Charlie Sheen Writes That His HIV Diagnosis Nearly Drove Him to Suicide


“The personal disbelief, karmic confusion, shame, and anger led to a temporary yet abysmal de[s]cent into profound substance abuse and fathomless drinking. It was a suicide run,” Charlie Sheen writes in a open letter published shortly after confirming that he is HIV-positive in an interview on Today Tuesday.

Four years ago, America watched in horror as Charlie Sheen announced (also on Today) that he didn’t need rehab, as the AA program was “written for normal people, people that aren’t special, people that don’t have tiger blood, you know, Adonis DNA.” In the months that followed, Sheen embarked on a comedy tour called “My Violent Torpedo of Truth.” Reviews called it a “meltdown in progress,” but what the American public didn’t know was that it actually was. Sheen had just found out he was HIV-positive.

“The news was a ‘mule kick’ to my soul,” Sheen writes of his diagnosis. “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.”

HIV and AIDS, unfortunately, carry with them a harsh stigma, starting with the disease’s earliest days during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Reagan directly addressed the AIDS epidemic for the first time on May 31, 1987, but by that time, the disease had already claimed 20,849 American lives. (In contrast, last year, President Obama directly addressed the Ebola epidemic before it even came to America; he then hugged Nina Pham, the first person to be infected with Ebola within the United States.)

Related: HIV+: While the Treatments Have Improved, the Stigma Remains

In a statement accompanying Sheen’s letter, his physician, Dr. Robert Huizenga, writes that “there are 1.2 million other Americans currently living with [HIV]. Shockingly, up to 20 percent of these individuals are unaware of their HIV status and sadly 60 percent are not adequately being treated. This leads to 50,000 new diagnoses and 18,000 HIV deaths yearly in this country.”


Sheen writes that immediately following his diagnosis, he began “a rigorous and intensive treatment program,” and today his viral load is undetectable. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this means his chances of spreading the disease are significantly diminished. Thanks to advances in medical technology, HIV is no longer a death sentence.

Yet Sheen also writes that he was so afraid of his HIV status being made public that he has “paid out countless millions” to sexual partners he’d informed of his status prior to becoming intimate, “vastly deplet[ing] future assets from my children.”

Sheen ends his letter with a vow to become an activist for HIV awareness:

Every day, of every month, of every year, countless individuals go to work, man their stations, fulfill their professional obligations with a host of disabilities. Diseases, imperfections, hurdles, detours. These maladies range from lupus to cancer, from paralysis to blindness, from diabetes to obesity. “Treated,” HIV is no different.

My partying days are behind me. My philanthropic days are ahead of me.

Earnest Hemingway once wrote:

“Courage is grace under pressure.”

I’ve served my time under pressure; I now embrace the courage, and the grace.

No one should feel compelled to disclose private medical information in such a public fashion, but the visibility and destigmatization of living with HIV/AIDS can do nothing but good for the millions worldwide who are battling the disease.