The Real Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen’s most recent sober drink of choice is chocolate milk with instant coffee crystals stirred in. Surrounded by his entourage after his show in Boston, Sheen is in his element. He is cool, calm, and collected.

Charlie Sheen’s most recent sober drink of choice is chocolate milk with instant coffee crystals stirred in. With a tall stack of posters in front of him, he sits comfortably on a couch in the ground-floor lounge of Agganis Arena, talking to me as he sips his drink and signs images of himself. Surrounded by his entourage after his show in Boston, Sheen is in his element. He is cool, calm, and collected.

The brightly colored posters show Sheen as a superhero in cartoon form: his enlarged hands are in flames and his lips hold a lit cigarette. In real life, Sheen’s hands move with purpose as he efficiently scribbles “Charlie Sheen” and “win” in the same place on each poster, one after another. He takes a break from the signing and asks for his friend to pass him the ashtray. He’s been smoking all night.

After the show, he is a different man from the one who claimed to be immortal after ripping off his shirt and throwing it into the crowd only a few hours earlier. He’s also a different man from the one who broke down on the “Today Show” in late February. On stage he brags about the “tiger blood” that keeps him “winning” on “a drug called Charlie Sheen.” He asks the audience to judge the “goddess” potential of more than a dozen scantily clad women who come on stage hoping to become his third girlfriend. But away from the crowd, he tells me he’s happy with the two 24-year-old girlfriends he calls his “goddesses,” Rachel Oberlin and Natalie Kenly. He responds to my questions without hesitation and trades self-aggrandizement for self-deprecation, saying that he’s not “the brightest guy in the room.”

. . .

“So tell me more about that burger,” Sheen says. Earlier in the night he had briefly asked me about the Charlie Sheen burger that comes with a 20 ounce Coke at Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage. “Does it fucking bite you back, when you bite it?” he had wanted to know. I’m in the chair to his left, the center of attention in a small room with his inner circle. He talks frankly about his addiction, his determination to move forward, and his frustration with the media’s fixation on his day-to-day-life. But beyond the prying eye of the public, Steve Han, a former paparazzo who has been hired to document the tour, films our conversation. I show my Harvard ID to prove my identity to the camera. Meanwhile, Sheen makes two chocolate milks with instant coffee, one for each of us.

“How do you like the drink?” he wants to know. We go back and forth. He asks me about how I like school and what I want to do with my life. The goddesses interrupt to say goodbye before leaving for the night. Sheen, who plans to stay in and work, tells them to “be safe” and “have fun.” We go back to talking. At some point I have to remind myself that I am with one of America’s hottest celebrities. He seems more like the father of a friend.

According to Sheen, the tour isn’t a publicity stunt, but it isn’t performance art either. The actor-turned-“unemployed winner” sees it as an opportunity to interact with his fans. In his words, the tour “is sort of an interview on steroids.” After the first show, which was in Detroit, flopped, Sheen ditched the teleprompter and switched to an interview-based format that relies heavily on audience participation. “Detroit—just a fucking train wreck man. Just bodies everywhere. Both fucking conductors totally drunk and guilty.”

His show is a hybrid between improv-comedy and a town hall meeting, and every show since the disaster in Detroit has been a little different from the previous one. “I think you’ve got to find a nice balance,” Sheen says about the trade-off between interacting with the crowd and relying on his own material. “Something happens out there. Believe it or not, it’s strangely organic,” he explains. “It’s sort of a natural ramping up of the brain scope—not the mouth wash.”

Sheen’s Twitter account says he’s unemployed, but the high school dropout still seems to work hard. He stayed up all night after the tour’s first show to completely revamp it. “It was all on me,” Sheen says. He tells me that he’s going to multitask while talking sports on 98.5 WBZ-FM later in the night, because he has work to do for a video messaging service company. He easily maintains our conversation while making drinks and signing posters. Sheen doesn’t sit still well—it’s no wonder the actor wants his job back.

Sheen says that he hopes to return to his role on the hit-show “Two and a Half Men” after his tour, which ends shortly before the show’s mid-May deadline for major casting decisions. When he discusses his plans to return—on stage and in the lounge—he adopts an unusually serious tone. “There’s been some progress, let me just say that,” Sheen says. “I don’t call the shots, but we’re making fucking progress.” If he’s not brought back, the tour may go overseas.

. . .

Following a media blitz after being fired by CBS as the star of “Two and a Half Men,” Sheen switched from interviews with high-profile journalists to the more direct medium of a live tour in order to remove the filter between him and his fans. As of now, after unflattering headlines and regrettable comments, Sheen has decided to stop talking with the mainstream media altogether; he even denies paid interview requests. But at the eighth stop on his “My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option Show” tour, in America’s biggest college town, Sheen grants The Crimson’s Magazine exclusive access to one night of his superstar life: a big fuck you to the mainstream press.

“That’s how I roll,” Sheen says.

I had planned on spending the night studying for a Spanish midterm the next morning. But when Sheen’s publicist Larry Solters sent me a promising email 12 minutes before Sheen was set to take the stage, I grabbed a notebook from my desk drawer and rushed out the door to hail a cab. I soon learn that this is how the tour operates: plans are made last minute, according to Sheen’s wishes. I eventually meet his entire Boston team: the production and road managers, the media managers, the Jersey Shore star Pauly D, the former lightweight championship boxer Vinny Paz and both of Sheen’s goddesses. I stay until after the highest paying ticket holders shake hands with the man-of-the-hour, who heads to a radio station when we part ways.

“None of this is planned. I know it looks like it, but it fucking isn’t,” Sheen tells the crowd when he agrees, mid-show, to go on 98.5 WBZ-FM afterwards.

Solters, standing next to me beside the stage, confirms his client’s statement. He’s been tapping frantically on his smart phone for most of the show.

“We have no fucking idea what this is all about,” Solters says.

Sheen’s unorthodox behavior isn’t limited to his preference for a college newspaper over the mainstream press. The very fundamentals of the tour, including the timing of his schedule and the content of his performances, change constantly. He does what he wants. In the past that meant drug-fueled orgies with prostitutes, trashed hotel rooms, and run-ins with the police. But he says that’s all behind him. Now he gets his high on stage, where he changes his show based on how he’s feeling.

After the show, while I wait for Sheen to emerge from the shower, I chat with his goddesses. Oberlin, a  porn star, had been to Boston before “to study hard” with a boyfriend. When Sheen responds to an audience member’s question about his favorite sex position—missionary—the goddesses' eyes meet as they laugh knowingly. When he judges the goddess potential of the women vying to become his girlfriend, their attention shifts from the stage to their cell phones. I don’t sense any of the tension I expect from the two women who share one man.

. . .

Solters spends all night reminding me that his client is a really good guy—that most of his celebrity clients wouldn’t have given me the time of day. The fact that he keeps saying it seems antithetical to his claim—is this just more P.R. or a surprising reality? But it does seem like—at least for one side of Sheen—his celebrity has begun to weigh on him. “I don’t get to ask so many questions going out. I just answer them. It’s like, um, ‘What do you do?’ You start to appreciate the quieter moments,” he says. “I don’t need to pick up girls. I have got that handled.” “And I’m not going to get drunk,” he adds, “because of that whole custody thing. Plus I don’t want to.”

The first time I see Sheen he’s pacing back and forth in the rear of the arena. As he prepares himself for the night, intensity rises like steam off his body. He’s in good shape, and his behavior lives up to his public persona. In that moment, he’s an erratic larger-than-life personality with an ego fueled by a cult-like following.

As Sheen’s friends help him boost his confidence in his final moments backstage, I hear clips from “Apocalypse Now” playing for the waiting crowd. They had paid anywhere from $50 to $750 to be there. As Sheen rushes out onto the arena floor flanked by bodyguards, I follow him into the wide-open. The crowd goes wild. They scream his name and reach for high-fives over the aisles.