Tuesday 20 August 2019

Why Charlie Sheen is no HIV hero

Charlie Sheen has never claimed to be a good guy, writes Sarah Caden, and his HIV status won't make him a saint

Bad Boy: Charlie Sheen managed to maintain a loveable rogue image
Bad Boy: Charlie Sheen managed to maintain a loveable rogue image
Sheen speaking to Matt Lauer during his TV interview this week.

Sarah Caden

Charlie Sheen has never invited anyone to feel sorry for him. Not through his drinking, his drug-taking, his divorces, nor his domestic-violence issues. In fact, perversely, he has always invited admiration for seeming proudly indifferent to disapproval. His revelation last week that he is HIV positive hasn't changed that.

It hasn't changed Charlie Sheen; but it's going to change how people view him - and he knows that. That's partly why he kept it quiet for nearly four years.

Up to now, Charlie Sheen has enjoyed affectionate public opinion. Despite foul online tirades against his exes, despite his revolting attitude to his "goddess" porn-actress girlfriend, despite his refusal to grow up at 50 years of age, he's managed to maintain a loveable-rogue image. "Oh, that incorrigible Charlie Sheen" has been the attitude - and he has revelled in it. And he knew last week, as he revealed his HIV-positive status to NBC's Matt Lauer, that the game was up.

Rumours that a Hollywood actor was secretly HIV positive began circulating internationally earlier this month. It was said that the actor had been hiding his status for fear of how it would affect his career and that he knew once it was out, it would be a tag that could dog him for the rest of his life.

The rumour went that it was an actor whose drug-taking and sexual past were widely documented, and that there would be a lot of former sexual partners who would be worried by the news.

Last Tuesday, Charlie Sheen told Matt Lauer on the Today Show that he was that actor."I have to stop this onslaught of attacks and sub-truths and very harmful and mercurial stories about threatening the health of so many others which couldn't be further from the truth," Sheen said.

Not that he intends to become a reformed character, mind. No, in fact, if anything was clear from his TV interview it's that Charlie Sheen doesn't believe that HIV has the power to make him a better person. Nor does he seem to want it to. And he knows that this flies in the face of the modern belief that bad luck and disease and disability and tragedy are given to us in order that we do some good with them. Charlie Sheen isn't having that.

Last week, he made it clear that the motivation behind his revelation was not public service. Instead, he explained how he has been blackmailed during the almost four years since his diagnosis. Blackmail has bled him of millions, he claimed, and left him in a financial situation that "isn't great".

He wasn't sharing the news in order to become a "poster boy", and those who work hard to dispel the culture of blame around HIV will have been disheartened to hear him have a go at the "unsavoury and insipid" people he paid for sex over the years. But then, that's Charlie Sheen. HIV has no power to make him less of a boor.

Sheen was diagnosed about four years ago, he explained. Around, it transpires, the time that he was sacked from the TV sitcom Two and a Half Men after making derogatory comments about the show's creator, Chuck Lorre.

After his sacking, he made some very weird and obscene web videos and his tweets were erratic and bizarre to say the least, obsessing on his drug use and sexual prowess.

The fact that he was dealing with his diagnosis - "a hard three letters to absorb", as he told Lauer - could account for the behaviour, but then, it hardly struck anyone as wildly out of character for Sheen.

In many ways, Sheen is a spoilt Hollywood rich kid who never grew up. He had success early in his adult life with Platoon and also attained cult comedy-actor status with the Hot Shots spoof-action films. People like him; life was easy for him and he has been what we might call a bit of a waster.

He has been married three times. His engagement to actress Kelly Preston ended when he accidentally shot her in the arm. His first marriage ended when he appeared on the regulars list of Hollywood madam, Heidi Fleiss.

His second marriage, to actress Denise Richards, ended while she was pregnant with their second child - their relationship since has been patchy. He wrote an open letter to/about her, calling her "leaky and malaria-riddled" and worse, though they seem to be family-holiday pals too.

After that marriage, he was briefly married to the mother of his six-year-old twin sons, Brooke Mueller, whom he was charged with assaulting.

Over the years, there have been other allegations of assault by women he slept with. And while on one hand, his former live-in girlfriend, porn actress Bree Olsen was a "goddess", he often wrote ranting, threatening and abusive online messages to women he was or had been involved with. A nice guy.

But nothing makes you a guy who deserves to contract HIV, though one tweet read out during Lauer's interview suggested that Sheen's "lifestyle" had made him vulnerable to it. Interestingly, Sheen said he didn't disagree with that suggestion.

Blame is not appropriate or helpful with regard to HIV, and perhaps it is not so much that Charlie Sheen thinks he deserves it or was asking for it as he thinks that he can't cope with the idea of being looked up to as a figurehead for the virus. He's not that good guy. He has this virus, but he has no plans for it to change him into a poster boy. He is who he is. He still is who he is.

Last week with Lauer, the only moment at which Charlie Sheen sought to assert himself as a decent bloke was when he said that he has "led with condoms and honesty" in his relationships since diagnosis.

Later that evening, his ex-girlfriend Bree Olson said that the first she heard of his HIV status was through the media last week. Sheen denies that this is the case. He said that he came clean in order to free himself from his blackmail "prison", but he's unlikely to be out of the woods yet.

Sunday Independent

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