It appears that Charlie Sheen, the popular but troubled actor, will be paying dearly, possibly becoming a pariah for years to come, for his latest excess: a highly publicized, expletive-filled rant on a radio call-in show that led to the abrupt and indefinite suspension of work on his TV show, “Two and a Half Men.”
The lesson, say some Hollywood attorneys and public relations professionals, is that even a talented actor who commands a great following should have boundaries of behavior that can’t be crossed.
In the rant Thursday on the Alex Jones radio show, Mr. Sheen ripped his TV show’s creator, Chuck Lorre, calling himself the “magic” that turned Mr. Lorre’s “tin” writing into “pure gold.” And he dismissed his problems with alcohol abuse as self-cured, even labeling Alcoholics Anonymous a “bootleg cult.”
In response, late Thursday, CBS halted production of “Two and a Half Men,” its most successful comedy.
“Based on the totality of Charlie Sheen’s statements, conduct and condition, CBS and Warner Bros. Television have decided to discontinue production of ‘Two and a Half Men’ for the remainder of the season,” a CBS statement said.
Sheen retaliated with another call-in to the Alex Jones radio show, calling Lorre, a “clown” and a “worm.” He also repeatedly referred to Lorre, in both radio diatribes, as Chaim Levine. Lorre was born Charles Levine.
“I wish him nothing but pain in his silly travels especially if they wind up in my octagon,” said Sheen.
Repeated run-ins with the law
After relationships with porn stars and repeated run-ins with the law over drugs and alcohol, Sheen has had more than enough time to repent and rehabilitate himself, experts say. Having grown up in an acting family – he is the son of actor Martin Sheen and brother of Emilio Estevez – he should have known better.
“Charlie Sheen comes from a very sophisticated Hollywood background,” says Los Angeles entertainment/criminal defense lawyer Ellyn Garofalo, adding that he should have a well-tuned understanding of what is acceptable and not acceptable professional behavior.
While some have suggested that the repeated references to Lorre as Chaim Levine in the multiple rants were anti-Semitic, television Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of 26 books, does not see it that way.
“This is a man in total self-immolation,” says Boteach. He says CBS should have pulled the plug on Sheen a long time ago, not for the network’s sake but Sheen’s. And society, too, has to step up and take responsibility, he says.
“How can a network watch a man disintegrate in front of them as long as he is making them money? When you are in the kind of deep pain he is in, all the money and fame in the world will not serve as a remedy,” Boteach says, adding that the rest of us have to stop being enablers.
“We have been facilitating the destruction of human beings. Are we going to continue to chuckle over Lindsay Lohan until she is in the grave? Is this going to be another Anna Nicole Smith who is so out of touch on drugs that we do nothing until one day she doesn’t wake up? Are we going to continue to talk about Michael Jackson’s chimp and giraffe until it’s too late?”
While Sheen, “unlike some of the others we see repeatedly in the news,” is a “truly talented actor,” says Adam Kluger, a Hollywood image consultant, he will have a hard time recovering from this, even if he totally recants.
Can he bounce back this time?
Noting that Sheen has bounced back from several other episodes of drunkenness and allegations of abuse from his former wife, Denise Richards, Mr. Kluger says, “I don’t know if he can ever recover from this. We have just seen into the dark corner of a very talented person who has lost his most important leverage with this huge show. CBS pulling the plug on this is a huge disaster for him.”
Public personas can evolve, says Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer Miles Feldman. And in fact, he says, history shows that notoriety – even extreme notoriety – can still be a calling card for some roles. Sheen’s biggest challenge at the moment may be the harsh math of Hollywood.
“There is an abundant oversupply of A-list performers,” he says. While recasting his role in the hit sitcom may be dubious, the competition for other jobs is ferocious. He may be simply moved to the back of a very long line for his next job, Mr. Feldman adds.
While it is true that both the public and the industry have short memories when it comes to their favorite stars, incidents such as this one and other recent transgressions from Mel Gibson and Michael Richards do show that there are still lines in the sand.
“Racism and anti-Semitism are still crossing a line,” he says. “Hate speech and deep-seated bigotry and prejudice are something we just won’t sit still for.”
“Now when you say or do something, it’s really in everyone’s face instantly,” she says. “Within minutes your rant is there for everyone to listen to and watch around the world indefinitely. It’s way harder to recover from something like this.”
She says Robert Downey Jr. hit the skids with repeated drug problems, but he has been able to come back because people are rooting for him.
By contrast, “Sheen continues to offend because he is so narcissistic that he doesn’t even consider the others he has put out of work or his family,” says Kerr. “In one way I feel sorry for him, but in another I have no sympathy because he has had so many tries.”