Why Charlie Sheen’s Disclosure of His HIV Status Is So Important

After over a week of being hounded by the press, and years of being extorted in order to keep this fact out of the public eye, actor Charlie Sheen has disclosed in an interview that he is HIV positive.

Speaking exclusively to the Today program’s Matt Lauer on Tuesday, Sheen said that he was going public about his HIV status because of multiple attempts to extort money from him in the past, as well as speculation over his health in the media that he called a “smear campaign.”

I have to put a stop to this onslaught, this barrage of attacks and of sub-truths and very harmful and mercurial stories that are about me, threatening the health of so many others that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said.

Sheen, who characterized his disclosure as releasing himself from prison, rejected claims that his previous drug use put him at a higher risk, namely because he did not take drugs intravenously. Sheen also dismissed claims that his public 2011 arguments with the makers of the hit show†Two and a Half Men were related to his diagnosis, saying that it was actually more to do with his substance abuse struggles. His physician confirmed for the program however that Sheen has managed to adhere to his 4-pill a day antiretroviral plan, while in separate comments Sheen has clarified that his virus load is so low as to not be infectious but, with regards to his personal life, he has not put people at risk.

Since the†interview Sheen has also released an open letter regarding the†disclosure of his HIV†status, saying in part:

Roughly four years ago, I suddenly found myself in the throws of a seismic and debilitating three-day cluster-migraine-like headache. I was emergently hospitalized with what I believed to be a brain tumor or perhaps some unknown pathology. I was partially correct. Following a battery of endless tests, that included a hideous spinal tap, it was sadly and shockingly revealed to me that I was, in fact, positive for HIV.

[...]

In and around this perplexing and difficult time, I dazedly chose (or hired) the companionship of unsavory and insipid types. Regardless of their salt-less reputations, I always lead with condoms and honesty when it came to my condition. Sadly, my truth soon became their treason, as a deluge of blackmail and extortion took center stage in this circus of deceit.

[...]

Every day, of every month, of every year, countless individuals go to work, man their stations, fulfill their professional obligations with a host of disabilities. Diseases, imperfections, hurdles, detours. These maladies range from lupus to cancer, from paralysis to blindness, from diabetes to obesity. “Treated,” HIV is no different.

In many ways, what has happened to Sheen and what Sheen has had to endure†is a testament to all the fears that people with HIV face, even if they are not famous.

The fact that the many press reports, even including†The New York Times, have failed to label it “extortion” that Sheen was forced to pay money in order to not have personal details about him revealed, well it says a great deal about the stigma surrounding HIV and that vague whiff of victim-blaming that often reduces compassion and characterizes†people with HIV as being morally flawed.

Then of course there have been more antagonistic articles. The UK’s Mirror has a run a series of articles since last week on a then unnamed celebrity having HIV, with commentary that he “deserves everything he gets” also appearing on†the news site.

The Daily Mail, too, has run several articles in the past few days relating to Sheen’s disclosure, both before and after he actually confirmed the fact of his having HIV, and each report has been†lurid, while many have†focused on the fact of his substance abuse and sexual activities. For example, take the following headline:

£1,400-a-day drugs binges. Thousands of women. All in the knowledge that he was HIV positive: Decadence that destroyed Prince of Hollywood Charlie Sheen

I’m forced to say well done to the media at large for proving a very particular point: that the slut-shaming, ignorant and deceitful lies surrounding HIV persist to this day, and that they are ready to be trotted out as soon as the press feels it has a juicy story.

However, there are several†positives to come out of all of this.

Sheen’s story also highlights†the significant overlap between depression as a risk factor for both substance abuse and, as a result of multiple factors that depression can create, a greater risk of contracting HIV. We can take action there, both in terms of providing HIV prevention, detection and treatment services, as well as greater mental health support.

Also, the fact that Sheen has stood up to those who would extort him, and that many in the industry and beyond are now rallying around him, is a testament to the fact that times have changed and no longer should people with HIV have to live in fear of being demonized. Just as Charlie Sheen has rejected being extorted and bullied, we have the power to reject others–including media voices–who would perpetrate that treatment and perpetuate the stigma against†people living with HIV and AIDS.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

61 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Virginia Abreu de Paula

I am really disappointed to people here that have not a nice word to a man in pain, who did something quite brave. The worst part for me is that those who are liisting his problems have never met him. They are not their friends, don't know his reasons and fears. Total lack of compassion. I do hope he will be fine. Nowadays it is possible. He, no mater how his life is, is a human being and nobody should never be HIV positive. I want to congratulated him for disclosing it.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

When Magic Johnson announced that he had HIV, he blamed himself. Where is the humility? Charlie Sheen is NOT someone who should be looked up to. He is NOT a good roll model. He should not be glorified in any way. He led the life style that led to his infection.

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Manuela C.
Manuela C2 years ago

Good for him.

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Carl O.
Carl O2 years ago

Call me a skeptic but I have little sympathy for Charlie Sheen. Charlie has one area of expertise screwing. Or maybe I should correct that to read three areas of expertise screwing, screwing up and screwing over. His walking off the set put the entire staff and crews jobs in jeopardy. On Two and a Half Men he played a self centered, egocentric, womanizing substance abuser. Not exactly stretching his acting chops. I now he claimed that he had tiger's blood running trough his veins but I hope he realizes that it is not a cure for HIV for we have lost enough tigers as it is. I do not wish to sound insensitive to sufferers of HIV and AIDS many especially in Africa have been orphaned by the disease and too many have fallen from it. However Charlie Sheen is responsible for his actions or inactions. What I deal feel bad about is all of the women he may have had sex with after contracting the disease. I hope that the majority of them protected themselves and paced a helmet on Charlie's little soldier before he was sent into combat. I also wonder about the timing of his revelation. It came out after his new show Anger Management was canceled. Is it a need to come clean or a PR job to sell an upcoming book?

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Helen Baynes
Helen Baynes2 years ago

[cont from below] He's a raging narcissist and I truly hope that he's telling the truth with a lot of what he's said, but I have little faith in him as a person and won't be at all surprised if it comes out that he's lied through his teeth. And that's a real problem. I hope that his publicity is used by people who have good information to share and learnings to impart since society remains very ignorant on the subject of HIV and this is a good platform. But there are only a handful of other men in Hollywood who would be as bad or worse a person to bear the brunt of publicity for something like this, and I'm sorry for all those living with the stigma of HIV that they've got stuck with Sheen as poster boy. Media like care2.com need to do better, too. There's a way to have this conversation without blaming or condemning Sheen for his HIV status, and being supportive of him in that regard, but not ignoring or minimising his history or who he is as a person.

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Helen Baynes
Helen Baynes2 years ago

I wish that pieces like this would provide criticism of Charlie Sheen's disgusting misogyny and narcissism, and how that's informing how he speaks about this. Yes, being blackmailed is disgusting, yes, it's good that he has opened up about his HIV status and no-one should be forced into that situation. No-one deserves illness and no-one should be blamed in the way that HIV people often are for "bringing it upon themselves." However, I'm really sad for those living with HIV that this scum of a man is now the most recognisable person living with the illness. He is a disgusting misogynist and has exhibited all sorts of otherwise bigoted and violent behaviour entirely separate to the conversation being had here. The fact that he says things like this about his repeated interactions with sex workers, "I dazedly chose (or hired) the companionship of unsavory and insipid types. Regardless of their salt-less reputations" and Matt Lauer buys into that narrative of poor old Charlie being done wrong by the scummy hookers? Revolting. Sheen is the one purchasing women's bodies; he has been violent with women repeatedly. Sheen is the one now denigrating these women's characters and they are in a much less powerful position than him both by status and career. The fact that this goes unquestioned is revolting. He's a raging narcissist and I truly hope that he's telling the truth with a lot of what he's said, but I have little faith in him as a person and won't be at all surprised if it come

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Maureen King
Maureen King2 years ago

I'm disappointed with a lot of the remarks made regarding Charlie Sheen,his morals and behaviour choices. Regardless of whether you like him or not it's always easy to point the finger and pass judgment. I would assume that pretty much everyone would be aware of his reputation.So if you had any kind of relationship with him,indulged in similar behaviors. SURPRISE,SURPRISE.Maybe all of those people should accept responsibility for their own actions and choices.(blame it on somebody else is usually the way to go,stupid and childish). He's obviously been in abusive relationships,abused substances,but more importantly and unfortunately,abused himself. I'm not into preaching or overly religious,but isn't there something about "the truth setting you free" and another about "casting stones. ("Mine -how about if you lay down with dogs,you get fleas.") Charlie,you need to lift your game mate. If his father and brother are doing well,good luck to them -he's obviously not. I'm hoping now he'll know better and (for his sake) he'll do better.

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Lori Hone
Lori Hone2 years ago

His disclosure at first is difficult, but bringing HIV to the for front in a way only a celebrity can do is a wonderful thing.

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Carrie A.
Carrie A2 years ago

Hopefully the take-away isn't that only people living a Charlie Sheen kind of lifestyle can get HIV.

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