Actor Charlie Sheen confirmed rumors that he has the HIV virus in a revealing interview Tuesday on NBC’s “TODAY” show, adding a shocking new chapter to one of the most unpredictable careers in Hollywood history.
“I am here to admit that I am in fact HIV positive,” Sheen told "TODAY" host Matt Lauer. “I have to put a stop to this onslaught, this barrage of attacks and of sub-truths and very harmful and mercurial stories that are about me, that threaten the health of so many others that couldn't be further from the truth.”
Sheen said he first discovered he had contracted the virus that causes AIDS “roughly four years ago.” He recalled suffering from migraines, cluster headaches and night sweats. He sought medical attention, thinking he had a tumor. Instead, he learned he had HIV. “It’s a hard three letters to absorb, it’s a turning point in one’s life,” Sheen said. According to his physician, the level of the virus is currently undetectable in his blood but it's still present and there currently is no cure.
The actor insists that he was upfront with every subsequent sexual partner about his HIV status. He did admit to having unprotected sex with two people since he knew he'd contracted HIV, but said they were both aware of his condition and were being treated by his physician at the time. He said it was “impossible” for him to have transmitted the virus to anyone. When asked if he knows how he contracted HIV, Sheen said, “Sitting here today, not entirely, no.” He did, however, rule out intravenous drug use.
In California, if you do not disclose your HIV status to a sexual partner you can open yourself up to felony prosecution, but there has to be further evidence to imply intent to infect. According to state law evidence that a person is aware of their HIV-positive status is not enough to prove intent.
Sheen also admitted to having paid off several unnamed people, some of whom were prostitutes, in order to keep his HIV status a secret. He said the total of payoffs had reached into the millions and that several people he had trusted had betrayed him, which was in part why he was coming forward now. “That’s money they’re taking from my children, they think it’s just me," Sheen said.
"We’re talking about shakedowns,” he added later. Sheen said he expects that lawsuits could be coming and conceded his financial situation is "not great." He said he told his oldest daughter about his HIV status late on Monday and said the news "hit her hard," but she was a "rock star about it." He also said two of his ex-wives, Denise Richards and Brooke Mueller, were aware of his condition for years. Sheen says he encouraged Mueller, who he had just split with in 2011, to get tested immediately after he learned he had HIV.
"The risks are real. Exactly how likely is dependent on the level of virus in Mr. Sheen's blood and the type of sexual activities they were engaged in," Dr. James Kublin, Executive Director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network based at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, told MSNBC. According to Kublin, Sheen could potentially have carried the virus up to a decade before he knew he possessed it.
Sheen appeared later alongside his physician, Dr. Robert Huzienga, who confirmed that Sheen is "healthy" and "does not have AIDS." Still, he expressed gave concerns that Sheen's history of depression and substance abuse could derail his treatment. "We're petrified about Charlie," Huzeinga told Lauer. Sheen said he is no longer using recreational drugs, but says he still drinks alcohol "a little bit." When asked if he would give up drinking, Sheen said, "Perhaps the freedom of today might lead to that as well."
Huzienga said that despite living in the "midst of incredible personal mayhem," Sheen had never neglected to take his HIV medication, which consists of a "cocktail" of four pills a day.
The 50-year-old son of actor Martin Sheen first gained prominence in a string of 1980s critical and commercial big screen hits such as “Platoon,” “Wall Street” and “Major League.” A series of high profile personal life problems and flops sidetracked his movie career, but he parlayed his real life bad boy persona into the role of a lovable Lothario on the ratings juggernaut CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” for which he briefly became the highest paid actor on television.
However, his stint on that show came to a contentious end in 2011. After feuding with producers, Sheen publicly rebuked the show and gave a series of infamous interviews where he bragged that he was “winning,” possessed “Adonis DNA,” and revealed that he had two live-in “goddess” girlfriends. His antics inspired a poorly received one-man show that toured major cities and led to another comedy series that traded on his real-life reputation called “Anger Management” on FX. Sheen says that his erratic behavior in 2011 was not directly related to his diagnosis. “I wish I could blame it on that, that was more of a roid rage, but this was on the heels of that,” he admitted. “I was so depressed by the condition that I was I was doing a lot of drugs, I was drinking too much, I was making a lot of bad decisions.”
Sheen in recent years has admitted to soliciting sex with prostitutes in the past and has also regularly dated adult film stars. He was recently engaged to Brett Rossi, a veteran of the porn industry, but they broke off their eight-month engagement last year. Sheen characterized the break-up as amicable at the time, but Rossi appeared to be less sanguine, saying the “truth always comes out” in a series of August 2014 tweets critical of the actor that were later deleted. One of his former "goddesses," porn actress Bree Olson, posted on Instagram that she has been tested for HIV, and the results were negative.
He has been married three times, with both his second and third wives (who are also the mothers of his children) accusing him of disturbing acts of domestic abuse. Sheen has denied the allegations in the past. Sheen has also been in and out of treatment for drug use several times. But he has never faced anything quite like this.
Dr. Kublin told MSNBC he is hopeful that Sheen's admission can help change the negative stigma attached to the HIV virus. "It's that irony that having such effective treatments in the last 20 years, that it doesn't appear on people's radar. It's still a very serious personal health and general public health issue," said Kublin, who believes the only sustainable solution to illness is a vaccine. "People still think it couldn't be my demographic because it's 'the other' that gets this virus."