‘There’s always hope’

LIFE is fraught for Charlie Sheen.

The falling star lost his battle for sole custody of his two sons last week, with his soon-to-be-ex-wife Brooke Mueller, apparently entering rehab. Sheen filed for divorce earlier this year after he was convicted of assaulting her in December, 2009. Brooke was awarded primary custody of the twins, and last month she won a temporary restraining order against Sheen, while the children were removed from his home. All this in the wake of the dismal reaction to his solo tour, Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat Is Not an Option.

The Platoon, Wall Street and Hot Shots star was enjoying a resurgence fronting hit Warner Bros sitcom, Two and Half Men, but his career went into freefall early this year when he was booted off his $1.8m-per-show deal for allegedly abusing drugs in the workplace and launching an anti-Semitic verbal attack on the show’s creator. He is in litigation with the studio. His tour, in which he hoped to win over a sceptical American public, got off to a bad start when his debut performance was booed in Detroit, and despite a recovery with a well-received show in Chicago, his New York gig saw “the self-described ‘warlock’ at war with his own booing and heckling audience”, said the city’s Village Voice magazine.

If times are hard for Sheen, they’re difficult for his family, too. “He should perhaps think about our father, he is 70 now,” says Emilio Estevez, Charlie’s older brother (Estevez is the family name, Charlie followed his father in adopting the Sheen stage name). Their father is Hollywood heavyweight Martin Sheen. He is a devout Catholic, finding his faith after a heart attack during an alcohol-fuelled 1976-1977 shoot in the Philippines on Apocalypse Now. Martin was an alcoholic but his anguish over Charlie’s turmoil is palpable.

Martin is promoting his latest film, The Way, written and directed by Estevez, but Charlie’s confusion plays on his mind. “I include Charlie in my prayers. I always lift him up. I know the hell he lives in, because I was there,” says The West Wing star. “So I’m extremely compassionate and understanding. The key is on the inside; you can’t force anyone to do anything, good or ill, without their allowing you in. We’ve been through some very difficult times, but we understand what Charlie’s hell is.”

Sheen snr, who made his name with films like Catch-22 (1970) and Badlands (1973), describes his own relationship with alcohol as the lowest point in his life, and though it prompted one of the most famous scenes in late ’70s film — his hotel room meltdown in Apocalypse Now — it brought him great pain. “That is a psychotic episode,” says Sheen of the scene in the Philippines. “It’s personal pain gone public. I’d done that before, on occasion, and it’s very scary. It’s a cry for help.” When the film’s director, Francis Ford Coppola, urged Sheen not to push the boundaries so far, the actor ignored him. “I said, ‘No, I want to do this one on camera; I want to see what this looks like.’ And in some way it was a good thing, though it was very difficult.”

Sheen cleaned up his act in the wake of his 1977 heart attack — he staggered a quarter of a mile to find help — and has since enjoyed a long, if undulating, career. His four children, Emilio, Carlos (Charlie), Ramón, and their sister Renée, have all followed him into the entertainment industry, although it is the first two who have prospered most.

Estevez broke through in 1985 with the Brat Pack hits The Breakfast Club and St Elmo’s Fire and became the youngest person to write, star in, and direct a debut movie, Wisdom (1986), with his then-girlfriend Demi Moore, and it was, says Estevez, “silliness in the extreme”. He has since directed his brother in Men at Work (1990), and the more accomplished duo of The War At Home (1996) and Bobby (2006), both of which featured his father, Sheen. The two are close friends, and today live on the West Coast just 200 yards apart.

“In a way, with my father, it feels like we’re friends rather than father and son,” says Estevez, “and I have the same relationship with my son. With my father, we kind of grew up together. He was only 21 when I was born. He was still happy when he could tie his shoes, ‘What do you mean we’ve got a baby in the house?’ It was the same for me; I matured with my children and grew up with them.”

Estevez has two children, son Taylor and daughter Paloma, with ex-girlfriend and model, Carey Salley, and it was Taylor’s journey that prompted the filmmaker’s latest movie, The Way. Martin takes the lead role and Estevez appears briefly as his son, Daniel. The film is the tale of Tom, a conservative American whose world is turned upside down following the death of Daniel in an accident while walking The Way of St James, or El Camino del Santiago, in the Pyrenees.

“I was thinking, ‘What do I know about losing a son on the Camino?’” says Estevez. “And then I thought of what happened with my son: he walked the Camino with my father in 2003, and he met a girl on the route. She was the daughter of the innkeeper in a place that they stayed on their journey. My son then moved to Spain, married the girl, and has been gone for eight years. So aren’t I more connected to this story than anything I’ve done in my life? It’s not a lament; I’m glad that my son has found a life, it’s just that it’s 6,000 miles away. And I’m not ready to pick up and follow him. I’m sure he’s not too keen on that either. I do miss him, though.” On screen, the father’s anguish at losing his son is palpable, but the story is concerned with Tom’s development during his journey, rather than his heartache. “Tom has this sense of entitlement and you see that when he first has to stay at a hostel, he thinks he’ll have his own room but he’s there sharing this dormitory… He thinks, ‘This is outrageous’,” says Sheen. “And what Emilio is saying, which I thought was very powerful, was that it’s very American to say, ‘We can do it. We’ll decide. I’ll walk this path alone’.

“And yet every time that Tom did it on his own he got in trouble. It was only when he went into the community with the other pilgrims that he realised that everyone is broken. That’s what it means to be human.

“And how we make up for brokenness is through each other, and I believe that is how God finds us: in each other. In community, that’s where it is. You don’t have to do it by yourself and you shouldn’t.”

The message resonates in the family’s caring attitude towards Charlie.

“We love him and pray for him,” Estevez says, “and there’s always hope. There’s always hope.”

More in this section

IE Logo


Your guide to staying at home


Join us for our International Women’s Day virtual lunchtime celebration on Monday, March 8 from 1pm


Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.