Charlie Sheen. He’s old news, isn’t he?
Yes, he has a new gig as lead actor on the FX cable TV series “Anger Management.” But the one or two million viewers who tune in for each episode of his new show can’t hold a candle to the fourteen or fifteen million who used to tune in for each episode of his old show, CBS broadcast TV sitcom “Two and a Half Men.” Sheen played its lead character: TV jingle writer, womanizer, and perpetual drunk Charlie Harper.
In 2011, Sheen was all over the news for his very public meltdown in the midst of drugs, alcohol, and violence, and his subsequent firing from his position as the best paid actor on TV, starring in the #1 ranked television comedy.
Sheen predicted that without him, “Two and a Half Men” would tank. However, with Ashton Kutcher replacing Sheen as the lead actor in a new role as Internet billionaire Walden Schmidt, and with Jon Cryer continuing his co-star role as Alan Harper, and Angus T. Jones continuing in a recurring role as Alan’s son Jake, the show has kept right on attracting almost as many viewers as it did in its “glory days” with Charlie Sheen.
Sheen has been on the talk show circuit lately, presumably to plug his new role in “Anger Management.” But the talk is all about “Two and a Half Men,” and Sheen’s meltdown and firing from that cherry role.
How does an actor get himself fired from the top job in the industry?
The answer lies in the difference between the onscreen myth, Charlie Harper, and the real-life man, Charlie Sheen.
The Myth: Charlie Harper
In the first eight seasons of “Two and a Half Men,” Charlie Sheen plays a character that is every adolescent boy’s fantasy. Charlie Harper is a rich, handsome adult male who drinks gallons of alcohol, sleeps with one attractive woman after another . . . and just keeps doing that over and over again.
Charlie Harper’s idea of “quitting drinking” is to drink only beer:
Charlie’s whole life revolves around himself. If something gives him pleasure, he does it. If he helps anyone else in any way, there’s usually something in it for him. And once someone (usually a woman) no longer gives him pleasure, he tosses her away like yesterday’s left-over bacon and eggs.
Most of the show’s laughs come from Charlie Harper’s utter narcissism and his complete obliviousness to anyone else’s feelings or well-being. Oh, that and lots of sophomoric sexual and bathroom humor.
No problem, right? All in good fun! Crank up the ol’ laugh track!
Well . . . the problem was that the real Charlie was an awful lot like the character he played on TV.
The Man: Charlie Sheen
While playing Charlie Harper, in real life Charlie Sheen was a rich, handsome adult male who drank gallons of alcohol and slept with one woman after another . . . and he just kept doing that over and over. He also did plenty of drugs—though that part was left out of the television show.
Charlie Harper the character was modeled after the real-life Charlie Sheen.
But unlike Charlie Harper, Charlie Sheen, being a real person, had to live with the consequences of his promiscuous, alcoholic, drug-ridden lifestyle.
Sheen’s run-ins with rehab and with the law go way back. He’s been in and out of various hospitals for detox, and has spent his share of time on probation for drug offenses.
They called him “Teflon Charlie.” Despite his hard-partying lifestyle, nothing seemed to stick. He just kept right on pulling in the big bucks and living life on the edge.
But finally, his self-destructive lifestyle caught up with him. Early in 2011, while Sheen went to detox yet again, CBS and Warner Brothers decided to pause production of season 8 of “Two and a Half Men.”
Sheen, angered at the production shutdown, began firing off personal insults at the show’s creator and executive producer, Chuck Lorre. That, together with Sheen’s increasingly erratic behavior and spotty attendance at rehearsals, pushed Warner Brothers over the edge. They fired Sheen from the best paid acting position on TV, and killed his character (offscreen) in the first episode of the following season.
Charlie the Man Explodes Charlie the Myth
You see, real life has to obey the laws of cause and effect.
In a TV series, it’s easy to write a character who drinks like a fish, sleeps with one woman after another, and continues living a rich, successful, carefree lifestyle. It’s just words in a script, performed by an actor in front of a camera.
But in real life, being an alcoholic, a drug addict, and an inveterate womanizer takes its toll on the body and the mind. Here’s one of the incoherent lows that the real Charlie’s lifestyle brought him to (warning: contains foul language):
In real life, living the irresponsible, narcissistic adolescent fantasy lifestyle portrayed by Charlie Sheen in “Two and a Half Men” leads inevitably to self-destruction.
The television show was a lie. It did not factually portray the full reality of the lifestyle it presented to its audiences.
But even the scriptwriters couldn’t prevent those facts of reality from taking down the real life actor who pretended on TV that it’s possible to live an addictive, promiscuous, self-destructive lifestyle that violates all the laws of human physiology and psychology, and suffer no lasting harmful effects.
In the end, reality won. Charlie Sheen the man exploded the myth of Charlie Harper.
Charlie Harper is dead. Long live reality!
For more on Charlie Sheen, see the next post: “Repentance: The Unpopular Partner of Forgiveness.”