Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Charlie Sheen is a pretty shoddy human being.
His infamous, headline-grabbing personal and professional dalliances could fill a novel, he accidentally shot a former fiance and allegedly assaulted another. Oh and he’s an anti-vaxxer so he’s got that going for him too.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move onto the one actual good thing he’s done: doing more for HIV education than what most UN events do, albeit unintentionally.
Sheen publicly announced that he was HIV positive in 2015 and had kept it secret since being diagnosed with the virus in 2011. This didn’t surprise anyone at the time given all his aforementioned personal dalliances. What did surprise everyone was the way he revealed it.
Most probably expected he would enter into a room of assembled media while borne aloft on a bed of swan feathers by a couple of greased up eunuchs as Guns n’ Roses played in the background.
Instead, what we got was a surprisingly responsible announcement where he brought his doctor with him on the air and explained in easy-to-understand language the complexity of HIV and how the virus can be made undetectable.
Sheen’s HIV reveal also had the unintended side effect of raising awareness about the virus. According to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine, Sheen’s announcement corresponded with the “greatest number of HIV-related Google searches ever recorded in the United States.”
It turns out the people weren’t just looking for celebrity gossip about the weird dude who likes tiger blood. They also wanted to know about HIV, how to protect themselves from it and how to get tested.
The spike in searches and stories hours after Sheen’s big announcement was pure pandemonium. HIV symptom searches were 540% higher than normal, HIV testing searches jumped 214%, condom searches rose by 72% and the number of news stories about HIV had a 265% boost.
Researchers named this phenomenon “The Charlie Sheen Effect”, calling it the “most significant domestic HIV prevention event in the last decade”, so much so that it’s impact has eclipsed most things and events the UN has done for HIV education.
Make no mistake that this doesn’t make Sheen less of an awful person, but it does show how a celebrity can use their fame to educate people about important causes..
Perhaps Sheen’s responsible public announcement of his HIV diagnosis should be the model for what famous people suffering from illnesses should do.
Audiences care about celebrities so why not leverage that amount of pull to get more valuable learnings out in the open rather than keep everything under wraps.