Things have taken an ugly turn for the downward-spiraling Charlie Sheen, with an official termination from Two and a Half Men coming on the heels of a series of increasingly unhinged streaming “talk shows.” The most recent broadcast is so disturbingly off-kilter, it offers chilling echoes of the video diaries made by Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner.
Sheen’s moment as lovable media scamp is also history, his declarations of mind-boggling pomposity going from widely quoted punchlines to the scourges of the internet in the blink of an addiction-curing eye. The last 24 hours alone have brought about calls for an Unfollow Charlie Sheen on Twitter Day and the release of a browser blocker that will literally blacken out any mention of Sheen's name (including the ones above).
It’s an interesting and extreme reaction: The same man whose exploits just days ago pulled in record TV ratings and fed countless late-night comedy show skits is now the target of a campaign to erase him entirely from the collective consciousness. For Andrew Extein, a clinical social worker from Los Angeles, it’s less a matter of Sheen-overload than it is a symptom of a society unequipped to deal with the harsh realities of mental illness.
“Why do we do this?” asks Extein. “And what does it say about the way our culture views mental illness? Do we even see it? Do we deny it? Because he’s a celebrity, does that make him immune, because he’s doing morally reprehensible things?”
It was those “reprehensible things” that Two and a Half Men production company Warner Bros. Television cited in its firing of the actor, pointing to a clause in Sheen’s contract that allows for termination of any performer who commits "a felony offense involving moral turpitude." In the 11-page legal filing, WBTV acknowledged that Sheen has been “engaged in dangerously self-destructive conduct and appears to be very ill.”
WBTV also states that the company, together with Chuck Lorre and CBS, has “done everything within our power to get Mr. Sheen the help he so badly and obviously needs,” including the furnishing of a private jet to bring him to a treatment facility—a trip Sheen refused. His firing, while “not a step taken lightly,” was therefore unavoidable, they argue. But was it legal?
In 1999, the Supreme Court decided that mental illness is a form of disability and therefore covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which states “no person with a disability can be unjustly excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services, programs or activities of any public entity.”
There remains little doubt, save perhaps from the odiously solicitous Piers Morgan, that Sheen suffers from severe mental illness, his words and demeanor in recent weeks containing all the classic symptoms of bipolar behavior. Yes, he is a drug fiend—but self-medicating would fit squarely within the profile. Despite his most ardent denials, then, Sheen’s condition would put him under the protection of the ADA.
But in all likelihood, Sheen’s bed has already been made. So what next? Is there any way at this point that Sheen can be saved from himself? Committing him to a mental health facility against his will would only happen were he to demonstrate himself to be a danger to either his own self or to others. That’s according to California’s Tarasoff Law, which states that mental health professionals have “a duty to protect individuals who are being threatened with bodily harm by a patient,” including themselves.
But Sheen has demonstrated none of the requirements that satisfy a state of “suicidality.” Rather, he’s been engaged in a prolonged stage of dangerously manic self-indulgence. Sheen has surrounded himself with a ring of parasitic enablers whose livelihoods rely entirely upon their host’s self-destructive behavior.
For Extein, the situation is all too familiar, and the consequences are dire:
“There’s a well-documented history of celebrity cases like this ending in death,” he says. “It reminds me a lot of Anna Nicole Smith.”