March 1, 2011
I met Charlie Sheen a few years ago, on the set of his show, Two and a Half Men. The writers made a few references to Dilbert in an episode, and that turned into an invitation for Shelly and me to come down and watch the taping.
Charlie was very friendly, and acted as though he was familiar with Dilbert. I often tell the story of Charlie doing a head-to-toe visual assessment of my wife from four feet away. He wasn’t kidding around. Just curious, I guess. Somehow he made it seem normal.
In my two minutes of interaction with Charlie, I got the strangest vibe from him. There was something extraordinarily deep, or maybe dark, or intense, about him. You often hear it said of celebrities “He’s so normal.” I didn’t get a normal vibe from Charlie. Not even close. It wasn’t a crazy vibe, or a drug vibe. It just wasn’t anything I’ve seen before. It was haunting.
Like many of you, I’ve been watching his crazy-talk interviews and reading about his unusual life choices. I’m not embarrassed to say I’m fascinated by it all. But the thing that interests me the most is the intersection between honesty and insanity. There is some theoretical amount of honesty that is indistinguishable from mental illness. Charlie is blurring the line, or maybe spending some time on both sides of it. It’s clearly intentional. And it might be working, at least in terms of pressuring his show to restart, at which point it would be the most watched show on television.
It might look to you as if he is crazy because he speaks about himself as some sort of walking god with powers beyond what we humans possess. Crazy, right? Maybe. If we allow him some literary license when he says he has tiger blood and Adonis DNA, let’s examine the claim.
I witnessed him do hours of dialog during the taping of his show and he never missed a line. His costars didn’t do nearly as well. I was very impressed.
Charlie has also survived incredible amounts of drugs and still appears totally healthy. He looks better than any 45-year old I know. He has also spoken of his ability to go all night without getting tired. I’m usually done by about 9 PM. Maybe he does have an unusually strong constitution.
How about talent? He’s had dramatic roles in films, and he’s the highest paid actor on television. Is it totally crazy for him to think he’s built different from the rest of us? Successful people often believe they are special. Charlie’s problem is that he’s saying it. He’s also saying anything else that pops into his head.
How about his nerves? Would you have the guts to even attempt to do the sort of work he does in front of a live audience? I get the sense that nothing scares him.
Imagine if you stopped filtering everything you said and did. You’d have to be in Charlie Sheen’s unique position to get away with it, but just try to imagine yourself living without self-censorship. Wouldn’t you sound crazy?
Imagine you are so unafraid of consequences and the opinions of other people that you start sentences before you have a plan for how they will end. Sometimes a sentence turns out well, and sometimes you compare yourself to tigers and mythological gods.
I think Charlie is fascinating because he’s living without fear. That translates into a disturbing degree of honesty. And at the moment it gives him an amazing amount of power over the media, which he is using to his advantage.
I can’t judge his mental health. And clearly he has a drug issue that will last a lifetime. But I also think that a total lack of fear would look like insanity to the casual observer. And perhaps it is. But it’s a strangely great kind of crazy.
Hey, CBS, if Two and a Half Men starts up again, I’ll cancel whatever other plans I have so I can see it. Advantage: Charlie.