There are 30 things I should be doing right now instead of thinking – let alone, writing – about Charlie Sheen. But I can’t help it. He had me at “droopy-eyed, armless children.”
While the basic schtick of a celebrity imploding into drug-addled oblivion on national TV is not, per se, original, Sheen is doing it at a different, higher level.
Mel Gibson gave us anti-semitism and “sugar tits.” Sheen is giving us “tiger blood and Adonis DNA.”
I feel bad for him and his family. I hope he doesn’t kill himself, or anyone else. I hope he does not operate a motor vehicle. Or supervise his children all by himself.
On the other hand, the man has a way with words. While other intoxicated celebrities come across as mean, dumb, or disoriented (see John Galliano’s charming “I love Hitler” slur-fest at a Parisian brasserie), Sheen is giving us phrases for the ages.
Sheen partied so hard, it made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger and Richards look like “droopy-eyed, armless children.” What an image. What a felicitous phrase. The underlying image, of course, is disturbing; no one likes an armless child. Well, I mean, no one desires that state of affairs for a child. I am sure that I would find the particular child likable enough.
How about his rapid rebuttal to the well-placed question on possible bi-polar diagnosis. “What does that mean? What is the cure? Medicine? I’m bi-winning. I win here, I win there.”
Bi-winning is an objective we should all aim for.
Sheen is not perfect. He stumbled on “Can’t is the cancer of happen.” I think the much better phrase would have been “Can’t is the cancer of can.” That would have tripped off the tongue, right up there with “How much wood can a woodchuck chuck?” It would have stayed in our minds. But I can’t fault Sheen. I myself have not “banged 7-gram rocks” of crack cocaine. I arrive in the midst of a different journey.
There is just enough of a coherent ethos in all these ramblings to keep this viewer watching. There’s the “I never showed up drunk for work” trope. There’s the internal rage at AA dogma. There’s the civil libertarianism of his otherwise coldhearted remark that if a fellow partier were to die, “that’s his problem.”
There is also an occasional ability to pull back from the brink of even greater disaster. This was evident when a TMZ interviewer asked whether he would allow his own children to try cocaine. Sheen said no. This was a good answer. This was an answer which downgraded at least slightly, for the moment, the chance of Protective Services snatching his children away from him.
He also showed a moment of clarity when he discussed the actor Heath Ledger’s death. While Sheen’s general position is that “dying is for fools,” he softened his stance for Ledger. He allowed that Ledger’s passing, in light of his talent and his soulful performances, needed to be put in the That Sucks Department, as opposed to the Dying Is For Fools Department. Some things just suck, Sheen acknowledged, even when one is winning all the time, constantly winning, putting wins in the record books while still in one’s pyjamas, even before the first cup of coffee, not just winning, mind you, but bi-winning.
All of this – the ethos, the illness, the humor – were already on nascent display 24 years ago when Sheen’s face was first becoming famous.
Go back and watch the police station scene with Jennifer Grey in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s all there. The unapologetic, somewhat compulsive circling around the topic of drugs, as well as the shrink-like observation that Jennifer Grey’s distress over Ferris not getting caught was her problem, not her brother’s.
Sadly, the Bueller scene also shows us something else. A beautiful boy, to borrow the title of David Sheff’s memoir about a child’s drug addiction. Today Sheen is no longer beautiful. Indeed, even if one were to accompany Sheen on his headlong descent into denial and degradation, even if one were to sign onto the proposition that Sheen is indeed a “freakin’, bitchin’ rock star from Mars,” the gaunt, aged visage show proof enough that he is not in fact winning. Today he looks more and more like crazy Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. Which is a certain sign of not winning.
So even if we must stop to acknowledge such lines as “Resentments are the rocket fuel that lives in the tip of my saber,” or “I am on a drug, it’s called ‘Charlie Sheen.’ It’s not available ’cause if you try it once you will die. Your face will melt off, and children will weep over your exploded body,” we should also take a moment and send off a prayer for Sheen’s father and children, and for Sheen himself. Even if he is an F-18 fighter jet, bro.