it, Charlie says, "I don't think it was just the show. It was too much people-pleasing, not enough breaks, over 30 years, forming into one focused tsunamilike release," and then he kind of tosses his arms up in the air and sighs.
"I haven't gone through a psych evaluation to see what was behind the whole episode," he goes on, "but for, like, a two-week period in there, I was the most famous person on the planet! Here's why I think it had such resonance and crazy cosmic traction. It wasn't 'win' or 'won.' It was 'winning' – the middle of an act. Clearly, a guy gets fired, his relationships are in the toilet, he's off on some fucking tour, there's nothing 'winning' about any of that. I mean, how does a guy who's obviously quicksanded, how does he consider any of it a victory? I was in total denial. 'We're winning.' Kooky shit."
He stops, thinks about that, maybe hoping his thoughts on the matter will clarify themselves. After a while, when they don't, he says, "Oh, man, what is my life? I don't even know, dude. Here's the good news. It was exciting as hell, being on the apex of that wave as it was cresting. Exhilarating. But, yeah, it feels like certain ripples have reached their shores." Pause. "Whatever the hell that means."
And there he lets his explanation, such as it is, rest. He can do no better. Truly, he's as perplexed as anyone. "I look back at tapes of me live and I don't know where it all came from," he says. "It's very bizarre. It's like one giant, long poem, played by some weird character, about things that aren't totally grounded in anything real."
Perhaps not, but what the episode owes a lot to, in a way that will always be particular to Charlie, is his love of two movies, Apocalypse Now, starring his father, and Jaws, starring a great big goddamn shark. He's seen both of them well over 150 times. He's obsessed with them. He knows them by heart – "line for line, word for word, and he's still watching them constantly, to this day," says Olson. And it's from great moments in those films that many of his seemingly out-of-nowhere Sheen-isms are derived: from Apocalypse, for example, the "tiger blood" and "warlock" riffs; and from Jaws, the "torpedo of truth" business. And maybe it's the influence of both those movies together that led him to take on Lorre, a puny Kurtz figure at best but with certain monomaniacal tendencies, and the CBS/Warner Bros. cabal, shark-toothed, with a gaping, devouring maw, the way he did, brandishing the only weapons he had, his ramped-up verbal skills and his straight-out-of-the-movies willingness to do whatever it takes to kill the much-bigger, much-stronger enemy, his own fate be damned. Or something like that. But the point is, in this light, his actions, though perhaps ill-advised, can only be considered heroic. And throughout, he never made excuses for what he was doing or hid behind obfuscations, which is one of the great things about the guy and why people like him so much and continue to root for him.
"He's an extraordinary man but deeply flawed, as we all are," says his father. "I'll tell you one thing about him, though. He's never once lied his way out of a situation. He takes the rap. He's done that all his life. His honesty is breathtaking."
Indeed, it can be. Right now, for instance, he's off the wagon and making no bones about it. "I mean, the shit works. Sorry, but it works. Anyway, I don't see what's wrong with a few drinks. What's your drink? Tequila? Mine's vodka. Straight, because I've always said that ice is for injuries, ha ha." And so into the home bar he walks, actually going for some tequila tonight, a bottle of Don Ramon Platinum, lining up a shot, downing it with a Coke chaser, but not before saying, "Here's to us and those like us," a traditional warrior's toast, most often said when looking back upon battles past, which makes it perfect for Charlie, at this point in time.
Five days after Charlie was born, and while he was still black and blue from all of Irwin Chabon's whacking, Martin and Janet took him and his two brothers, Emilio and Ramon, on the road while Martin toured with a play called The Subject Is Roses. Charlie, whose middle name is Irwin, after the doctor who saved his life, spent his first nine months like that, being shuttled around the country; in fact, he spent most of his childhood like that. At age 10, for instance, he spent eight months in the Philippines, because his dad was shooting Apocalypse Now there, and got to hang out with Marlon Brando and Dennis Hopper. "Picture being that age, and all the shit I witnessed. And the violence and the carnage. It was explained to me, but, still, it impacted me on my deepest cellular level." Not to mention, Martin suffered a heart attack during production and Charlie took it upon himself to bring his dad back to health, by wheeling him out into the sunlight every day and making him throw a baseball, until he was well enough to stand on his own.
He spent his teenage years living in Malibu and attended Santa Monica High, where he was a standout pitcher and made Super-8 movies with his brother Emilio, Sean Penn and Rob Lowe, among others. They were older than him, however, so when they turned to acting and became known as the Brat Pack, all he could do was watch from the sidelines. "I was so jealous, I wanted to kill myself," he says. "They got all the girls, all the free meals, all the dope, all the perks, all of it. I said to myself, 'I'm going to eclipse all of them.' I was driven to have what they had, except more, and more consistently."
His parents bought him a BMW when he was around 16, and that, along with his natural inclinations, opened up a whole world of trouble. He once got stoned in the car and fell asleep, only to be woken by a cop who soon found all of Charlie's dope, pipes and rolling papers, plus a knife he carried in an ankle holster, plus some beauty of an ivory-inlaid billy club; only his mother's friendship with a judge saved him from stir. A year later, he got himself arrested for credit-card fraud. His senior year, he got so pissed off at a teacher that he balled up a pile of paper and "fired a strike in the middle of her forehead . . . and in the middle of my rage, I said to her that she was lucky I hadn't killed her yet." The school took this as a death threat and expelled Charlie. This was three weeks before graduation. He never did get a diploma. In other words, how Charlie is today is how he always was.
Actually, that's not totally true. Martin remembers taking four-year-old Charlie and the rest of the family to Mexico when he made Catch-22 and how distraught his son was the entire time. "We rented a duplex near a slaughterhouse," he says. "And every morning for months, Charlie would come upstairs screaming, 'Where are we? What day is it? When are we going home?'"
Then, at the age of seven, Charlie developed a stutter around the same time he had a run-in with a couple of schoolyard bullies. "I was in second or third grade and Emilio was in sixth grade and we were waiting to be picked up," says Charlie. "And these two kids were just awful, awful kids, so mean and violent. They didn't do anything to us. But the stuff they described they were going to do was even worse. 'We're going to toss you over the fence and watch your brains splatter. We're going to poke your eyes out.' Just horrible shit to say to a seven-year-old. I remember thinking, 'We're going to die. These guys are going to kill us.'" He started having panic attacks and then, one day, he found himself stuttering. "It was fucking awful. Picture this: In school, they call on you, and out of nowhere – I just stopped answering. I knew all the answers, but I stopped raising my hand. I got real quiet for the longest time."
And then the stutter went away and he got real loud with his life again. And he has been real loud like that for the longest time, with no end in sight. "I've got 14,000 days left, and I'm gonna enjoy them all," he likes to say. "Hey, man, I didn't know there was any other way to live!" That being the case, he has consumed every enjoyable there is to consume: a ton of pills, a ton of booze, a ton of coke ("The run I was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger, Richards look like droopy-eyed armless children," he said after one binge), cars, guns, wristwatches, many flavors of jam (currently on display: marmalade, prickly pear, peach, ginger, boysenberry), coffee that drips from a single-serving machine and has to be spiked with an extra spoonful of Chock full o'Nuts instant, baseball memorabilia, art, lottery tickets (buying $4,000 worth a week) – you name it, high and low, at one point or another, he's tried to fill himself with it. As a teenager, he earned the nickname Machine, as in Ma-Sheen. "It was about being the last guy alive. Everybody else has crawled to cover, and I'm sitting there saying, 'Come on, the party's not over!'"
But one day the party will be over and what will become of him then?
"Charlie's as great a mystery to me as I am to myself, with no explanation possible," Martin says. "It'll take a miracle, but his time has yet to come. When he gets a grasp on how much he is loved and begins to love himself, everything is going to change." The words of a father, full of hope, full of doubt and full of fear for his boy.
Charlie is at home, nowhere else. It's a Tuesday, it's around 5 p.m., the beginning of the day for him, and here he comes, the lord of the manor, looking showered, shaved and well-rested, wearing a pressed white shirt, not screaming, appearing at peace in the world. Drifting along behind him is a soothingly svelte little blond number wearing a filmy, shimmery, dreamy blouse. Her name is Rachel, and she hasn't been feeling well. Rachel says she's been upstairs, "puking." The reasons go unstated, but you can just imagine.
"Are you all right?" Charlie asks her.
"Yeah, I'm all right." She smiles wanly, and takes a seat at a table, while Charlie goes to make coffee.
So, what've you been up to today, Rachel?
"Oh, hangin' out," she says. "It's my birthday, actually. I'm 22 now."
Has it been everything you'd hoped it would be?
"More! I mean, yeah, last night, definitely. Last night, this morning, yeah, a pretty badass time."
"We had Sexual Stephanie over" – who Sexual Stephanie is, she doesn't say, but you can just imagine that, too – "and she was hot. Sexy, you know?"
Charlie returns with his coffee, wants to know what Rachel has said, and Rachel giggles – and Charlie just smiles.
Ah, women. The one drug Charlie's never been able to give up. "People think I'm a bit of a rogue, of a cad, a lothario, a guy who's in a lot of shit that would lead to a constellation of kink and oddities, and I'm not," he says later on. "I just love women. I love them."
He lost his virginity at the age of 15 to a Vegas prostitute named Candy, a gorgeous redhead, with his dad sleeping in the hotel room next door. He lifted his dad's credit card to pay for the experience, paying for his cousin Joey, also 15. "I told Joey, 'Look, this is my dad's credit card, you're going second.' He was thrilled. He didn't give a shit. I remember having the greatest night of my life. Then two weeks later, my father wanted to know about this Friendly Introductions LLC, Las Vegas, bill on his statement. I explained it. His whole concern was that I didn't mistake that for love." Pause. "I'm still trying to process that one."
And so through the years it's gone, working girls, porn babes and the occasional sweet thing he wants to marry, and so he does, and maybe even has some kids with her, before realizing, once again, he needs to do some more processing, that he truly is a polyamorous kind of guy. "See, there's different gals for different feelings," he says. "Some gals you like to smoke pot with, some to drink with, some to watch a movie with, some you know they're going to bring a girlfriend, some, like the porn girls, are just a little crazier and more dangerous. I don't know why I like that. I guess it makes things feel more epic. But my point is, it's possible to have feelings for different women at the same time."
Unfortunately, sometimes those feelings have turned violent, with Charlie going off the deep end in the ugliest of ways, reportedly once telling Denise Richards, "I hope you fucking die, bitch"; allegedly pulling a knife on Brooke Mueller and in 2010 allegedly trying to choke his porn-star date during that infamous freakout at New York's Plaza Hotel. And yet Charlie's appeal is such that none of these incidents do him damage for long. The public still loves him and girls still love him, as they always have. "When he was a client," says Heidi Fleiss, "every girl I sent him fell in love with him. All anyone ever said was good stuff, from being charming and generous, to being well-endowed, to being a great lover. Everything about him was great."
"It's funny, though," Charlie says. "A gal has to have a great face, but I'm more about cute than beautiful. Natalie Portman, beautiful. Mila Kunis, cute. Tons of cute. I don't know her, but I'm a fan. I like women's feet, too. I've not dated girls because of their feet, just the length of certain toes and the shape of where things should be and they're not. Hammertoes are bad. And the second toe being too long? That's bad, too."
Again, more of the Charlie Sheen nobody knows.
And there's more, lots more, more than anyone might suspect, given the single-track skew of his public persona. For instance, he once dreamed up a new way to dispense ChapStick and owns U.S. Patent No. 6,283,658 on the idea: "The housing is asymmetrical and may have an asymmetrical series of tactile protrusions to help determine the disposition of the ChapStick-dispensing apparatus, even though manual dexterity is limited as by gloves or mittens."
He takes care of his friends, has helped get two of his closest – Bob Maron, a high-end watch dealer, and Todd Zeile, a former pro baseball player – hooked up with Anger Management as co-executive producers, so they're around him, making him happy, all the time. While at Men, he looked after his longtime stunt double, Eddie Braun, by insisting that all Charlie Harper stunts, no matter how toe-stubbing small, be done by Braun, thus ensuring his buddy some quite-nice extra-large paydays.
He can be a ruthless negotiator. In 2010, with his Men contract up, Charlie wanted $100 million for the next two years. Warner Bros. countered with $48 million, Charlie said nothing doing. "Eventually, they went to $95 million and still Charlie passed," says his manager, Mark Burg. "Then they went to 97, then to 99, and Charlie says to me, 'Did you not hear me? I said 100!' Was he happy he got it? I don't even know."
Among other things, he's a fan of the phrase "true story," as in, "I've had ear infections since I was a kid, and when I'm sleeping, I'm scratching, making it worse, so I gotta sleep with gloves sometimes. True story"; or, getting out of a car, leaving you something to think about, "I've got three nipples. Yeah. True story."
And then, suddenly, he'll lean your way and say something like, "I am Jaws, by the way. I don't know Jaws. I am Jaws. I am the alter ego of the shark in the movie. Oh, for Christ's sake, I'm Brody! I'm Brody!"
And then he'll reel out one of the many inspirational sayings that he keeps handy: "'Can't' is the cancer of 'happen'" or "I don't hope. Hope is for suckers. I have faith."
And then he'll talk about some of his more out-there beliefs. He takes a conspiracist's view of the JFK assassination. He's a 9/11 Truther. He says he's been psychic his entire life: "Like, I know who's calling when the phone rings, most of the time, and that's weird." He says he believes in UFOs, sort of: "I mean, take the Phoenix lights of' 97 -10,000 eyewitnesses to a craft the size of 10 aircraft carriers for four hours." He pauses, looks amused. "Well, actually, you know what I believe? I believe it's more fun just to believe, man."
And then you'll try to have a meaningful discussion with him about his inner life and find it nearly impossible.
So, what's that empty spot inside that you're trying to fill, Charlie?'
"Not sure. I don't know what that is. And, um."
Have you ever really looked into it?
"Nah. I just fuckin' . . . just appetites. Appetites. It feels filled at times, right? But they have all these rules, and I don't get that shit, you know? Can't you fill it with things that aren't, like, all about confessionals and pilgrimages and veganisms?"
Do you ever feel like you're searching for something?
"Yeah, sure, yeah, sure," he says a little too breezily. "Don't know for what though. But I do feel like I'm going to meet some wizard guide someday who will sort of lay it out for me."
If his father were here, of course, he'd be saying to his son, "Well, Charlie, you have to be your own wizard guide, don't you know that?" But Charlie is by himself now and hears no voices but his own.
One evening, he goes out to see ex-wife Denise Richards, who lives about 20 minutes northwest of him, and their two girls, Sam, eight, and Lola, seven. They got married in 2002 and split three years later, after Charlie started gambling big-time, hanging out on porn sites, abusing pills and acting in a "very volatile" way, according to Richards, who also said that Charlie once spray-painted their wedding photo with the words "the dumbest day of my life." Until about a year ago, they still couldn't stand each other. But then, for the sake of their kids, they patched things up and now hang out and go on vacations together, with Richards recently filming a guest spot on Anger Management. At night, she never turns her cellphone off, lest Charlie get in trouble and need her help. "He's another of my children," she likes to say, affectionately.
Inside Richards' superluxe, highly Italianate pad, Charlie shares a few quiet words with Sam and Lola, who are exceedingly cute and shy, and then Richards sweeps in, wearing along summery dress, smelling like the ocean. They kiss hello, exchange a few pleasantries, sit down to dinner (chicken nuggets, the girls' favorite, prepared by Richards' dad, Irv, who lost his wife three years ago and now lives with his daughter), say grace (Charlie starts: "Bless us, O Lord, uhhh . . . " and Richards has to finish), then Richards takes the kids upstairs to get ready for bed, while Charlie goes out back, to the patio, to smoke and enjoy the cool night air. "Oh, God, ah, this is nice," he says. "Serene, man. Geez."
Richards comes out and says, "He and I are like best friends now. Confidants. He tells me everything. We take those trips together, and the girls adore him."
Charlie leans forward, exhaling, in his raspy voice, saying, "And we sleep in separate rooms. Everybody's going to want to know that, too."
Richards' face falls a little, making her look no less pretty but a good bit more stressed. "He has no filter on what he says. He wasn't like that when we got married."
"Bo-ring," Charlie intones.
"He wasn't boring. He had been sober for three years and was very humbled and charming and honest and a great man."
"And boring. Boring!"
Richards has about had it with this. She gives her ex a stern look, then excuses herself to get some more wine.
Charlie watches her leave. "She's great, isn't she? She's fucking great, man. She still looks fucking great, right?" He kind of laughs. "It bums me out," he goes on. "I mean, you know where the mind goes, right? It's tough being on trips with her sometimes. I don't want the kids to walk in on us, you know? And then there's the whole thing to explain. Not that we can't lock the door, but you know how it is. It's just not like that in so many ways. Do I want to? Yeah! Does she? Don't know."
It's kind of an intemperate thing to say, but Charlie, as usual, can't help himself. The way his mind wanders is the way his thoughts become words.
Richards returns with the bottle, offers Charlie a refill, which he declines. He's pretty much stone-cold sober. They start talking about the Great Meltdown and the longer they talk about it, the further Charlie slouches down in his seat and the more cigarettes he smokes.
"I know this sounds terrible," Richards starts off, "but I was actually hoping he was on drugs, because at least there'd be an explanation. I thought he lost his marbles. I thought he went to a point of no return. It was sad. It just broke my heart."
"A lot of laughs, though," Charlie says, quietly. "And it wasn't sad. A lot of it was draped in victory."
Richards looks at him. "I would have handled it a little differently, Chuckles. You need to take the high road. Because on the one hand, you – "
"Make perfect sense – "
"No!" Richards says, sharply. "See? You're not regretting your behavior. You think you were right in how you handled things! You're not looking back and going, 'I can't believe I behaved that way!'"
Charlie sits up, leans in toward Richards. "Who beat who like a drum, though? Did I beat Warner Bros. like a drum or did they beat me like a drum? All the money they owed me! That they weren't going to pay me after they fired me! All my money! I mean, Who beat who? Who beat who?"
"But what did you gain from it?"
She sighs, deeply frustrated, and says, "You would have won the lawsuit anyway."
Charlie tilts his head at her. You can see him struggling to understand what Richards is saying. You can see him trying to comprehend, trying to figure out how to walk a little straighter of a line, but for the moment, it's all just a bit beyond him, if only because he's behaved the same way for so long, with regards to money, drinking, drugs, girls, the gold tooth that should be painted but isn't and the screaming that has not ceased yet. But at least he's trying, and if trying counts for anything, then somewhere a wizard guide must be smiling a little smile tonight.
This story is from the June 21st, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.