Charlie Sheen can get in more hot water in more ways than just about anyone ever. In the past year or so alone, he's – well, no doubt you already know all about it: the rants against his former boss, Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre ("that low-rent, nutless sociopath"), the parading around of his live-in so-called goddesses (one, a porn star, the other, a former nanny), the court-ordered removal of his kids from his house, the lunatic verbiage ("Vatican assassin warlocks", "tiger blood", "winning!" "banging seven-gram rocks"), the $100 million breach-of-contract law-suit filed against Warner Bros and Lorre, the entities behind Men, which earned him $25 million, with more on the way, the My Violent Torpedo of the Truth/Defeat Is Not an Option tour (turned out defeat was an option, though; it kind of sucked), and so on. Last June, he finally exhausted himself and went silent, surfacing only to take the occasional swipe at Men and to exit a Guns N' Roses concert looking boozy if not bombed. In other words, recently, he's been a very good boy indeed.
But now, tonight, right at this very moment, he is courting trouble once more. He's out at a clubby Hollywood steakhouse called Boa, happily working his way through the charred-tuna tartare. A twentysomething girl has come over and presented herself. She says her name is Erica and that she just tried out for the role of his 15-year-old daughter on Anger Management, his new show on [TV network] FX, but was turned down. She pouts. Dark hair, short skirt, really tight blouse, she looks scrumptious when she pouts. She turns sideways a little, showing herself off in profile. "They were like, 'You nailed it, but your body doesn't match a 15-year-old's.'"
Charlie, 46, leans out, wipes his lips with his napkin, and says, "Well, I'm no physiology expert, but I have to support them on that."
And then, just like that, it's on. Pretty soon, they're shuffling around the outside patio, smoking cigarettes. Pretty soon, Charlie is saying, "Are you married, engaged? How is it that you and I have not met up until this moment? How do we let this not be the last time we ever see each other?" Pretty soon, Charlie has her digits in his cellphone. It's really quite spectacular how it happens. Charlie's eyes are all lit up and sparkly. He's forward without being aggressive. The gravel in his voice makes it sound like a barroom brawl, but his vibe is easygoing, warm, friendly, fun. What's not to like?
"That's one of the prettiest girls I've seen in a long time – sit-down-and-weep pretty," he says later on, overflowing with poetic emotion. "Someone like her should only exist on a Sunday. Did you see the tons of cute piled on top of her beauty? Man, I've got to get out more! That was fucking sexy as hell, man." Sitting back, he goes on, "People think that a girl comes up and I'd be like, 'Yeah, whatever.' No, I'm like a nine-year-old sitting here with his buddy, going, 'Oh, my God!' That's the Charlie Sheen nobody knows. I'm not this fucking weirdo. I don't create havoc, mayhem, wreckage. I mean, I did for a while. But it was never part of the master plan. I was just trying to keep shit propped up while it was crumbling."
A while later, he texts Erica, suggesting they get together soon, but, in fact, she is not destined to become tonight's problem. Nor are the three or four shots of tequila that Charlie downs so easily.
Instead, tonight, it's one of the gold teeth inside Charlie's mouth – specifically, the number 12 tooth, upper left, a pre-molar that snapped off on a potato chip and was replaced with gold. Ridiculous as it sounds, FX has demanded that any time Charlie steps out in public, that gold tooth needs to be camouflaged with paint. Seems they don't like the way it makes Charlie look. Seems they think it makes him look ghetto. He sighs. "A year ago, I would have been like, 'Fuck you, it's my tooth!' But why be the dick? What's the point? To show them? Show them what? Anyway, it's become this whole big deal, so now I'm like, 'OK, you're entitled.'"
But, of course, Charlie being Charlie, that tooth isn't painted tonight, and when he smiles, it's flashy and Fort Knox brilliant, and there sure are lots of paparazzi out front, just waiting for him to make an appearance. He takes a moment. He takes a breath. It could be worse. He could be in jail, or (allegedly) wrestling some girl around in the Plaza Hotel, or flinging dollars at a stripper. Much worse. "I forgot to paint my tooth, that's all," he says. And yet he really does want to toe the line. So off he sails, out the back door, into a waiting car, avoiding the photographers, avoiding conflict, showing off a more mature side of himself, the Charlie Sheen nobody knows, trying to get things right for almost the first time ever in his life, if only he can.
This is an excerpt of the cover story from the July 2012 issue of Rolling Stone South Africa. To read the rest of this story, subscribe to the magazine here.