Unless you’ve been in a coma for the past few weeks, you know that our celebrity obsessed media has been having a field day with Charlie Sheen. Of course we know what the media is all about: they’re all about celebrity, gossip and exploitation. Nothing makes the press happier than latching onto a nice juicy “superstar-spiraling-out-of-control” story and milking the crap out of it. No surprises there. Sheen is just the latest incarnation of Anna Nicole Smith as far as the TV and tabloid gossips are concerned.
What I can’t figure out, though, is what exactly is going on with Charlie Sheen. Everyone has their own opinion about him. Some are sure he is certifiably nuts, some think he is high on drugs. Some hate him, some feel sorry for him, some defend him and many just want him to go away already. Predictably, many of his fans are crying for the press to “please leave Charlie alone!” “He has a right to live his life anyway he wants — let him alone!” This is laughable of course, since it is Sheen himself who has sought out the press and is giving out “exclusive” interviews to every news outlet who will have him. Mr. Sheen does not want to be left alone.
I’ve seen some of these appearances and listened to his rants and don’t know if Sheen is being himself (whatever that may be) or is acting. This might be just another celebrity meltdown as the media seems to think, or maybe it is something else. Could this possibly be a well-crafted publicity stunt? Who knows? Crazier things have been done in show biz.
One thing for sure, Charlie Sheen has all the symptoms of someone who has a psychopathic personality, as medical science has come to describe it. Psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley, M.D. was a pioneer in the field of psychopathy. His book, “The Mask of Sanity” was first published in 1941 and provided the most influential clinical description of psychopathy in the 20th century. The basic elements of psychopathy outlined in that book are still relevant today.
The term “mask of sanity” came from Cleckley’s observations that, unlike people with major mental disorders, a “psychopath” can appear to be normal and even engaging, while typically not suffering overtly from hallucinations or delusions. However, the “mask” covers a concealed psychosis. Cleckley describes the psychopathic person as outwardly a perfect mimic (actor?) of a normally functioning person, able to mask or disguise the fundamental lack of internal personality structure, an internal chaos that results in repeatedly purposeful destructive behavior, often more self-destructive than destructive to others. Despite the seemingly sincere, intelligent, even charming external presentation, internally the psychopathic person does not have the ability to experience genuine emotions.
Cleckley introduced 16 behavioral characteristics of a psychopath:
- Superficial charm and good intelligence
- Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking
- Absence of nervousness or psychoneurotic manifestations
- Untruthfulness and insincerity
- Lack of remorse and shame
- Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
- Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience
- Pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love
- General poverty in major affective reactions
- Specific loss of insight
- Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations
- Fantastic and uninviting behavior with drink and sometimes without
- Suicide threats rarely carried out
- Sex life impersonal, trivial and poorly integrated
- Failure to follow any life plan.
How many of the above do you see when watching and listening to Charlie Sheen? While we outsiders have no way of judging whether Sheen has the capacity for love or not, it is undeniable that the man possesses a many other of these traits, including superficial charm, egocentricity and the lack of remorse and shame. I’m no psychiatrist, I don’t even play one on TV, so I can’t diagnose Charlie Sheen – I’m just telling you what the medical books say.
I could be wrong, but I think after all the smoke clears, Charlie Sheen will wind up back on top of the show biz pile. My gut tells me that he is no Anna Nicole Smith. At the end of the day, his peers will embrace him, his fans will love him all the more, and he will be back making movies or TV shows or whatever. He very well might end up being bigger than ever. There is really very little that a celebrity can do today that will destroy their career, short of murder.
But just because Sheen may become a bigger star than ever doesn’t mean that he’s not a psychopath.