I don't normally watch Two and a Half Men, the television sitcom that stars the tabloid pet of the hour, actor and addict Charlie Sheen, but having just watched an episode on its official Website I was fascinated to see that Sheen often appears to have no idea what to do with his hands. When the rest of him speaks, they move vaguely about at his sides like anemones. At moments requiring emphasis his forearms rise up like the parted ends of a drawbridge, the arms of a public speaking newbie encouraged by some mediocre media coach to gesticulate.
It's not that the rest of Sheen can't act. He delivers his lines with fine comic timing, and neither his joyless eyes nor the fact that his eyebrows have always knit in the middle interferes with his staying in character, especially since that character - a boozy womanizer - is based on what was supposed to be his former self. But the blundering tension that skitters through his arms suggests that part of this veteran actor, true to the note allegedly tattooed on his chest that reads, "Be Back in 15 Minutes," is clear out of his skin.
Out of his skin and back in the skin trade. With his recent 36 hour crack and hooker spree in mind, I thought to attribute his loss of focus on the set to his spectacular excesses in the privacy of his orgies. The cause-and-effect structures of human behavior, however, are freighted with ambiguity, and it's entirely possible that Sheen may require emergency-room calibre endorphins simply to remain in the TV star business.
His employers at CBS seem confused on this point as well, because they have permitted, if not actually encouraged Sheen to, in every sense, blow. And why not? They have a hit show; the eyeball market is increasingly competitive; the stockholders all have kids to send to college: if the star needs to drive off a cliff to stay starry, why take away his keys? Perhaps it was in anticipation of such corporate benevolence that Sheen's limbs were twitching in advance---you know, with gratitude. (1) More likely, however, what we're seeing on screen is the stifled impulse to flap his appendages and fly away. The question is: where to?
Yesteryear's bad boy marathoner, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, never had the idle hands problem. Nearly every photograph in his recently published memoir, modestly entitled Keith Richards --- Life, (then, in smaller letters... "with James Fox"), shows him with wrist elegantly cocked, a drink or cigarette or friend or lover in hand, or even more characteristically, with his arms around a guitar, fingering a fret or thinking of playing something he believes in. Like Patti Smith (see my previous column ), Richards did his best to subordinate his drug hunger and death wish to his creative work.
Whether or not one believes that Richards succeeded as well as he claims, his memoir houses, among other treasures, a remarkably good celebrity addict tip sheet. Pointers Sheen could evidently use.
Tip number one is, don't fall in love with fame. Richards, rather credibly, says that he saw it as the only means by which a wastrel from South London could get to play the music he wanted and meet blues and rockabilly musicians he idolized. (2) When Sheen finds himself, by way of solicitation, emailing a sex pro that he is "an A-list actor" he might surmise that he's getting this one wrong.
As Richards tells it, his notorious drug habits began as performance enhancers. Exhausted by the punishing lulls and high-energy demands of road tours, he asked his elders and betters how they kept looking so good every day. The old blues boys told him: "This is how we do it: you take one of these, and then you smoke one of these." (3) So tip number two is to use drugs for something more than fun. At various points in his career, Richards writes, heroin and cocaine were useful to him, buffering him from the human static around him and letting him focus on his music, helping him to become an observer with enough distance on strong people and feelings to write songs about them. Charlie, are you listening?
As with his music, Richards's attitude towards drugs was one of both compulsion and connoisseurship. Even after he blossomed into a world-class drug addict he did his best to maintain high standards, hence his third celebrity addict tip: insist on pharmaceutical grade cocaine. The impurities, he claims, can do you more harm than the drug itself, so if it's arriving in briefcases, look out.
Tip the fourth is more complicated. It boils down to: don't try to go through the roof. Although he reports snorting, on one occasion, an immoderately huge line of cocaine, he says that he generally resisted the impulse to keep gobbling up more and more of whatever he was taking in the false belief that another snort or hit would get him higher rather than trashed. In the same vein (sorry) he claims to have stuck to skin-popping heroin rather than mainlining, and, unlike Sheen, he stayed clear of crack.
Lastly, whenever he went back on smack after detox, he started off with a weakened pop; avoiding the tendency of addicts coming out of rehab to overdose. According to 22 year old adult film star Kacey Jordan, one of his recent party partners, Sheen ignores all of Keith Richards' drug pacing and dosage tips. He was hitting his crack pipe two to five times a minute before stomach cramps got him hauled away in an ambulance. "All I heard was "light," Jordan told Good Morning America, "Light, light light. All night."
After many painful failed attempts (he denies having his blood changed as urban legends have it), Richards finally succeeded in beating his addiction once the logistics of procuring drugs on the road while under close surveillance from police became too daunting. When he had to choose between his habit or the band, he chose the band. So, while he broke his addiction in part because of his love of rock 'n roll, it was also partly thanks to the threat of imprisonment---a sobering consideration for the medical model purists in charge of Sheen's rehabilitation and courts that keep him in charge of his own money.
One possible clue to Richards' recovery of over twenty years' duration is his desire for human connection---not only with friends and lovers, family and fellow musicians, but also with audiences. When he writes about his experience of reaching into a sea of hearts through music---music freely chosen and played with integrity---it's clear why, when competing for his dopamine receptors the guitar ultimately won priority over the needle.
For the star of Two and a Half Men, it's hard to imagine a comparably inspiring attachment. He obviously cares about his work, but what he first admired about the young brat packers who preceded him, like Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, was their large living as much as their craft. (3)
Nor do family attachments seem to compel him viscerally. Kayce Jordan also told GMA that Sheen wanted to rent himself a pleasure dome to house his personal selection of sex workers. The father of five children (the latest pair around two years old), seriously proposed that Jordan babysit his kids when they visited the sex palace. This is an excellent way to convince himself that he is concerned for the welfare of his children while simultaneously making it unlikely he'd ever be granted custody.
If Mlle. Jordan is to be believed, Sheen was ready for his 15 minutes of fame to end. "Yeah," she reported, "...he wants to retire; just wants to have fun. He's like, 'I'm done; I'm done.'"
Well, fast-forwarding to the final chapter, perhaps. "This is somebody with some character [and] logical flaws," reality tv's celebrity rehabber Dr. Drew Pinsky told People Magazine in a fit of understatement. Dr. Pinsky described Sheen's condition as "a life-threatening illness," and expressed doubt that he could recover without taking considerable time off from his job. But is there really any escape from Sheen's job when even one's prospective therapists are trawling for clients with screen credits?
There is no scientific study to back this up, but over the years I've noticed that few Hollywood stars maintain any psychological equilibrium in what-have-you-done-lately country without something emotionally sticky to hold on to: rainforests or orphans, gurus or endangered animals, dreaded diseases or gods. You can call these handles and rescue ropes the celebrities' "higher powers," though I don't, just as I don't think stars do these things "just for the publicity." People whose existence depends on their ability to project fabulousness and desirability, larger-than-lifeness, seem to need alternate identities that have a sober fabulousness of their own, something that can dilute the drug of objectified desire with vitamin shots of being useful or "good."
Unfortunately for Charlie Sheen, the only cause that seems to have moved him to action is a failed quest. He was a major 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and lobbied hard for Obama to re-open investigations---to no avail.(5) Even if you diagnose that particular cause as a paranoid's folly rather than a patriot's crusade, it's significant that Sheen was groping for something more than the infantalization that CBS is currently offering: in-house rehab, more millions to squander on self-entertainment and more work for hire. As Richards' story shows, if you want to survive your addictions as a creative bad boy, it helps you to get a grip if you're actually creating. And not actually bad---or behaving like a boy.
(1) "I want to say "thank-you" to my fellow cast members, the crew of "Two and a Half Men", and everyone at CBS and Warner Bros., especially Les Moonves and Bruce Rosenblum for their concern and support. "
... "And to my fans, your good wishes have touched me very much. Like Errol Flynn, who had to put down his sword on occasion, I just want to say, "thank-you."
(2) "It's not easy being famous; you don't want to be, But at the same time you've got to be in order to do what you're doing." Keith Richards, Life --with James Fox, P. 146
"The guys I met on the road were, to me then, older men in their thirties, some in their forties, black bands that we were playing with...." "I said to one of these guys, a horn player, 'Jesus, how do you look so good every day?'..."This is how we do it: you take one of these and you smoke one of these." Ibid. P.156-7
(3) From The Movieline Interview, Guns 'n Neuroses, by Lawrence Grobel on 08 01 1990: http://www.movieline.com/1990/08/charlie-sheen-guns-n-neuroses.php?page=3
Sheen: ...Suddenly, after sitting for three years alongside my brother, my friends Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, and Tom Cruise, just watching all the attention they got and the women that went with it - it's like something you yearn for, pray for.
(5) Sheen's 9-11 ms to obama.. 4 minutes 20 seconds in...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyKR2-A0KPU
Because Sheen is widely quoted all over the Internet as having said in 1989, "I'm beside myself on the banning of the semi- automatic assault rifle." I wondered if that was the sort of thing his empty hands were itching for, but I have found no citation for that quote, and the Movieline Interview by Lawrence Grobel cited above gives us this:
Q: You've been outspoken about your right to bear arms. How old were you when you got your first gun?
A: Eighteen. I love to shoot. I don't hunt, I don't kill animals, I don't believe in it. If I need food or meat I go to the market.
Q: But you are of the belief that guns don't kill people, people do?
A: I tend to believe that. I'm also aware that the weapon was invented to kill people. That's the bottom line. And I think the laws should be a little stricter, especially with handguns.