The trail of giddy surprises began a week before the wedding, when Charlie Sheen arrived home coyly brandishing a tattoo parlor T-shirt. “I’m like, ‘Okay, what did you do?’ ” says actress Denise Richards, who, knowing Sheen’s penchant for body art (10 tattoos, not counting the three he is removing), conducted a swift skin search. When the Spin City star removed the bandage on his left wrist, there was her name scripted on the underside. “I love that!” says Richards, who now plans to tattoo his name on her ankle. “I’ve never had anyone tattoo anything for me!”
Richards, 31, saved her response for their June 15 outdoor wedding at the Brentwood estate of Spin City creator Gary David Goldberg. After exchanging evening vows, the cherubic former Bond girl and the once-notorious bad boy—now four years sober and distanced from his tabloid past—enjoyed a prolonged kiss. When they turned to face the gathering of 85 relatives and friends—including husband-and-wife pals Angie Harmon and Jason Sehorn, Heather Locklear and Richie Sambora and Brooke Shields and Chris Henchy—a six-person gospel choir burst into a raucous, a cappella rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” Richards’s salute to her baseball-obsessed new hubby. “It was a joyous outburst,” says the bride’s pal Tasha Boley. As the choir broke into “Oh, Happy Day,” Boley adds, “Everyone started laughing and clapping. They were radiating happiness.”
Dancing on air too. Around 9 p.m., while guests hunted for their places at nine round dinner tables beneath a large tent, a small band struck up the first song the couple had chosen—”Open Arms” by Journey—and the newlyweds took to the makeshift high-gloss wooden dance floor. Then they launched into an elegant routine—complete with dips and turns-choreographed for them by Fame star Debbie Allen, who gave the pair four private lessons. “I’d never seen Charlie dance before,” says his dad, West Wing star Martin Sheen, 61. “He was like Fred Astaire doing a waltz.”
As guests settled into their dinner, best man Tony Todd brought down the house with his toast. “Denise is by far the best catch of your life,” the actor said. “As newly appointed commissioner of baseball, I award you the official Gold Glove award.” Then he presented a speechless Sheen with an authentic Gold Glove trophy (thanks to some inside help from Todd’s pal, Cincinnati Reds star Ken Griffey Jr.) etched with a picture of the couple. “Charlie was just blown away,” says Boley.
For Sheen, 36, the whole event was a joy that once seemed unimaginable. “There’s not hope for much when you’re that deep,” he says of his troubled past. Richards, he adds, “has taught me more about myself than anybody I’ve ever been close to. I just feel so supported all the time.” For her part, Richards, who grew up in Downers Grove, Ill., professes to be unbothered by Sheen’s feisty old days, which included years of drug and alcohol abuse and trysts with Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss’s call girls. “He’s won his freedom,” says Martin, whose tough love helped in his son’s recovery. “This is what Denise has brought out in him. He’s himself, he’s his glorious self. I just give thanks and praise.”
In fact, Richards and Sheen rarely discuss that period in his life. “I never wanted to ask him about it because it’s none of my business,” says Richards, whose two-year relationship with actor Patrick Muldoon ended in the summer of 2000. “We all have a past; unfortunately his was very public.” Her bottom line: “I respect him for who he is. I admire him for where he’s come from.”
The pair first met while shooting Good Advice in 2000. But it wasn’t until Richards guest starred on Spin City last fall that a romance began to raise its head. On their first date, on Oct. 4, they hung out in Sheen’s condo to watch San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds tie the major league home run record. Between innings, Richards tried to steal first base. “I made the first move kissing him,” she says. “He was Mr. Polite, such a gentleman.”
By their second date, Richards says, “I knew that this is the one, but I wouldn’t tell him that. I didn’t want to scare him away by saying, ‘You’re my future husband!’ and have him run for the hills.” Sheen tried to play it cooler, but Locklear, his costar on the recently canceled City, laughs, “You’d walk by and in a little corner they’d be kissing, so it was pretty obvious.” Over the next two months they discovered a mutual interest in yoga and a shared aversion to crowds. “We’re both introverted,” says Sheen. Another point in their favor, says Richards: “We don’t try to change each other.”
Ahem. One point notwithstanding. “I’m very messy and Charlie’s very neat, OCD,” Richards giggles. Sheen counters, “I’m trying not to be a militant freak about organization—even though I think there’s a lot more benefit to a linear environment.” Another stress bump: His cat has to adjust to life with her two cats and four dogs, who accompanied Richards when she moved in after their engagement last Christmas. “We’ll figure it out,” Richards says.
Sheen was not quite so sanguine when he prepared to ask Richards for her hand. First he ran the idea past his therapist, who, he says, “totally co-signed it. He believes in love at first sight and the reality of knowing when you know.” Working with designer Barry Kagasoff, Sheen created an engagement ring. Unable to contain his excitement, he showed it to Locklear. After inspecting the 4.3-carat solitaire diamond set atop three rows of 100 tiny diamonds, she jokingly declared her approval: “Oh my God!” she cried. “Richie’s such a cheapskate!” Admits Locklear: “It was a little strange seeing it before the fiancée.”
Before bed on the night of Dec. 26 at a private spa in Arizona, Sheen said, “I have one more Christmas gift for you.” Richards recalls, “When he pulled a box out, I knew. I wanted to scream ‘Yes,’ but I wanted to hear all the words.” Then Sheen went down on one knee in his boxer shorts and faced his beloved, who was clad in a tank top and pajama bottoms. “I just said, ‘Denise, will you marry me?’ ” he says. “Pretty straightforward.” The next morning the couple called both sets of parents.
The day after Spin City wrapped in L.A., the pair flew to Milan to meet with Giorgio Armani. “I thought, ‘Okay, this sounds like the biggest pain in the ass on the planet,’ ” says Sheen. “But I thought, ‘This is for Denise.’ ” The actor had a change of heart when Armani himself grabbed a pair of scissors and began cutting open the back of the tux Sheen was modeling. “He was down on his knees pinning my hem and yelling in Italian,” he recalls. After viewing several sketches, Richards selected a scoop-necked antique-white gown topped off with a floor-length ivory veil. “I felt like such a princess,” she says.
They worked jointly with wedding planner Mindy Weiss, and Richards insisted on going halvsies on the undisclosed bill. The couple also took a pre-wedding class with Father Michael Kennedy, an old friend of the Sheen family’s. Sheen, whose first marriage to model Donna Peele ended after five months, says they were both eager to have a religious component to their wedding preparations. “Especially because I’m sure different people’s perception is like, ‘Oh, a Hollywood marriage, they just met; they’ll be divorced in four months,’ ” says Richards. “But we take it very seriously.”
Deciding that a bachelor party “would be redundant,” Sheen instead went to dinner with four pals one night while Richards dined out with a girlfriend. On the eve of the wedding, the two families met at Sheen’s condo for a quick rehearsal followed by dinner. That night the couple slept apart. “That’s the biggest misconception about Charlie,” says Richards. “He’s incredibly traditional, very romantic.”
Saturday morning, 1,000 red rose blooms were threaded into a suspended arch at the Goldberg estate, and candles were strung from a pergola. At 2 p.m. Richards began her preparations, fixing her hair in soft waves. “I wanted to look like myself,” she says. In her ears, she fastened the diamond studs that Sheen had given her for Valentine’s Day.
That evening at 7:30 Charlie was followed down the aisle by Todd and Richards’s sister Michelle. Clutching her father’s arm and a bouquet of ivory roses, Richards came last as a string quartet played the traditional wedding march. During the ceremony, Kennedy referred to the couple as Nellie and Pip, the nicknames they call each other. “She was laughing so hard,” says Locklear. “She said, ‘You are so cute, Pip!’ It broke the seriousness of it all.” The priest also read portions of the pair’s love letters to each other. “That’s when I started tearing,” says Boley. “He was talking about how she teaches him to love every day, not by her words but by her actions.” Martin Sheen adds, “I kept seeing Charlie as I remembered him as a little boy. There was something so innocent about him, something so personal.”
Later, Martin cut up the dance floor with Charlie’s daughter Cassandra, 17—a granddad high on his son’s new life. “I couldn’t be more proud or happy,” he says of Charlie. “This is a rebirth and a reemergence of who he really is.”
Julie Jordan in Los Angeles