Charlie Sheen‘s revelation on Tuesday’s Today show that he has been HIV-positive for four years inspired dramatic reactions, both positive and negative, but Danny Pintauro thinks the actor’s announcement will ultimately benefit the HIV movement and destigmatize those who’ve been diagnosed.
Pintauro revealed in a September interview on Oprah: Where Are They Now? that he has been HIV-positive for 12 years – and, in the days after the interview, that he was relieved to have the burden off his shoulder.
He imagines Sheen, 50, feels the same way.
“I decided that it was time for me to take control of the situation so that I didn’t have to be terrified anymore, and I’m just happy that he is able to take control as well,” the former Who’s the Boss? star, 39, tells PEOPLE.
Overall, Pintauro applauded Sheen’s “honest, humble” conversation with Today host Matt Lauer.
“I’m really feeling happy about it,” says Pintauro. “I feel like the more voices that can talk about HIV, the better. I appreciate him in the sense that [as a straight man] he’s reaching an audience that may not listen as closely to what I’m saying [as a gay man].”
Pintauro does acknowledge that some debate-sparking aspects of Sheen’s interview – such as his contention that his aggressive treatment and low viral load make it “impossible” for him to transmit HIV to his partners – will have to be fine-tuned as Sheen continues to tell his story.
“I think with time he’ll understand the nuances of saying what he [is trying to say]. I’m still learning the nuances,” admits Pintauro, who also notes that “being a celebrity is so different from being an activist. Your words have got to be just right, and they’ve got to be in line with the movement.”
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Confronting the Controversy
Pintauro is disappointed that “people are latching onto [the idea of], ‘Well, he put himself in this situation.’ ” Instead, he says, “What we need to focus on is how he’s taking care of himself. We should commend him for talking about how responsible he was.”
As “unique” as Sheen’s path to Tuesday’s disclosure was, “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s HIV-positive who didn’t go through” similar experiences (depression, suicidal thoughts) like the ones the actor shared with Lauer, 57. “So we should be focusing on that and focusing on the people that you know who have HIV who had those moments and [asking ourselves], ‘What can I do to show them my support and be there for them and thank them for telling me about being HIV-positive?’ Because that’s a big step.”
As for drama surrounding whether Sheen revealed his status to his partners, Pintauro says, “Everyone needs to remember what ‘undetectable’ means, and if Charlie truthfully got on medications immediately after he found out, then he was already taking that step to protect his sexual partners. So that should be tantamount to whether he told them in any situation.”
“Then there’s also one other thing: What if he didn’t know at the time of the encounter that he was positive?” adds Pintauro. “That’s the really tough one because it happens, and I feel for him in that sense.”
The Path Ahead
With similar circumstances surrounding his own HIV coming-out and, now, a few months’ headstart on Sheen, Pintauro urges the actor to “listen to the people who have been [dealing with being openly HIV-positive] longer than you and trust that they have been through it, they’ve tried and they’ve learned what works the best, what gets people listening the most. You want to try to get through to as many people as possible. You kind of have to figure out how to speak to all of those people at the same time.”
Though Sheen has admittedly shied away from presenting himself as an HIV activist, which Pintauro understands, Pintauro says the former Anger Management star “will do what he is capable of doing, and that’s all we can ask of him.”
To learn more about living with HIV/AIDS today and to contribute in the fight against the diseases, visit amfAR.org.