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.
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