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One of Hollywood’s most notorious figures, Charlie Sheen, turned up Saturday night at one of Los Angeles’ more angelic charitable celebrations, Project Angel Food’s Angel Awards, where the once self-proclaimed “warlock” revealed that he’s walking a brighter path, giving of himself and looking to get back to the business of acting.
Before making an appearance at the 28th annual awards fete for the charity — which specializes in delivering nourishing meals to those dealing with AIDS and other debilitating illnesses across the Los Angeles region and beyond — Sheen recently spent time in the kitchen of the organization’s Vine Street headquarters helping prepare meals for the recipients.
“I understood immediately why all chefs wear Crocs,” Sheen quipped to The Hollywood Reporter of his time prepping meals. “Chopping and scooping — yeah. I was on zucchini, and then Tater Tot patrol. I think we raised the bar a little bit.”
But the actor, who publicly revealed in 2015 that he’d been diagnosed as HIV-positive four years earlier, was impressed with the hard work and commitment that he experienced during his volunteer stint there.
“Seriously, you’re on your feet, and you’re at an assigned station, you’re with a team, and you have a quota and there’s a time limit, so you gotta focus and produce,” he explained. “What the foundation does and the people they reach out to — I was imagining how grateful people are when they receive [the meals]. So many people — too many people — go hungry every night just in this country. It’s upwards of 50 million. So food is a sacred thing. In a country that wastes more than we consume — somebody explain that one to me.”
The former Two and a Half Men star was the highest-paid actor on television when he was dismissed from the show in 2011 following an acrimonious salary dispute, followed by a very public meltdown that included hyperbolic self-aggrandizement, a flock of porn star paramours and bizarre online videos. Today, Sheen says he’s focused on taking care of himself.
“Very much so, yeah,” he said. “Looking for a good job, but definitely addressing health. I quit drinking — just said, ‘I need a little break from that.’ That’s going well. That was the right choice. And I’m reading stuff, and getting offers, but I’m not gonna work just to work. People still get me on television at night, so I don’t have to just jump back on it to do it. But my gut is usually pretty accurate — I’m following that to stay patient and just know that something bitchin’ is around the corner.”
Even during his most outlandish moments, Sheen appeared to enjoy a high degree of support from his broad fan base, and he says, with outrageous headlines in the past, he’s convinced that Hollywood creatives and executives will be open to working with him again.
“I think they’re just gonna sit down with me, and see that I’m not crazy or detached — that I’m engaged, and excited to be there,” Sheen said. “And there’s so much goodwill in the streets. Everybody I encounter in all walks of life — everybody’s just, ‘Come on, man. We miss you. We miss you on the tube.’ So it’s cool. Nothing but love out there.”
The Saturday night event, held in the very glammed-up alley and parking lot behind the Project Angel Food headquarters building, paid tribute to Will & Grace‘s Debra Messing. Along with starring on the recently revived sitcom that pioneered addressing gay culture and issues in a mainstream comedy series, the actress has long dedicated her own philanthropic efforts towards AIDS- and HIV-related causes.
“It’s been a beautiful symbiotic relationship I think — I lost a very special person in my life in 1993 to AIDS,” Messing told THR. She recalled meeting her admired acting teacher Paul Walker at New York University in 1990, and watching him grapple with the illness. Messing and her fellow students, who were workshopping Tony Kuchner’s stage play Angels in America: Perestroika, teamed to prepare and deliver meals to Walker as the disease progressed, finally claiming his life at age 41.
“So when I moved out here, and I first started working with the organization in ’98, I had my teacher Paul Walker in mind,” she said, “because of what this organization does, providing food being delivered to the home or housebound critically ill people – that is something that I think is really beautiful. It’s the jewel of Los Angeles, really.”
Messing also revealed that she’s back at work on the upcoming season of NBC’s Will & Grace, which will be pairing her character Grace Adler with a new romantic interest, played by David Schwimmer, who starred on Friends at the same time Messing’s sitcom was first making waves in the late 1990s.
“We just filmed our first episode, and I think we both were surprised at how much immediate chemistry we have,” she said. “His character is as far away from [Schwimmer’s Friends character] Ross as you could possibly get, and his character really pushes Grace’s buttons. It really brings out an energy that is new to the show, and that’s really fun. And David is hilarious! He’s a theater actor, and I’m a theater actor, so we have a shorthand that feels really good.”
Will & Grace creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, who were on hand to present Messing’s award, were equally enthused about the addition of Schwimmer, a former classmate of theirs back in their youths. “We’ve known him since we’re in high school — we all went to high school together. Schwimmer, Max and I, and it’s kind of a homecoming of sorts which is really nice,” said Kohan, who noted what Schwimmer was really like back at Beverly Hills High School: “Poorer.”
After needling the usually glamorous Messing about the less-than-stylish fashion choices she sometimes sports during off-camera table reads, Mutchnik and Kohan introduced a congratulatory video shot on the sitcom set featuring her co-stars Eric McCormack, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally, who after some initial compliments joined in roasting Messing.
“She ain’t no angel on Mondays,” confided Mullally. “A bitch of a bitch!”
“Mondays, it’s like, ‘Stay clear!’” agreed McCormack.
“It’s really like the first half of the week,” added Hayes.
Then it was back to praise — for a moment. “You inspire us. You challenge us…” began McCormack, before Mullally cut in: “You touch us inappropriately. In all the right places.”
Onstage, Messing, an outspoken critic of the current Trump administration on social media, hit a note both hopeful and defiant in her acceptance speech. “There are living angels all over the world working on an AIDS-free generation, and that is now finally within reach,” she told the guests. “But there is still a lot of work to do. There is so much awfulness going on in the world today. So many of us being attacked by this administration: the LGBTQ community, women, minorities, immigrants, children, Muslims, the environment and the press. And it is our responsibility — our duty — to speak up, step out of our comfort zones and stand up for those without a voice.”
Also honored was celebrity hairstylist Chaz Dean, who, after being introduced to Project Angel Food via spiritual guru Marianne Williamson (a founder of the cause) in his 20s, has remained committed to it. “I’m proud to see how they’ve evolved in the last 29 years,” he said. “It’s insane how many people’s lives are touched, how many meals they deliver, how streamlined it is now compared to the beginning. I’m really proud to be involved.”
Part of his involvement included donating a new meal delivery van two years ago, which he adorned with a signature touch. “I’m on it and my four angels are on it — I call my labs my four-legged angels,” he laughed of the van-side image of himself and his four dogs. “I have heard the stories that people see that and it just puts a smile on their face.” Indeed, actress Pauley Perrette revealed that she was so envious, she even added her own image to one of the charity’s other vans.
The event also drew Joely Fisher, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Cheryl Tiegs, a very in-demand-for-selfies Charo and Hollywood Medium star Tyler Henry, who sometimes picks up vibes in large crowds like this one and just has to say something: “I try to kind of understand that not everybody is into it, but there are times where I’ll get a feeling I have to mention it!”
The evening was capped off by a three-song performance by Cheyenne Jackson, who, after performing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory,” was joined onstage for a big finish by Megan Hilty as a surprise to her one-time Smash co-star Messing, dueting on “Let Me Be Your Star,” a song from the TV show’s fictional Broadway production Bombshell.