Charlie Sheen's Last Stand

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Ware

Hollywood's enfant terrible is back with a new show. Despite 'Anger Management', he's still unhinged, unchanged, and unrepentant.

Charlie Sheen the movie star is apprehensive.

It's only niggles of a passing unease, spasms of an abstract disquiet. That's all. Nothing he can't handle or tuck away, at least for however long it will take until he can come back here, to his private domain within his house; for all intents and purposes a separate, near-sacrosanct wing unto itself. There's a comfort in the assurance of its seclusion. ("I've told everyone, they all know; no one's to even knock unless they've got half the mortgage on them.") Besides, he knows today's a great day. Today his mates are here, and together they're going to the biggest ice-hockey game of the year. His Los Angeles Kings may just snare their first Stanley Cup championship, on home ice, and they'll be there to see it. So there's nothing for the movie star to feel apprehensive about.

But it's getting late, and the movie star is still getting dressed. Or, rather, he's still getting ready. His gathered mates are festive, clustering in the ground-floor kitchen. A few snatch discreet peeks at their watches but say nothing. No one is leaving until Charlie is with them. At last he descends the great staircase, at his warm, genuinely delighted, and gregarious best. A few rise, slinging coats on their forearms, though they know Charlie will mingle before he's set to head out. A drink or two, then, just as he moves as if to the door, I catch his eye and his eyebrows motion upstairs.

We break away and scamper up the carpeted steps, ostensibly to grab a suitably warm addition for my ill-prepared outfit, the same as I wore the day before and have evidently slept in. The movie star scoops up my jacket without breaking stride, and we slam to a halt in one of the domain's smaller en suites. We both take ruthless belts from a liquor bottle, laughing at ourselves in the wall-length mirror. "Quick, one more," he says, thrusting the bottle. I drink and tell him to breathe, promising to be a source of calm today should he need to fix on one.

The booze is still burning as we tumble downstairs and off to the limo.

Since first hitting Los Angeles some months back, I've been struggling with the arithmetic of celebrity in this town, chafing at the falsehoods. But I have issues of my own, namely PTSD, so I try to constantly calibrate for that. And our afternoon, our outing to L.A.'s famous Staples Center, is about to jackknife horribly.

There's a contemporary parlor game of sorts being played in Hollywood. I dub it "The Charlie Sheen Game." It harkens to something Ava Gardner, screen divinity, was quoted as saying in 1968. "Nobody cares what I wore or what I said. All they want to know anyway is, 'Was she drunk and did she stand up straight?'" Like punting on red or black at a casino table, the Charlie game is as monochromatic: is he, or isn't he? Sober. On drugs. Freebasing cocaine again. Sane. Employable. Take your pick. All clearly grotesque and distorted simplifications, ignoring hosts of unimagined complexities.

Charlie's reservoirs of self-loathing are deep and black and still, welling in the subterranean caverns of his core, but then are tapped to fuel the internal-combustion engine that is his angst and his guilt. Yet it's also the engine of his incandescent warmth, his unquestionable talent, and his boundless generosity. (Wickedly wealthy, a lot is only a little to Charlie. He gave me a $26,000 pen so blithely, with such inconsequence, that only angrily hurling it back made it a moment of any note for him at all. "C'mon, you know this stuff means absolutely nothing to me.") However, this is also his compulsion. Brutally self-critical, there's such an odd validation in it for Charlie it's dangerous, almost toxic. It renders him an avid people-pleaser, at times frighteningly quick to forfeit preferences or desires of his own. …