Charlie Sheen: 'I Am, in Fact, HIV-Positive'

"It's a hard three letters to absorb. It's a turning point in one's life," actor said, adding that he's been extorted to keep his diagnosis secret

After a day of rumors following news that Charlie Sheen would be making a serious announcement Tuesday morning on Today, the 50-year-old actor confirmed, "I'm here to admit that I am, in fact, HIV-positive." In an interview with Matt Lauer, Sheen talked about being diagnosed with the disease nearly four years ago and the reason he's stepping forward now with this revelation.

Sheen said he first realized something was wrong with his health when he was struck with a series of migraines and instances of sweating through the bed; he thought he was suffering from a brain tumor, but the diagnosis turned out to be HIV. "It's a hard three letters to absorb. It's a turning point in one's life," Sheen said, later adding that he didn't know how he contracted the disease.

Sheen hoped to keep his disease unknown to the public, but members of his "inner circle," upon discovering his diagnosis, threatened to reveal his secret unless he paid them off. "We're talking about shakedowns," Sheen said of the extortions. "I've paid those people – not that many – but enough that it depleted the future … that's money people are taking from my children." Sheen estimates he's given "millions" to his extorters. 

One such shakedown occurred when, according to Sheen, a prostitute snuck into his bathroom and took photos of his antiretroviral medication, which she then threatened to sell to the tabloids unless he paid her money. These weren't one-time payments either; Sheen had been buying their silence through a series of monetary installments. Asked if he would continue making those payment after his revealing Today interview, the actor said, "Not after today, I'm not."

At the beginning of the interview, Sheen said, "I have to put a stop to this onslaught, this barrage of attacks and of sub-truths and very harmful and mercurial stories that are about the threatening the health of so many others, which couldn't be farther from the truth." The actor is referring to an upcoming National Enquirer expose that claims Sheen paid off some of his sexual partners not to keep his diagnosis secret, but after giving them the HIV virus.

Sheen told Lauer that it was "impossible" that he spread the disease to his partners. He said that in most instances, he wore protection, but in the rare instance that he didn't, Sheen said his partners were warned of his diagnosis ahead of time and "were under the care of my doctor." Sheen also said he disclosed being HIV-positive to all of his sexual partners.

At another point in the program, Dr. Robert Huizinga joined Sheen and Lauer. The doctor, who is an associate professor of clinical medicine at UCLA and who has appeared as an expert on The Biggest Loser, clarified and corroborated some of the actor's statements, reaffirming that Sheen does not have AIDS. "Charlie has contracted the HIV virus," he said. "He was immediately put on treatment, strong antiviral drugs which have suppressed the virus. ... My biggest concern with Charlie as a patient is substance abuse and depression from the disease more than what the HIV virus can do in terms of shortening his life, because it's not going to."

The doctor said that while Sheen's claim that he cannot transmit the virus while using protection was wrong, he said the probability was incredibly low. "We can't say that that's zero, but it's a very low number," the doctor said. Over the past four years, he'd reviewed Sheen's labs regularly and feels that backs up his claim.

They then discussed Dr. Huizinga's fear that Sheen might become too depressed or high to take his medication. Lauer asked Sheen if he was still doing drugs, to which the actor said no but added that he's "still drinking a little bit." When the host admonished him, telling him to quit drinking, Sheen said, "Perhaps the freedom of today might lead to that as well." The actor said, though, that he'd never missed his medication.

When asked in the first clip whether Sheen's infamously erratic behavior a few years ago – tiger blood, "Winning!" etc. – was a result of the actor coming to terms with the disease, Sheen instead blamed that moment of his life on "more of a 'roid rage." "This was on the heels of that," Sheen said of his diagnosis.