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Goodbye, Charlie

Thesp's career catches a bullet

Amid a week of rants in which he almost seemed to create his own language like Jodie Foster’s character in “Nell,” Charlie Sheen stumbled onto a rather profound truth in a “Even a blind pig occasionally finds an acorn” way.

“I’m tired of pretending like I’m not special,” Sheen told NBC during his “Help me, I can’t stop talking” media tour, which led — with growing inevitability — to Warner Bros. terminating him Monday from his hit CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men.” “I’m tired of pretending like I’m not bitchin’, a total … rock star from Mars.”

The outer space aspect notwithstanding, Sheen thus summed up what often seems to be the unspoken attitude among the out-of-control celebrities, including sports luminaries, politicians and (while subject to less public scrutiny) highly compensated executives that the media loves to focus on.

Sheen’s philosophy, in essence, can be translated as follows: When you generate as much cash or clout as I do, the usual rules don’t apply. Sobriety? Monogamy? Not publicly ripping the folks who sign your checks? Fuggedaboutit. That’s for lesser mortals.

Viewed that way, Sheen’s erratic outbursts make a bit more sense. Indeed, they could even be perceived as refreshing in their honesty, if only in exposing the unrestrained id that can yield such outlandish behavior.

Take the standard rebelliousness of youth, multiply that by fame and money, and voila, Lindsay Lohan. From Eliot Spitzer patronizing prostitutes while acting as a law-and-order politician to Tiger Woods’ serial infidelity to LeBron James breaking up with his then-employer, the Cleveland Cavaliers, on live TV without the courtesy of advance notice, membership in the fame club (to paraphrase a certain ad) has its privileges.

As for why Sheen thought he could get away with such boorishness, the simple answer is that he has for years. The studio and network responsible for “Men” stood by him through numerous scandals. At a certain point, that old joke about the various stages of drunkenness comes to mind: What begins, harmlessly enough, as “rich and powerful” eventually descends into “invisible” and, ultimately, “bulletproof.”

In hindsight, the real tipoff that Sheen was beyond salvation in the context of his current bosses was when his publicist, Stan Rosenfield, decided to quit. With Rosenfield having dealt with his share of uncomfortable situations handling stars through the years, his exit was a sign that reasoning with Sheen was going to be a serious challenge.

The more Sheen talked, moreover, the harder it became to separate the actual guy from the character he plays. If anything, the womanizing, boozing bad boy featured within the show started looking awfully pallid next to the genuine, undiluted article.

Maybe it’s true, as Sheen told one of his many interviewers, that “Middle America” can’t possibly fathom his lifestyle. Having relationships with one person at a time, indulging in just so-so drugs and remembering where all your cars are is for people who didn’t earn tens of millions in 2010. And many below-the-line people employed on movie and TV sets have witnessed this sense of entitlement in action, though probably not in such a brazen fashion.

Sheen isn’t wrong when he implies he needn’t apologize for his excesses or the three-ring circus that appears to surround him. And certainly, as the media have demonstrated the last couple of weeks, this sort of high-wire act is almost irresistible to watch.

Trying to conduct high-stakes business on that tenuous foundation, alas, is another matter, which explains why Charlie Sheen’s career, finally, just caught a bullet.

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