Today, he is an out-of-work actor, struggling with addiction and prone to bizarre Twitter rants, who by his own admission has been paying people million of dollars to keep a secret about him that he wasn't ready to reveal.
Even by the standards of his own turbulent life, it's been a tough few years for Charlie Sheen
"I was so depressed by the condition I was in that I was doing a lot of drugs," the 50-year-old told "Today's" Matt Lauer on Tuesday in announcing that he is HIV-positive
. "I was drinking way too much, and I was making really bad decisions."
We all remember Sheen's 2011 meltdown, when he was fired from his hit sitcom "Two and a Half Men," entered rehab for what seemed like the umpteenth time, briefly toured the country with a profane one-man show and made wild-eyed comments about "winning" and "tiger blood."
"He was in a very desperate situation," dad Martin Sheen told People magazine
, adding that his son was struggling desperately with addiction. "And he was doing what he felt would get him out of it -- going public. And it was very painful. No less painful for him."
That was also about the time the younger Sheen learned that he had contracted HIV, although he said Tuesday that his behavior in 2011 was fueled by drugs and alcohol, not by his diagnosis. "I wish I could blame it on that," he said.
The veteran actor, who found fame in the 1980s in hit movies like "Platoon" and "Wall Street," seemed to pull out of his tailspin by 2012, when he was hired to star in FX's "Anger Management."
But judging by a recent string of bad news and his own sometimes-erratic behavior, things didn't get much better for him. Witness:
• July 2014: Sheen was caught on video outside a Taco Bell
, admitting to being "hammered."
• October 2014: A Los Angeles dental technician sued Sheen over actions during a September office visit, claiming that the actor tried to remove her bra, punched her in the chest and verbally threatened her while he was in a dental chair for treatment. Sheen's attorneys countered that his outburst was amplified by the effects of nitrous oxide. The plaintiff dropped the lawsuit
• November 2014: Sheen called off his engagement
to Brett Rossi, a former adult film star, weeks before their November wedding. At the same time, he and Rossi -- who would have been his fourth wife -- announced they were splitting up.
• December 2014: FX canceled "Anger Management."
• February 2015: CBS aired the final episode of "Two and a Half Men," in which a Sheen lookalike was crushed by a falling piano.
• June 2015: On Father's Day, Sheen took to Twitter to attack ex-wife Denise Richards
, with whom he shares two daughters. In a stream of hateful tweets, he called her "a terrorist" and the "worst mom alive."
• October 2015: Sheen was kicked out a Southern California bar
after getting in an argument with a musician.
It's too soon to say whether this week marks a new beginning for Sheen, who is now freed from the stress of paying extortioners who had threatened to go public with his HIV news. On Tuesday the actor said he hopes to use his celebrity to help others with the virus.
"My partying days are behind me. My philanthropic days are ahead of me," he said in an open letter posted on "Today's" site
Sheen's doctor, Robert Huizenga, said Tuesday that the actor's main battle
going forward will be staving off depression about his diagnosis and avoiding a relapse into substance abuse.
On "Today," Sheen sounded contrite, clear-eyed and positive about his future. He said he's had a conversation with the chairman of Sony about doing another TV show and has several films lined up.
"It's a turning point in one's life," he said of his HIV announcement. "I have a responsibility now to better myself and to help a lot of other people, and hopefully with what we're doing today, others will come forward and say, 'Thanks, Charlie.' "