That took some guts. On Tuesday morning, Charlie Sheen sat down with Matt Lauer on the Today show to open up about a shocking secret. “I am, in fact, HIV-positive,” he confessed right out the gate.
The resident Hollywood bad boy looked healthy and relieved as he spoke about his diagnosis four years ago and what led him to make the announcement now.
“I have to put a stop to this barrage of attacks and sub-truths and very harmful and mercurial stories that are about me that threaten the health of so many others,” he said. “[It] couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
Sheen, now 50, described a horrible series of headaches that led him to a series of tests and, ultimately, the diagnosis. “I thought I had a brain tumor. I thought it was over,” he said. “It’s a hard three letters to absorb. It’s a turning point in one’s life.”
In an open letter released immediately following the TV appearance, Sheen admits his “profound substance abuse and fathomless drinking” was “a suicide run.”
“The news was a ‘mule kick’ to my soul,” he writes. “Those impossible words I absorbed and then tried to convince myself, that I was stuck, suspended, or even stranded inside some kind of alternate reality or nightmare, were to the absolute contrary. I was awake. It was true… reality.”
That his public meltdown also led to his being kicked off Two and a Half Men, though Sheen insisted to Lauer that the whole mess was due to a “’roid rage” more than anything else.
According to the timeline, the diagnosis came shortly after his marriage to Brooke Mueller ended, and Sheen said he immediately reached out to her to be tested. The star later noted that, as of this moment, he doesn’t entirely know how he contracted the virus, but he’s currently taking a so-called “triple cocktail” of pills every day to manage it.
Sheen, who was once one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, also confessed that he’s been paying people to keep his secret, and the “shakedowns” have been adding up, now “enough to bring it into the millions,” he said. “What people forget is that’s money that they’re taking from my children. I’ve got five kids and a granddaughter, you know?”
What’s more, Sheen insisted that while he did hire “the companionship of unsavory and insipid types” — as quoted from a letter he’d given the host before the interview began — he always wore condoms and was honest with them about his condition. (This is basically a direct contrast to Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman, who told People that part of the star’s reluctance to go public stemmed from “a fear of litigation from former sexual partners.”)
Sheen later went on to say it was “impossible” that he’d knowingly or unknowingly transmitted the virus to any of his sexual partners — even the two people he had unprotected sex with. According to Sheen, both of those parties had been under the care of his doctor at the time and were fully aware of his condition in advance. He also insisted that since receiving his diagnosis, he’d told every one of his partners about his status in advance of sexual activity.
Dr. Robert Huizenga, an associate professor of clinical medicine at UCLA and one of the doctors currently treating Sheen, however, one of Sheen’s claims. “Individuals who are optimally treated, who have undetectable viral loads, who responsibly use protection have an incredibly low — it’s incredibly rare to transmit the virus,” he explained, “[but] we can’t say it’s zero.”
Lauer questioned why the actor would continue to have so-called unsavory types around him after he started handing out hush money. “I was doing a lot of drugs,” Sheen replied. “I was drinking way too much, and I was making really bad decisions.”
Lauer then asked, point-blank, whether Sheen was still paying these types of people. “Not after today, I’m not,” he quipped. “I release myself from this prison today.”
It didn’t sound like Sheen was out of the woods yet, however, considering the fact that Huizenga said, “My biggest concern with Charlie as a patient is substance abuse and depression from the disease, more than what the HIV virus could do in terms of shortening his life, because it’s not going to.”
Sheen said that he is no longer using drugs, but he is still drinking “a little bit,” prompting Huizenga to confess that his medical team is “petrified about Charlie.” He went on to explain, “We’re so, so anxious that if he is overly depressed, if he was abusing substance, that he would forget these pills and that’s been an incredible worry, and magically, somehow, in the midst of incredible personal mayhem, he’s managed to continue to take these medications.”
Sheen added that he has not missed a dose one time in the past four years.
Lauer told the star he needed to stop drinking. “Perhaps today will lead to that as well,” Sheen replied. “If there is one guy on this planet to contract this that’s going to deliver a cure, it’s me.”
That wasn’t the end of Sheen’s positive thinking. “I’m approaching a time of more of a philanthropic approach in my life,“ he said. “I’m a survivor. I’ve been up, I’ve been down, I’ve been rich, I’ve been poor. It’s another chapter in my life but it’s not commerce driven. It’s socially driven.”
Sheen was most recently linked to adult film star Brett Rossi, but the two had called off their marriage last fall after an eight-month engagement. Prior to his relationships with Rossi and Mueller, he was married to Denise Richards — with whom he shares two daughters — and Donna Peele. Additionally, he has twin boys with Mueller.
Sheen confirmed that Richards was aware of his diagnosis and that he’d also told his oldest daughter, Cassandra, 30, whose mother was Sheen’s high school girlfriend. “I felt bad. It hit her hard, but she recovered, and she’s tough like her dad,” he said.
It sounds like it has been a rocky road for the star as he worked to come to terms with his disease and how to handle it in the public eye. Jeff Ballard, his longtime publicist, confirmed to People that they are no longer working together because they “had a disagreement about how to handle a situation.”
Sheen claimed his medical condition hasn’t been getting in the way of his work; he has several projects in the pipeline, from movies to conversations with the chairman of Sony about a TV show. “Thus far, there has been no resistance,” he said.
Friends have already begun showing their support for Sheen. His Spin City co-star Heather Locklear posted a photo of them on Instagram Monday, along with this caption: “My heart hurts. Prayers for Charlie and his family.”
Lady Gaga chimed in on Instagram, writing, “#BraveCharlie @btwfoundation, an opportunity for people all over the world to learn about modern HIV prevention, treatments, and emotional intelligence as it relates to the stigma of the virus.”