"Maybe all the stuff that I've done professionally ... was sort of leading to a greater calling," says Sheen, the new LELO HEX condom brand ambassador
Charlie Sheen may have become as well-known for his erratic behavior as his acting in recent years, but now the oft-controversial star – who in November revealed he was HIV-positive – wants to use his fame as a platform to advocate for sexual health.
“I guess certain things happen for a reason,” Sheen, 50, told PEOPLE in an exclusive interview in New York City on Monday. “And maybe all of the stuff that I’ve done professionally, to garner such attention and fanfare and whatever else – good or bad – was sort of leading to a greater calling, a deeper calling, rather than fiction.
“I’ve usually made lemonade out of lemons,” he says, adding with a chuckle: “So this is another example of that.”
How Disclosing His Diagnosis Set Him ”Free”
As the former Two and a Half Men star revealed in his bombshell interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show, he was diagnosed HIV-positive in 2011 after a visit to the emergency room for what he thought was a brain tumor.
But it wasn’t until last November that he decided to share his health battle with the world.
“Going public? I had to. It was a personal prison,” says Sheen.
The actor – who previously said he was extorted over his status – says he saw no option but coming clean.
“There were so many parasites and traitors, that were allies at one point, that saw it as an opportunity for their own gain. I just thought: The best way to put a stop to that and to be free and alleviate all this other crap I was dealing with was to come out,” he says.
“A lot of it was about shutting down a lot of the blackmail and all that: It was getting too expensive, and I was engaged in that to protect other professional interests and family stuff. And I just finally said, ‘There’s no other way out.’ ”
After revealing his HIV status, Sheen has felt liberated and says “it’s been nothing but love and support ever since” going public.
“I didn’t know how relieved I was going to feel afterwards, until I transitioned through that. But it’s been night and day: taking the bullets out of their guns and also freeing myself,” he says. “There’s such pressure, this sense of: The other shoe’s gonna fall any minute now. You can’t live like that. The stress is incredible. Every time the phone would ring, like, ‘Oh, jeez, it’s another something.’ So to have all that gone? What a relief.”
“It’s Never a Bad Time to Be an Advocate”
Seven months after telling the world he was positive, Sheen is partnering with condom company LELO HEX as a brand ambassador.
“It’s stuff people don’t want to talk about, and I figured: If I’m involved, maybe they’ll talk about it,” says Sheen of the contraceptives. “This is a way to prevent a lot of s–t from happening, from disease to unwanted pregnancies. But it’s still taboo for some reason.”
Per a press release, engineers spent seven years developing the LELO HEX condoms, which integrate 350 hexagons throughout the inside for what inventor-founder Filip Sedic boasts is a “lightweight and incredibly strong” prophylactic that reduces “the chances of slippage.”
“I don’t think it’s ever a bad time to be an advocate for something like this,” says Sheen, who adds that his HIV-positive diagnosis “radically” changed his opinion of condom use.
“I did use them a lot. But, you know, those few times [I didn’t]…” Sheen says, trailing off when contemplating how he contracted the disease.
“If you ask most people that have HIV, ‘How did you get it?’ nobody really knows. I mean, I’m sure there’s a select few that do. But you can never really pinpoint the moment,” says Sheen, who adds he feels a responsibility to be vocal about sexual health since receiving his diagnosis.
“You spend five seconds putting [a condom] on, and you prevent a lifetime of stress, potentially.”
With the LELO HEX launch on Monday, Sheen says he may have found another purpose.
Admitting he was in a dark place after contracting the disease, he eventually found “the shift between curse and opportunity to really do something heroic and really contribute to something that really matters,” says Sheen. “You can only walk around like ‘woe is me’ for so long before you either stay there, or you wake up and do something about it.”
The actor has no plans to retire from Hollywood, and “I’m not negating or belittling what I’ve done professionally because people need to laugh and be taken to places of suspended reality. People say, ‘You’re just making movies; you’re not curing cancer,’ ” Sheen adds.
“But now I’m in things that are, I think, really about something important – thinks that [are] a matter of life and death. I don’t know how much more intense it gets. There’s been a whole shift, just in perception of it.”
Happy and Healthy Today
Having lived HIV-positive for five years, Sheen has sought various forms of treatment. After taking the what he termed as the “AIDS cocktail” of antiretroviral drugs to stave off the advance of the disease, he went off his meds briefly and went to Mexico to begin alternative treatment plan. (In January, Sheen’s manager told PEOPLE he was back on his cocktail.)
After ending the alternative treatment – which Sheen calls “a more dubious trail” – he admits he was “a little bit leery” of other new forms of treatment. But, he says he is currently on the eighth week of a 14-week FDA-approved test trial of a new drug called PRO 140 from the company CytoDyn.
“It’s one shot a week that they’re actually moving towards having bi-monthly and then, ultimately, just once a month. But the test I’m in now is once a week, and there’s no side effects,” says Sheen.
While Sheen says the traditional drug cocktail kept him healthy and safe, it led to “a lot of stomach problems, migraines, a disconnect – like a petite form of dementia, at times, not really knowing where you were; what was going on at the time – and it created a depression.”
Sheen calls PRO 140 a “game-changer” because of the “manageable” dosage it requires. “You’re not saddled with the reminder every day: [When] you’ve gotta take your pills, you’re reminded; there’s a whole psychological aspect to that.”
The star says he doesn’t “want to criticize the other medication because it is helping a lot of people and it’s all we have at the moment.”
Still, “I’m really excited about being on the cutting edge and being a part of something I think is going to help a lot of people.”
Looking Forward – and How He Refuses to Be Defined by His Diagnosis
Having accepted his diagnosis, Sheen is happy, healthy – and looking forward to “getting back to people talking about my work again.”
The actor recently finished filming a “pretty powerful” (still-untitled) drama inspired by true events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in which he’ll star opposite Whooopi Goldberg, Gina Gershon and Luis Guzmén.
“People still talk about the stuff I deal with,” Sheen says of his personal struggles. “But [hopefully they’ll] also talk about the work.”
Adds the actor: “There’s opportunity in the air, which is really nice. The world is turning.”