The most pressing question you had while tuning into Andrea Canning’s much-hyped Charlie Sheen interview on 20/20 was likely not, as Chris Cuomo posed at the beginning of the broadcast, “What is going on inside the head of Charlie Sheen?” Over the last couple weeks, after all, we’ve heard more from the inside of Charlie Sheen’s head than we have in his lifetime—more than a lot of celebrities’ lifetimes, in fact, as few of them have spawned as many quotes in their entire existences as Sheen has, sometimes in a matter of hours.
And if you read this site with any regularity, surely you’ve noticed the highlights from all those back-to-back rants on the radio, appearances on Good Morning America and Piers Morgan, “backyard interviews” with TMZ, and, now, his newly established Twitter account populating my Newswire posts in the form of exhaustive—and on my end, exhausted—recaps that pant to keep up with all the crazy. Sheen’s spewing of “magic and poetry,” swaggering boasts, and random ’80s slang, like a cross between Ted Nugent and Patrick Swayze’s character in Point Break, have been splattered all across the web and, presumably, more than a few T-shirts and Photoshop contests for days now. What more could we possibly want to hear from him?
That said, of course, just like nearly half a million people signed up to be Sheen’s Twitter pal before he’d barely said three words (one of which was “winning”), there’s little doubt that Tuesday’s broadcast will score impressive numbers, and that it will itself be dissected and splattered anew across the Internet. And while I do suppose there were segments of the viewership who are either genuinely concerned for Sheen, or who are frustrated Two And A Half Men fans—though I suspect few of them are reading this recap—I’m guessing the majority turned out for one reason and one reason only: We wanted, hoped, and prayed to hear more of those infamous Charlie Sheen word-cluster bombs, and for his unraveling to continue being generally hilarious.
On that note, Sheen definitely delivered, parrying every journalistic thrust with an unabashed joie de vivre and plenty of totally gnarly ‘tude. When Canning pointed out that he definitely seemed to love partying, for example, Sheen countered, “What’s not to love? Especially when you see how I party, man. It was epic. The run I was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger Richards—all of them just look like droopy-eyed, armless children.” Addressing the notion that he might be bipolar, Sheen took his already-legendary “I’m bi-winning” one step further by dismissing it as the diagnosis of “Dr. Loser” and adding, “The earth is bipolar,” complete with globe-miming hand motion. There was even new lingo to add to any of the growing editions of The Charlie Sheen Glossary, such as these which I humbly submit:
blend - noun. The particular mixture of drugs, alcohol, casual sex with multiple partners, and sleepless nights that will contribute to Charlie Sheen’s winning without resulting in his violently trashing his hotel suite and locking a prostitute in the bathroom.
Ambien — noun. “The devil’s Aspirin.” Not a part of Charlie Sheen’s blend.
And so on. But while there were plenty more quotes to be ladled out of Sheen’s still-flowing fount, the most important thing about “Charlie Sheen: In His Own Words” is that it finally provided some much-needed context for all past and future crazy stuff. For the last several days, the most insane bits and pieces of this interview specifically have been floating around the Internet, leaving people like me to fashion them together into some kind of desperate sense. Many times, other people like me didn’t even try, just running them together as some kind of “More Crazy Shit Sheen Said In The Last 12 Hours” list with bullet points. And of course, divorced from tone and inflection, stuff on the Internet can take on a life of its own as everyone takes it—well, not quite literally, but as a genuine expression of feeling and intent. As Sheen himself said tonight, “People misinterpret my passion for anger.”
Granted, it’s probably not anger most people have been getting from his sound bites. It’s some mix of arrogance and insanity—the kind that’s most intoxicating when it comes out of the mouth of a larger-than-life movie character, which is what Sheen has essentially become in the last few days, transitioning from a mere “bad boy actor” to the exact kind of balls-to-the-wall bad boy he spent much of his career playing. But what tonight’s interview confirmed is that Sheen really is, for the most part, also in on this joke. He seems well aware that half the stuff he says sounds like ridiculous, mid-’80s action movie dialogue (maybe with an extra dose of indecipherable hip-hop surrealism), and a lot of the time, he’s just playing to the cheap seats when he slings it.
For example, that oft-quoted line about how he is on a drug—“It’s called Charlie Sheen!”—that we’ve already heard so often by now? It was fleshed out here with a warning to not to try doing Sheen at home because “your face will melt off, and your children will weep over your exploded body,” followed by a chuckle and a “Too much?” Sheen also made it plain that when he said during one of his multiple radio interviews that crack was wrong unless you can “handle it socially,” well duh, he was obviously kidding. And prodded by Canning as to whether there were any drugs currently in the house, he replied, “If there are, you better find them and give them to me immediately,” adding, “Ooooh, drugs in the house—we’re all gonna die!” as, in case you couldn’t tell, he was being sarcastic.
And that recent quote about how he and his “Goddesses” are taking part in a three-way “polygamy story” took on all-new meaning when it actually came out of Sheen’s mouth, where it was revealed as more of a mock exclamation as to what the interview had suddenly turned into, rather than some suggestion that it was anything close to his day-to-day reality. Sheen even proved he had some fresh one-liners at the ready—asked what will be on his tombstone, he deadpanned, “Something dotcom”—and that he's even possibly aware that he’s been generating his own Chuck Norris-like memes this whole time, saying at one point, “I don’t sleep—I wait” with an acknowledging laugh. Like he’s been saying, there’s a reason Charlie Sheen has done a lot of comedies in his career.
In fact, all those wicked “high-priest Vatican assassin warlock” metaphors and talk of tiger blood and Adonis DNA and so on—Sheen revealed he says these things because “Those words just sound cool together.” They’re handed down from his “Grand Wizard Master,” and then he spits them out because “It sounds fun and different from all the garbage that other people are spewing.” Which is absolutely true. And in case you somehow haven’t realized this yet, it’s the only reason anyone in the entertainment reporting world is paying this sort of close attention to a contract dispute on one of America’s worst TV shows. Take it from me: Even if there were still cocaine benders and hookers in hotel bathrooms involved, there is no fucking way I would spend much time at all discussing a star shutting down production on Two And A Half Men, other than to offer a few words of gratitude. That bit about coke and hookers isn’t even news, really; it’s what Charlie Sheen has done reliably for the past two decades, and it’s a big part of the reason he’s a star. No, it’s those never-ending flurries of wizard-words that "sound cool together" that have guaranteed Sheen’s name is choking up the gossip streams right now and the reason 20/20 became appointment television tonight.
But—and maybe this is an outsider misinterpreting Sheen’s passion again—as funny as his quotables can be, there’s a lot of hostility in Sheen’s humor, and that was another thing that came across watching him on 20/20, even more so than while reading his words or hearing them on the radio. Of course, we already know that Sheen is “tired of pretending I’m not special” and also with “dealing with fools and trolls,” and a lot of us (myself included) think that’s pretty awesome, in much the same way we root for Eastbound And Down’s Kenny Powers. We sort of love Sheen for being the kind of jerky badass who boasts, “Dying is for fools,” or who sums up his penchant for porn stars with “They’re the best at what they do, and I’m the best at what I do, and together it’s like, it’s on. Sorry Middle America. Yeah, I said it.”
But also like Kenny Powers, Sheen’s arrogance is so proud and unapologetic, it often manifests itself in contempt for other people—and not just those he used to work for. Tonight, Sheen offered a sneering retort to every slight hint of “judgment” from anyone, whether it be CBS, his dad Martin (who may as well be a “stranger on the street” or have “fallen from the sky” for all Charlie cares for his opinions), or Canning herself. Sheen’s jokes that everyone takes too literally, for example, were just being received by people without “a highly evolved brain like me,” while Sheen, responding to Canning’s gentle suggestion that his “passion is coming off as erratic,” sneered, “Right. Well, you borrow my brain for five seconds and just be like, ‘Dude, can’t handle it. Unplug this bastard.’ Because it fires in a way that is, I don’t know, maybe not from this particular terrestrial realm.”
With Kenny Powers, that sort of blanket dismissal of the rest of the world as “losers” and lower beings stems from the defensiveness of his suspecting, deep down, that Kenny Powers is also a loser. So when Charlie Sheen more or less declares that everyone else outside the walls of Silver Valley Lodge (home to “all things beautiful”) is just an ugly loser with a boring life, or suggests that he’s on a higher existential plane than the rest of humanity, can't we also read that as defensiveness? And if he’s really “constantly winning,” as he claims, what exactly would he have to be defensive about?
On the one hand, Sheen does have actual, outside cause to bite back: Not only did his main source of income—the “money to fuel the magic,” as he puts it—disappear despite his never missing a day of work or the show suffering any sort of decline, he’s now become the subject of endless stories (hey, like this one!) analyzing and criticizing him through the gimlet-eyed purview of what ends up on the Internet. “What right do they have to sit in judgment of me, these talking heads?” Sheen asked on 20/20, to which the special guest psychiatrist the show brought in to do just that admitted he has a point—that we shouldn’t attempt to make a diagnosis of Sheen based solely on a videotape. And actually, that also goes for the people all up in Sheen’s grill, as when Canning asked Sheen what made him a good father, and Sheen offered a dismissive snort of “Everything” then added, “That’s between me and my kids. Can I have one little part of my life that’s not TMZed up the butt?” He has a point there, too.
And true, too often the gossip cycle, for want of nothing else to report, stirs the “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” pot, or adopts a scaremongering attitude straight out of yellow journalism and acts as though no adult has ever successfully held down a career and family while indulging in liquor and drugs. But as always, Sheen's story turns serious when you consider his past crash-and-burn cycles, and it’s here that his defensiveness begins to seem like a big part of the problem.
That's because, as we saw in the interview, like most defensiveness it’s rooted firmly in denial. Sheen can be proud of his “epic,” “magic” parties that send him to the hospital (as he asked, “Why wouldn’t I be?”), but his history of benders has definitely taken more than a few detours into less “radical” territory. Confronted with these by Canning, Sheen waved away all reports about violently trashing his New York hotel room and threatening Capri Anderson as “emotional stupidity getting in the way of the facts,” while the closest he came to expressing any sort of remorse for the whole affair was admitting that he did feel bad Denise Richards and his children were only a few rooms away. (Not that he could talk about the incident much, as it would apparently “expose” people and their “tomfoolery and skullduggery”—another one for the glossaries.)
Commenting on the story that he’d held a knife to his ex-wife Brooke Mueller’s throat, Sheen said simply, “Come on, that’s stupid,” then sniped at Canning, “Aren’t you getting that I’m not interested in the past—at all?” It was one of many such impatient, controlling moves he exerted on Canning during their exchange, in fact, with Sheen often making the “get on with it” hand gesture or abruptly changing the subject with “Next question.” His defensiveness there just read like an unwillingness to take anything seriously, even on the things that really merited it, and even on a national television interview that could have gone a long way toward convincing everyone to get off his back already.
Not that he would likely regard any of that behavior as defensiveness, by the way: Sheen’s unwillingness to discuss his transgressions is just part of his newly forged “philosophy,” about with Sheen said: “That’s another paradigm that I’d like to smash: ‘Oh, I’m the sum total of all my past experiences.’ B.S., man. You’re the sum total of what’s going on right now.” And while theories of self-actualization and seizing the moment have long been cornerstones of stuff like Scientology and the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, when they come out of Charlie Sheen in the sort of context they were presented in tonight, they sound an awful lot like just blithely ignoring a dangerous pattern—a pattern reinforced by 20/20’s relentless dredging up of all the many times Sheen has been down this road before through its shots of Sheen in court, flashes of Heidi Fleiss, that video of father Martin delivering news of his son’s overdose, etc.
Sheen may not want to talk about the past, but the past is all right there on video, and thus never very far from the minds of people watching his current situation play out. And although plainly manipulative in that TV newsmagazine sort of way, 20/20's split-screens of a relatively baby-faced, just-out-of-rehab, soft-spoken and cool-witted Charlie Sheen—who was, remarkably, only 12 years younger than the sweaty, creased, pale and wild-eyed figure we see now—were damned effective in communicating that the cycle only seems to be getting more damaging with each revolution. (And if nothing else, it reminded us that doing tons of uppers and only “sleeping in cars” and “sleeping on couches” when you "can" will age you horribly.)
Still, in “the sum total of what’s going on right now,” it must be said that, for all of Canning’s probing, tonight’s 20/20 interview didn’t offer any particularly compelling evidence that Sheen is guilty of anything other than looking terrible and acting like a funny prick. His beef with CBS—that they spitefully pulled the plug because they were sensitive about being publicly insulted—actually rang pretty true, as did his supposition that they made things a lot worse than they probably needed to be by choosing the nuclear option and losing everyone involved, themselves included, a lot of money. Most pressingly, those accusations that Sheen bordered on anti-Semitism when he called Chuck Lorre “Chaim Levine” completely dissipated when 20/20 provided video evidence that Sheen was just referring to something Lorre himself wrote on a vanity card. And throughout the show, Sheen and his “Goddesses” insisted repeatedly that drugs and partying were no longer part of their lifestyle, with Sheen even passing an on-air drug test—so in that particular court of public opinion, he’s been exonerated as well.
But as we said way up top, none of this is really about the drugs, or the ugly contract disputes, or the hints of racism, which are all things we’ve gotten from other celebrities and/or Sheen himself before. It’s about Sheen willingly undoing all the artifice that a celebrity is asked to adopt—which as of right now, anyway, continues to prove totally captivating. Sheen’s statements are all infused with this aggressive, evangelical seeking of the “truth” and the idea of creating a “movement”—and while a lot of that is just plain old narcissism and hyperbole, tonight’s 20/20 reminded us that, yeah, it’s somewhat revolutionary to watch a rich and famous person on this level come right out and say, “Yes, I’m rich and famous, and that means I can do rich and famous person things like party all night and have sex with porn stars” and not give a damn about whether it ruins him. As Sheen averred, his fans like him because he’s “honest,” and in the sense that his “fans” right now are the people who want him to keep saying outlandish things and gloriously self-immolating for their amusement, it’s true.
Of course, Sheen’s sobriety is most likely temporary and certainly based in the arrogant and dangerous belief that he’s stronger than anything, and inevitably, his “bitching” world will become less bitching by the minute (like, say, when the police come to take his sons away), until his peak turns once more into a deeper-than-ever valley. At that point, Sheen’s filibustering may once again become less the honest ramblings of a free man and more like the familiar, pathological patter of a guy who just doesn’t like consequences. But even after his death—whether it comes next week or when he’s “90 or beyond”—“Charlie Sheen: In His Words” will remain a rare “moment inside the moment” when a celebrity strayed from prepared remarks and decided to just say, as 20/20 promised, all the crap that was really going on inside his head. And for that reason, it will remain horribly fascinating. It just might not be all that funny anymore, even to more evolved brains.