Since getting sober more than two decades ago, Tom Arnold, the actor and comedian, has been a quiet force in Hollywood’s recovery community, helping stage a number of interventions for drug-addicted executives and alcoholic stars, according to a story in the New York Times.
But even a seen-it-all show business survivor like Arnold was stunned by what happened when he tried to pull his friend and former neighbor, Charlie Sheen, back from the brink.
“I went to a person close to him and said, ‘This guy is in serious trouble with serious drugs. We’ve got to help him,’ ” Arnold recalled in an interview. “And this person flat-out told me to my face, ‘We make a lot of money from him. I can’t be part of it.’ That tells you everything you need to know.”
While bad behavior by star performers is tolerated in a number of industries — sports and high fashion, for example — Hollywood has a longer public history of aiding and abetting addicts. Doctors employed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer famously gave Judy Garland amphetamines and other drugs to combat fatigue and control her weight, setting up a life-long battle with drug addiction that she ultimately lost.
“One of the problems with the entertainment industry is that, to protect the image of these people, they try to deal with the problem by sweeping it under the rug,” said John T. Schwarzlose, chief executive of the Betty Ford Center, the licensed addiction hospital in Rancho Mirage, Cal.
In the case of a crack-smoking, prostitute-frequenting Sheen, many people in Hollywood say there is a long list of enablers: managers and agents and publicists; a coterie of assistants and party buddies; prostitutes, drug dealers and sex film stars; and the tabloid media, which have fed on Sheen’s antics for years.
Their efforts may have sustained Sheen during his long career, but they seem to have finally backfired. As the lead actor of a No. 1-rated sitcom, Sheen is that rare commodity in today’s Hollywood — a bankable and irreplaceable star — and his public crackup has come at perhaps the most valuable point in his career.
CBS, which broadcasts “Two and a Half Men,” and Warner Brothers, which makes it, have shut down the remainder of this season and could lose more than $250 million in revenue if next season is lost as well.
That decision was made only after what executives from the two companies described as years of efforts to try to convince Sheen to concede he had serious addiction problems.
“There is a long history here,” one senior executive involved in the supervision of the program said. The executive asked not to be identified because of the potential legal conflict looming between the network and the studio and Sheen. (Sheen, who has talked to just about everybody else in the past week, did not respond to requests to comment for this article.)
The senior executive described a recent trip to Sheen’s home by the top executive at CBS, Leslie Moonves, and the head of the Warner television group, Bruce Rosenblum.
They reported that Sheen had looked haggard and nothing like the leading man of a hit show. They said that Sheen had agreed to enter a rehabilitation facility, but when he decided a few days later that he would conduct his own rehab work at home, they concluded that “Charlie had thumbed his nose” at them.
It was not the first time that the show’s managers had tried to intercede, but they had limited options: Sheen’s contract does not include any kind of morals provision that would have allowed him to be fired or replaced. According to one longtime Hollywood agent (who, like many people quoted in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to create any conflicts in their business), the show’s success had provided him with the leverage he needed to keep any such clause out.
“He’s money,” this agent said. “He makes the cash register ring.”
Many of the people in the best position to discuss Sheen’s drug abuse over the years declined to speak. His father, Martin Sheen, is out of the country, according to a spokesman; Charlie Sheen’s managers, Mark Burg and Oren Koules of Evolution Entertainment, did not respond to multiple interview requests.
A spokeswoman for Sheen’s brother, Emilio Estevez, was similarly unresponsive. Oliver Stone, who directed the young Sheen in two seminal movies, “Platoon” and “Wall Street,” declined to comment.
A person who was closely associated with Sheen in the 1990s said the actor’s sheer stamina allowed him to mix work and play in ways that would surely have immobilized others.
“He does show up,” this person said of Sheen’s work habits. “He might be out until 5 a.m., but he always showed up on call at 7.”