Entertainment

COMMENTARY: Charlie Sheen and the wages of fame

It’s been painful watching actor Charlie Sheen implode. Painful, embarrassing, disturbing and — OK, I’ll admit this — entertaining in a horror-movie way. What will he say next? Can his behavior get any more erratic?

Sheen, the talented star of the CBS hit Two and a Half Men, has always been colorful. He has a history of drug and alcohol abuse and an equally extensive record with rehab. But what we’ve witnessed lately, what has been so unsettling to watch, even by Hollywood standards, are his ramblings on national TV.

It’s been impossible to avoid his disheveled hair, his darting eyes, his scary intensity. Gaunt and jittery, Sheen has gone on whatever show or channel would have him in a full-court press of pitiful publicity.

Normally, this kind of celebrity slobber is nothing but a silly distraction, but somehow, his very public breakdown has gotten to me. Perhaps it’s the 24-7 barrage of Sheen news. Perhaps it’s the reminder of Lindsey Lohan, Mel Gibson and the countless other stars who’ve had it all and thrown it away. Or perhaps it’s the simple assurance his example provides that an ordinary life like mine is an extraordinary blessing.

Whatever the reason, I find myself preoccupied by this unhappy observation: Few seem to survive fame intact. And in this celebrity-saturated society, being famous for doing something well is not enough. You’ve got to be wacky and weird. Bizarre is the coveted calling card.

If you doubt, think of the immensely gifted Lady Gaga. It’s not enough that she sings stupendously well; she has to arrive at the Grammy Awards in an egg.

So what has the highest-paid actor on TV done to set off my alarm? Oh, so many examples to cite:

About CBS, which has suspended production of his show: “We’re definitely at war. They’re trying to destroy my family, so I take great umbrage with that. And defeat is not an option. They picked a fight with a warlock.”

On his sobriety: “I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available, because if you try it once, you will die and your children will weep over your exploded body. ”

On his strange behavior: “I’m tired of pretending like I’m not special. I’m tired of pretending like I’m not a total bitchin’ rock star from Mars.”

And on why he doesn’t need rehab: The Alcoholics Anonymous manual was “written for normal people, people that aren’t special, people that don’t have tiger blood, you know, Adonis DNA.”

Many have publicly speculated that Sheen suffers from bipolar disorder and is in a classic manic episode. He denies this — sort of. “I’m bi-winning. I win here. I win there,” he told ABC’s Andrea Canning.

We’ll know soon enough what victory Sheen plans to claim. These celebrity flameouts eventually end, but rarely in a happily ever after.

In the meantime, let’s hope he serves as an object lesson, in this era of reality TV, for the countless Americans pursuing their proverbial 15 minutes of stardom.

Fame cannot replace character, nor is it a substitute for good judgment. Fame promises but never delivers. Beware, all ye who go there.

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