Stars stepping in it

Actor Charlie Sheen appears to be running as fast as he can toward the proverbial precipice from which fellow famous substance abusers Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, and Anna Nicole Smith, to name just three, eventually fell to their deaths.  As a child custody expert, and as I’ve said since the first time I ever covered Sheen on the air, I’m a lot more concerned about his kids than I am about him.  Apparently, the authorities in California are, too.  Sheen’s two-year-old twins reportedly have been removed from his home by sheriff’s deputies and returned to their mother’s custody.  This could mean a couple of things.  Sheen either violated a pre-existing court order and failed to return the children on schedule (as specified in the parenting plan attached to his divorce decree), or the mother got an emergency “ex parte” order from a family-court judge awarding her temporary sole custody given the ample evidence of Sheen’s instability on national TV in recent days.  If it’s the latter, Sheen’s statements about how his “girlfriends” help care for the children certainly didn’t help — whenever I make child-custody recommendations to a court, I assess any “significant other” of either parent who’s likely to end up having significant contact with the child(ren), and when recently-divorced parents seem to be more interested in their own sex/love lives than in mitigating the damage done to the child(ren) by the divorce, I have to wonder about that parent’s fitness).

As for Sheen’s mental health, amateur and professional shrinks alike have been speculating about his diagnosis.  I agree with those who’ve said he seems manic in recent television interviews (pressured speech, grandiose comparisons of himself to tigers and fighter jets, paranoia about network executives’ motives for canceling his show, etc.), but that doesn’t necessarily make him, as some have opined, bipolar.  He could’ve been intoxicated during those interviews.  If, on the other hand, the “negative” urine drug screen report that he’s been waving around isn’t bogus, it’s also possible for withdrawal symptoms to mimic mania.  I agree with those who’ve opined that he seems profoundly narcissistic, but not for the reasons that many are citing.  For example, he’s talked about how “special” he is and about how people are jealous of his “rock-star” life.  For someone who is a major TV star, who has been treated as if he’s above the law for years, who does make tens of millions of dollars per year, and who does have women falling all over him even as he starts to resemble the “after” pictures of addicts on my Facebook page, those statements aren’t really all that indicative of narcissism (because they’re actually somewhat grounded in reality).  The better indications of narcissism, as I see it, speculating from afar, without examining him, are behavioral rather than rhetorical — all of the times when he’s apparently prioritized his own physical pleasure-seeking above the best interests of people about whom he’s supposed to care, foremost among them, his aforementioned children).

Turning back to the law, people have asked me whether Sheen’s threatened lawsuit against the network for cancelling his show for the remainder of the current season has any merit.  I doubt it.  If he argues that his employment was suspended because he has a “disease” (drug abuse), that goes nowhere.  The law generally affords no protection against negative employment consequences to people currently/recently abusing illegal drugs (i.e. committing crimes).  So, Sheen would have to argue that, sick or not, he was nevertheless upholding his end of their contract, showing up to work, delivering  his lines, etc., and the network arbitrarily let him go, breaching the contract without cause.  Given his appearance and demeanor in recent days, his open disparagement of network executives and the show’s producers, and the devaluing effects that his disgraceful public behavior could reasonably be expected to have on the network’s and the show’s “brand”/image, I don’t think that goes anywhere either.  Having advised attorneys on jury behavior, I think even a jury of the show’s fans would find cause in Sheen’s case.

Speaking of substance-abusing celebrities, singer Christina Aguilera was arrested this week for apparent drunk and disorderly conduct.  Maybe too much booze explains why she couldn’t get the lyrics to the National Anthem right at this year’s Superbowl!

And finally, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was a recent guest on The View, and I thought that co-hostess Barbara Walters departed from her usually-classy demeanor when she asked Rumsfeld repeatedly whether he wanted to “apologize” for the invasion of Iraq during his tenure.  There’s a difference between making the best decision you could’ve made with the information that you had at the time and making a conscious decision to hurt other people for personal gratification.  If someone’s memoir describes the former, then there really aren’t grounds to demand an apology.  If, on the other hand, someone else’s memoir describes the latter — ahem — then there are grounds (at least for those who were hurt) to demand an apology, and at the very least, the author shouldn’t be sitting in judgment of others on a moral high horse.  (Yes, I know that the damage resulting from one person’s bad decision may be much greater than the damage resulting from the other person’s bad decision, but it’s the presence of malice/indifference/negligence, not the degree of damage, that really determines whether a bad decision demands an apology.)  Ms. Walters apparently disagrees — just days prior, she criticized another View guest for having had an extramarital affair with former televangelist Jim Baker, at which time the guest actually made essentially the same point to Walters that I just made, and Walters promptly dismissed the comparison, quipping, “This is about you.”


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