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The Sad, Strange Decline of Charlie Sheen

Flameout doesn’t even begin to describe it. Once TV’s highest-paid actor, the ”Two and a Half Men” star has publicly imploded with an increasingly bizarre media tour. Forget about whether his career can be saved — can anything save him?

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In the end, it wasn’t just the ”Chaim Levine” thing. Or the warlock thing. Or his claim that he’d cured himself with his brain. The truth is, Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen had worn down his bosses with years of heavy partying, frightening domestic disputes, rehab, and hospitalizations — so much so that when he gave an unexpected and shocking Feb. 24 radio interview, CBS and Warner Bros. Television could no longer justify doing business with TV’s highest-paid actor, even if he did star on TV’s highest-rated comedy.

The 45-year-old Sheen — who continued his career-killing media tour this week with appearances on Today, Good Morning America, Piers Morgan Tonight, The Howard Stern Show, and several websites — remains largely unwilling to take responsibility for his erratic behavior, if not the inevitable death of one of TV’s most valuable franchises. Instead Sheen is choosing to follow fire with more fire by demanding payment for the eight Men episodes that Warner Bros. never produced, all while admitting to a death-defying lifestyle of drug use. ”The last time I took drugs, I probably took more than anyone could survive,” Sheen told ABC News without a hint of irony. ”I was banging seven-gram rocks and finishing them. That’s how I roll.” He may have passed Radar Online’s impromptu drug test, but it was clearly too little, too late for the companies that helped resuscitate Sheen’s career nearly eight years ago. ”This is something we’ve tried to work through to get him help; at every step of the way we’ve tried to preserve the show and preserve the employment for everybody involved,” says a source close to the comedy. ”And yet he just kept thumbing his nose.”

It did seem highly unlikely that a troubled actor with a history of alcohol and drug abuse could get better after one month of at-home rehabilitation. (Sheen later said he nicknamed his home ”Sober Valley Lodge.”) But CBS and Warner Bros. seemed confident — if not a bit resigned — that their star was ready to return to work when they announced plans to resume production of Men on Feb. 28. All appeared fine until Sheen picked up the phone while on vacation in the Bahamas and called radio host Alex Jones to boast about curing his substance-abuse issues with his mind, to reveal his status as a ”Vatican assassin warlock,” and to rage against Chuck Lorre, whom he called a ”clown” whose ”real name” was Chaim Levine. (Lorre was born Charles Michael Levine.) Soon after, while talking to TMZ, Sheen accused Lorre of taking money out of his — and the crew’s — pocket by agreeing to shut down production temporarily. ”All these guys told me to ‘clean it up,”’ he said. ”Well, this is me cleaning it the f— up.”

Within hours, CBS and Warner Bros. (which, like Entertainment Weekly, is owned by Time Warner) announced they were canceling production for the remainder of the season due to ”the totality of Sheen’s statements, conduct and condition.” (The crew will be paid for four of the remaining episodes by Warner Bros.) ”It was not a hard decision,” says the show source. ”He was completely undone.” Still, with Sheen and the rest of the cast under contract for one more season, both media companies are loath to declare the show dead. Says one suit, ”Once emotions calm down, then we can make a decision [about the show].” (CBS Corp. president and CEO Les Moonves told reporters on March 1, ”I hope it’s back.”) Rumors that CBS is wooing John Stamos to replace Sheen are unfounded, according to insiders, which will no doubt make the Men star happy: ”I like John,” Sheen told Access Hollywood on Feb. 28, ”but he doesn’t have what I have, and the show sucks if he’s on it.”

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