Former Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen says he has HIV.

In an interview Tuesday on NBC's Today, the 50-year-old American actor says he was diagnosed with the virus that causes AIDS four years ago.

He also issued a statement about his health, noting: "My partying days are behind me. My philanthropic days are ahead of me."

Sheen said it was first discovered through tests after he started getting cluster headaches and "insane migraines."

LA Premiere of Scary Movie V Arrivals

Charlie Sheen has had a lengthy career in both film and television. He's the son of famed actor Martin Sheen. (Associated Press)

"It's a hard three letters to absorb. It's a turning point in one's life," the actor said of the HIV diagnosis.

But when asked by Today co-host Matt Lauer if he had transmitted the disease to others, he declared, "Impossible. Impossible."

Sheen told Lauer that he informed his sexual partners he had HIV before engaging in any relations. According to dozens of state laws in the U.S., it's a criminal offence not to inform a partner beforehand.

"In California, where Sheen lives, it is a crime to engage in unprotected sexual activity with someone else, knowing that you are infected with HIV," Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago lawyer, told CBC News in an email. "If you do so, you commit a felony offence."

Stoltmann also said even if there are no criminal charges, Sheen might not be in the clear.

"If Sheen infected a partner, he is likely to face a wave of civil lawsuits that would be difficult to defend."

The actor admitted to having unprotected sex with two partners who were under the care of his doctor, and said they were informed ahead of time of his HIV status. He says he doesn't know how he contracted the virus. 

Claims of blackmail

He said one reason for going public with his condition was to put a stop to shakedowns from prostitutes and others who threatened to out him. He said he had paid "enough to bring it into the millions" — perhaps as much as $10 million US — to buy their silence, and now was seeking to "put a stop to this barrage of attacks and sub-truths."

He said one prostitute took a photo of the HIV-related drugs in his medicine cabinet and threatened to sell the photo to the tabloids.

"Are you still paying these people?" Lauer asked him.

"Not after today I'm not," Sheen said.

Asked why he continued his risky behaviour after being blackmailed the first time, the actor said: "I was making really bad decisions. That part, I own.

"I think I release myself from this prison today," he added.

Hopes to reduce stigma of HIV

With his public pronouncement, he said he hoped to reduce the stigma still felt by some diagnosed with HIV.

"I have a responsibility now to better myself and to help a lot of other people," he said.

"And hopefully with what we're doing today, others may come forward and say, 'Thanks, Charlie, for kicking the door open."'

Drug and alcohol use have marred Sheen's personal and professional life in recent years. He was kicked off CBS's Two and a Half Men in 2011 after an explosive meltdown that included calling the show's producer "a contaminated little maggot."

TV Two and a Half Men Finale

Charlie Sheen poses with former co-stars Angus T. Jones and Jon Cryer in January 2009 after winning a People's Choice award for Two and a Half Men in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/AP)

His escapades have also included the revelation that he spent more than $50,000 as a client of so-called Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss's prostitution ring during the 1990s.

Two and a Half Men debuted in 2003 and starred Sheen as womanizing bachelor Charlie Harper. It made him one of TV's highest-paid actors, and at its peak was TV's most-watched sitcom.

It ended its run earlier this year, after Ashton Kutcher stepped in for the fired Sheen.

In 2012, Sheen returned to TV in Anger Management, an FX sitcom adapted from the movie of the same name.

Hollywood family

Sheen, born Carlos Irwin Estevez, is the son of noted American actor Martin Sheen and began following in his father's footsteps as an actor early on. His siblings – Emilio Estevez, Renée Estevez and Ramon Estevez – also all became actors. 

Sheen found fame in the mid-1980s in films such as Red Dawn, PlatoonWall Street, Young Guns and Major League. His film career waned in the 1990s amid his hard-partying lifestyle, charges of physically abusing an ex-girlfriend and a serious drug overdose.


Sheen and ex-wife Brooke Mueller attend the Emmy Awards in September 2009 in Los Angeles. The couple, who divorced in 2011 after three years of marriage, has twin boys. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

After a stint in rehab, he had a career renaissance in television, first on sitcom Spin City before eventually being cast in Two and a Half Men.

Sheen has been wed three times:

  • He first wed model Donna Peele in the 1990s, in a marriage that lasted a couple of years. They had no children. 
  • He and actress Denise Richards were married from 2002-2006 and have two daughters.
  • Sheen and real estate investor Brooke Mueller wed in 2008 and divorced in 2011. They have six-year-old twin sons.

He also has a daughter from a relationship before his first marriage, and a grandchild.

Sheen said he had informed Richards as well as Mueller of his diagnosis.  Through a spokesperson following Sheen's interview, Mueller told that she and her sons are not HIV-positive.

Charlie Sheen issued the following statement Tuesday. What follows is the complete, unedited letter:

Roughly four years ago, I suddenly found myself in the throws of a seismic and debilitating three-day cluster-migraine like headache. I was emergently hospitalized with what I believed to be a brain tumour or perhaps some unknown pathology. I was partially correct. Following a battery of endless tests, that included a hideous spinal tap, it was sadly and shockingly revealed to me that I was, in fact, positive for HIV.

The news was a 'mule kick' to my soul. Those impossible words I absorbed and then tried to convince myself, that I was stuck, suspended, or even stranded inside some kind of alternate reality or nightmare, were to the absolute contrary. I was awake. It was true. reality.

Under the brilliant and perfect care of Dr. Robert Huizenga as well as "the" leading infectious disease expert in the known universe, I began a rigorous and intensive treatment program. Not missing a beat, a med dose, or one shred of guidance, quickly my viral loads became undetectable. Like every other challenge in my life, again, I was victorious and kicking this disease's ass. I wish my story had ended there. Unfortunately, for my family and myself, it had only just begun.

The personal disbelief, karmic confusion, shame and anger lead to a temporary yet abysmal decent into profound substance abuse and fathomless drinking. It was a suicide run. Problem was, I'd forgotten that I'm too tough for such a cowardly departure. Yet, despite this loathsome and horrific odyssey, I was vigilant with my anti-viral program.

My medical team could only shake their heads as each and every blood test returned levels revealing a state of remission. Even though I might have been trying to kill myself, one thing was radically evident; the disease was not.

In and around this perplexing and difficult time, I dazedly chose (or hired) the companionship of unsavoury and insipid types. Regardless of their salt-less reputations, I always lead with condoms and honesty when it came to my condition. Sadly, my truth soon became their treason, as a deluge of blackmail and extortion took centre stage in this circus of deceit.

To date, I have paid out countless millions to these desperate charlatans.

Locked in a vacuum of fear, I chose to allow their threats and skullduggery to vastly deplete future assets from my children, while my "secret" sat entombed in their hives of folly. (or so I thought)

News Flash: This ends today. I'm claiming back my freedom. The scales of justice will swiftly and righteously rebalance themselves.

In conclusion, I accept this condition not as a curse or scourge, but rather as an opportunity and a challenge. An opportunity to help others. A challenge to better myself.

Every day, of every month, of every year, countless individuals go to work, man their stations, fulfil their professional obligations with a host of disabilities. Diseases, imperfections, hurdles, detours. These maladies range from Lupus to Cancer, from paralysis to blindness, from Diabetes to Obesity. "Treated," HIV is no different.

My partying days are behind me. My philanthropic days are ahead of me.

Earnest Hemingway once wrote:

"Courage is grace under pressure."

I've served my time under pressure; I now embrace the courage, and the grace.

Love and Peace,

Charlie Sheen 

With files from CBC News