Remembering Charlie Sheen’s IIl-Fated “Winning” Era
A decade later, his unhinged "Violent Torpedo of Truth" reads a little bit differently
Charlie Sheen wasn’t winning.
The first stop for the increasingly unhinged actor on his “My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat Is Not an Option” tour was at the Fox Theater in Detroit on April 2, 2011. Reviews were not kind. The one-hour show was a “ragged mix of video clips, ear-splitting music, profanity-laced monologues and clumsy attempts to encourage audience participation” that “did not so much end as collapse,” as A.O. Scott put in the New York Times.
How did he sink this low? Sheen, 45 years old at the time and recently fired from his hit CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, had made headlines earlier in 2011 via some seriously delinquent behavior and a series of bizarro interviews. Just a year earlier, he was celebrating being the top-paid actor on television.
But that feat was quickly derailed after several stints in rehab, a public lashing out at Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre and those infamous televised interviews. To start, we had his Apocalypse Now-themed rants on Alex Jones’s radio show — AN star Martin Sheen is Charlie’s father — where the actor showed off a “Death From Above” tattoo and claimed to have cured his alcoholism with his mind, bragging that “most of the time I’m an F-18, bro — I’ll destroy you in the air.”
Good Morning, America followed. Here, Sheen’s unhinged rants were laced with some prime catchphrases like “tiger’s blood,” “Adonis DNA,” “warlock” and “duh, winning.” He also announced, “I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available, because if you try it once, you will die and your children will weep over your exploded body. Too much?”
Apparently, not for America, which sided with Sheen — overlooking the outsized ego, drug issues, 9/11 truthing and some thinly veiled anti-Semitic rants against Lorre — and snatched up tickets to see the actor go on tour doing … well, no one knew exactly, but it was supposed to include “laughter, screaming, truth and mayhem.”
Unfortunately for everyone, Sheen lacked a stage concept beyond shock value. The first night started with comedian Kirk Fox booed off the stage. Then, a mock iPhone ad called “MaSheen” was played, followed by two contest winners (scantily clad women) singing the national anthem. Then some violent film clips from Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry and Taxi Driver and then finally the man himself, who announced, “I am finally here to identify and train the Vatican assassin locked inside each and every one of you.”
As Entertainment Weekly remarked at the time, “Sheen [then] begins a lengthy speech in his newfound Malibu Messiah semi-coherent metaphor-stuffed neo-Hunter S. Thompson style, talking about his ‘napalm-dripping brain.’”
Fifteen minutes, the walkouts started amid a chorus of boos. A little over an hour later, Sheen was done.
But he got paid. “I already got your money, dude,” he told one heckler.
As one patron leaving the Fox Theater noted, ““Dude, that was seriously the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed.”
A few days later Sheen showed up in New York. I was there to cover it. The audience was an odd mix: many bemused, a lot of actual fans who apparently hadn’t read the early reviews, one loud 9/11 truther, an even louder anti-Semite … and Frank Stallone.
The first paragraph from my review at the time:
“BE MORE CRAZY!” The chant started behind us about 30 minutes into Charlie Sheen’s bizarrly horrific stage show on Friday night at Radio City Music Hall. Things got ugly fast for the fallen “Two and a Half Men” star, as boos, chants of “refund!” and catcalls nearly drowned out the actor. Sheenius, it was not. After a few boring stories about his hotel antics (you did crack and bought prostitutes…we get it), regurgitating his catchphrases (winning, tiger’s blood, etc.) and some unfunny banter with a host and a guitarist (who accented the “funny” lines with quick riffs), Sheen and the audience seemed to grow bored of each other. Walkouts were common — and anger, on both sides, was palpable by night’s end.
Two years later, Sheen admitted he had done the tour because he was financially hurting (he apparently made $7 million for the tour). He also admitted he didn’t have an act, as he told Piers Morgan. Two years after that, he publicly revealed that he’d been HIV positive since 2011.
“I was not ‘winning’ at all,” Sheen said in 2013. “I think what a lot of people don’t realize is I was completely broke, because, you know, when they kept my back-end and fired me and all that, I didn’t have any money left. So, I was using the tour to actually pay child support and mortgages and stuff like that. You know? So I’m grateful for that.”
His assessment of that Detroit show? “That was bad.”
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