Martin Sheen's History of HIV/AIDS Activism: How Charlie Sheen's Father Has Been Supporting the Cause for 30 Years

Martin Sheen,Charlie Sheen

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Martin Sheen is no stranger to the fight against HIV and AIDS. 

Over the past few decades, the veteran actor has been forthright in his activism for many causes—including civil, animal and labor rights—but his passion for combating the illness that affects an estimated 35 million people worldwide now hits particularly close to home.

Martin’s son Charlie Sheen revealed Tuesday that he is HIV-positive, telling Today‘s Matt Lauer the diagnosis was a “turning point” in his turbulent personal life. And although the elder Sheen has yet to comment on his 50-year-old son’s health, Martin, 75, offered consistent support to Charlie during his infamous 2011 meltdown and will presumably continue to do so in the future.

This isn’t the first time the debilitating disease has personally affected the West Wing alum, though. In 1986, Martin starred in a production of Larry Kramer‘s play The Normal Heart, which was recently made into an HBO film, and he spoke openly about the pain of losing a childhood friend to AIDS just a year later.

Most recently, Sheen partnered with son Emilio Estevez at the Cinema Against AIDS Toronto event in 2010, where more than $1 million was raised to benefit amfAR. 

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Charlie Sheen, Martin Sheen, Emilio EstevezLisa Rose/

On HIV/AIDS in Hollywood: “I don’t know anyone in my profession… who has not been touched by this dreadful disease,” Sheen said during a news conference in 1988. The actor turned activist was on hand to criticize a report that claimed AIDS could be spread through casual contact, saying the misconception “takes us back to square one. It’s feeding paranoia and fear. It is very dangerous and counterproductive.”

On finding out a loved one had HIV/AIDS: At a 1988 forum in Philadelphia, the elder Sheen spook candidly about learning his closest friend, John Crane, to the virus: “My rage was such that it was almost uncontrollable because he didn’t tell us [that he had AIDS.] I found it hard to forgive myself that I didn’t love enough [to earn Crane’s trust]. I vowed that that would never happen again.”

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Charlie SheenTodd Williamson/Invision/AP

On the importance of spreading HIV/AIDS awareness: “AIDS is a call for heroism from all levels of society in a time of great greed and selfishness. We have to answer the call for an opportunity for love… Martin Luther King said the church is the place we go forth from. It ain’t easy,” Sheen shared at the same forum in the late 80s. The Apocalypse Now star was one of the first celebrities to openly discuss the cause, traveling to Philadelphia to support a resource center offering spiritual guidance to HIV/AIDS patients. 

On separating HIV/AIDS support from other advocacy work: “I don’t call these different ’causes’ because that relates to a separation and I don’t separate one aspect of life from another,” Martin explained. “AIDS, abortion, the homeless, apartheid, the farm workers… all of these are social justice issues and I agree with the [Catholic] Church’s concept of the seamless garment. You cannot separate these issues.”

On the lack of attention directed towards HIV/AIDS: During a 1991 interview, the anti-war activist attacked the United States’ priorities, saying, “Our whole function is killing people in the Mideast, it’s not about helping anybody here. There needs to be a Street Storm here to help the poor and the victims of AIDS.”

To learn more about HIV/AIDS and to contribute in the fight against the diseases, visit amfAR.

PHOTOS: A history of HIV/AIDS in Hollywood




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