Forget, for a moment, the drugs, the porn stars, the endangered TV show. There’s something else going in the Charlie Sheen saga that was rather extraordinary: How stunningly, blatantly honest Sheen has been on the topic of being a celebrity.
Has any star ever so brazenly touted the advantage of his status? “I’m tired of pretending like I’m not special,” he’s said, while slamming others as jealous losers who “lay down with their ugly wives and their ugly children,” and who wish they could have Sheen’s money, his women, his fame, his lifestyle. “I’m gonna hang out with these two smoking hotties and fly privately around the world,” he said. “It might be lonely up here but I sure like the view.”
Hollywood stars never talk like this about being famous. It’s such a PR taboo to admit that as a celebrity, you may not be “just like us.” But isn’t this what we secretly suspect all stars think about themselves without ever actually saying it? I’m not pointing this out to praise Sheen, or to make his comments sound like a part of some brave strategy. His quotes are obnoxious and arrogant, and are caused by God knows what. But as an entertainment reporter, you listen to Sheen’s rants and think, “Well, at least he’s not reciting the same carefully crafted humility that we hear from everybody else.”
When you look at it this way, Sheen’s public explosion and implosion is like some high-concept movie, like Jim Carrey in Liar Liar or Warren Beatty in Bulworth. What happens when a major celebrity starts being radically honest about their feelings, no matter how ugly or damaging those thoughts might be? In Bulworth, instead of destroying the career of the politician played by Beatty, it made him even more popular. And the same is true here: Even compared to his big-screen Wall Street and Platoon days, Charlie Sheen has never been a bigger celebrity than he has been during the past week — for better or for worse. And if he does somehow get his head together and then work out his differences with CBS, Chuck Lorre, Warner Bros. and all the others that he’s managed to infuriate, next fall Two and a Half Men could see its biggest ratings ever. As things stand, the more likely outcome is that Sheen will continue to alienate his fans and the industry — the two groups whose acceptance and attention he so clearly craves.