AP Television Writer
POSTED: 04:45 a.m. HST, Feb 25, 2011
LOS ANGELES >> "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen has skirted disaster as a wayward, middle-aged party boy who regularly tested the patience of the TV network and studio trying to protect their valuable sitcom property.
It was a violence-tinged and anti-Semitic radio rant that helped push him over the edge and, finally, forced CBS and Warner Bros. Television to take action.
In a one-sentence joint statement Thursday, the companies said they were ending production on television's No. 1 sitcom for the season, a decision based on the "totality of Charlie Sheen's statements, conduct and condition."
Whether he's gone far enough to sink the series and, possibly, his career as one of TV's highest-paid actors remained unclear. Sheen's rambling interview Thursday with host Alex Jones was reminiscent of Mel Gibson's tirade during a 2006 traffic stop — but Sheen knew his remarks were public.
The production halt leaves CBS eight episodes shy of the 24 half-hours it had expected to air as the cornerstone of its Monday night comedy lineup. And it makes the network and Warner, which reaps hundreds of millions from the show in syndication, the potential go-betweens between Sheen and "Two and a Half Men" executive producer Chuck Lorre.
Lorre bore the brunt of Sheen's attacks during the radio interview and in a subsequent "open letter" sent to TMZ after the CBS-Warner decision and posted on the entertainment website.
In the letter, the actor called Lorre a "contaminated little maggot" and wished the producer "nothing but pain."
"Clearly I have defeated this earthworm with my words — imagine what I would have done with my fire breathing fists," the 45-year-old Sheen wrote.
Improbably, he also called on his admirers to start a protest movement for him.
"I urge all my beautiful and loyal fans who embraced this show for almost a decade to walk with me side-by-side as we march up the steps of justice to right this unconscionable wrong," Sheen wrote.
Those remarks, along with his comments to Jones, veered from ludicrous to self-aggrandizing to threatening. For a man who has battled addiction and faced allegations of domestic violence, the outbursts raised troubling questions about his state of mind and his most recent effort at rehabilitation.
In an interview Wednesday, his father, Martin Sheen ("The West Wing," "Apocalypse Now") compared his son's fight against addiction to that of a cancer patient.
"The disease of addiction is a form of cancer," Martin Sheen told Sky News in London. "You have to have an equal measure of concern and love and lift them up, so that's what we do for him."
CBS and Warner had tolerated Sheen's recent misadventures, including wild partying and three hospitalizations in three months. The incidents are part of a checkered life that included his $50,000-plus tab as a client of "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss' prostitution ring, a near-fatal cocaine overdose in 1998, and conflict-filled marriages.
(Last August, he pleaded guilty in Aspen, Colo., to misdemeanor third-degree assault after a Christmas Day altercation with his third wife, Brooke Mueller. The couple's divorce was recently finalized.)
The TV season was interrupted for "Two and a Half Men" after Sheen was briefly hospitalized last month following a 911 call in which he was described as "very, very intoxicated" and in pain. Production was put on hold while Sheen tried rehab, reportedly at home, but also railed against the hiatus as unneeded.
He signed a new two-year contract at the end of last season that reportedly pays him about $1.8 million per episode.
Plans were set for taping to resume next week. Then came the Jones radio interview and the attack on Lorre that reeked of anti-Semitism.
"There's something this side of deplorable that a certain Chaim Levine — yeah, that's Chuck's real name — mistook this rock star for his own selfish exit strategy, bro. Check it, Alex: I embarrassed him in front of his children and the world by healing at a pace that his unevolved mind cannot process," Sheen told Jones.
"Last I checked, Chaim, I spent close to the last decade effortlessly and magically converting your tin cans into pure gold. And the gratitude I get is this charlatan chose not to do his job, which is to write," he said.
Lorre, who was born Charles Levine, is a veteran producer whose hits include "The Big Bang Theory," "Dharma & Greg" and "Cybill." He had no comment on Sheen's remarks or the production shut down, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
Speaking of himself, the star of the films "Platoon," "Wall Street" and "Major League" said he has "magic and poetry in my fingertips, most of the time."
But he also made repeated, unclear references to mayhem. At one point, Sheen called himself the new sheriff in town who has an "army of assassins."
"If you love with violence and you hate with violence, there's nothing that can be questioned," he said.
When CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler was asked about Sheen at a news conference in January, she said, "We have a high level of concern. How can we not?" she said.
When a reporter suggested a person in a different line of work and a similar track record would be fired, Tassler replied: "What do you get fired for? Going to work and doing your job?"