Unmasking stardom and mental illness: Here is why the shine is off Sheen as well as other mega stars

One never knows where an interview will ultimately go, even with an established track of questions.

On Wednesday evening I had the privilege of interviewing Lisa Haisha, who besides being the personal counselor to some of America’s biggest Hollywood stars and executives, as well as the originator of the unique and powerful counseling approach known as “Soul Blazing,” is also married to Lee Aronsohn.

In case you have been away on an extended flight into space Aronsohn, who himself is the co-creator of the hit CBS series Two and a Half Men, as well as being a writer for a panoply of other well known television shows including The Big Bang Theory, The Love Boat and Murphy Brown to name just a few, has been embroiled (with great dignity I might add) in a well publicized controversy with series’ star Charlie Sheen.  Given the turmoil caused by the wayward actor, perhaps controversy is too a subtle a word.

The tie-in to Wednesday’s interview with Haisha was quite unexpected in that while we were discussing the concept of the Outsider Musician and Artist in which I sought to examine the parallels between great creativity and mental illness,  she had made the reference to the Sheen affair in the context of a star who represents just one example of an artist who’s life is being derailed by the collision between a long-brewing and underlying mental disorder and the price of unimaginable fame and success.

In fact one of what I would call the first of many powerful and yes even surprising revelations made by Haisha, was her assessment that the brighter or bigger the star the greater the personal demons against which they are likely locked in battle.  For many of these mega-stars, and even those lesser known lights, it is not the pursuit of their craft that draws them to artistic endeavors, but a driving compulsion to be acknowledged and even loved as a result of early childhood abuse and neglect.

Certainly this was a factor in Badfinger’s Pete Ham’s 1975 suicide, as it was widely known that the musician had shown growing signs of mental illness in the months leading up to his death, including burning cigarettes out on his hands and arms.  This self-directed violence is associated with a mental condition known as deliberate self-harm “DSH,” which experts link to “dopamine receptor supersensitivity” that is usually brought about by early childhood abuse in which there were negligent parent-child interactions (including minimal touch, talk, and play).  The illness, in which many experts suggest permanently alter neurons that process dopamine in the brain, cannot be ignored as a contributing factor in why stars like Ham ultimately end their lives.


What is noteworthy in the Ham case is that while there has been a long held belief that the primary reason for the artist’s suicide was the avarice of the band’s manager Stan Polley, which thrust the group’s fortunes into total disarray (Ham even referred to Polley in his suicide note), Haisha’s assessment that even though this may have been a trigger the likely reason for Ham taking his own life was probably linked to the pending birth of his daughter.

By drawing a parallel between an abusive childhood and the stress caused by pending parenthood, Haisha provides both a new take on an old story, while simultaneously drawing attention to an even larger question . . . will an abused child themselves become an abusive parent, and to what extent will they go to avoid becoming like their parents?

The following excerpt from a May 4th, 2007 article titled “Can Abused Children Become Productive, Non-Abusive Parents?” speaks directly to this issue;

Children that are born into a family where one or more family members exhibits violence will pass this behavior onto their own children out of bad habits and example. After all this is all the child knows, so it is reasonable to expect that they will continue on with this behavior until someone intervenes and shows them that it is wrong. Baring this is mind, it is a reasonable assumption that a child who has been directly involved with a violent existence throughout their entire childhood will more than likely pass this type of behavior on to their own children.

If this is indeed a sound conclusion within the context of the abused ultimately becoming the abuser, is it then reasonable to assume that perhaps Ham’s fear regarding this possibility caused him to “nobly” take preemptive measures to break the cycle?  A factor that becomes even more probable based on an already preexisting inclination towards suicide due to the aforementioned altered brain chemistry.

A February 22nd, 2009 article by Ed Yong “Child abuse permanently modifies stress genes in brains of suicide victims” as do numerous other articles and studies, seem to support at least the possibility that a fear of becoming an abusive parent himself was the main reason that Ham took his own life.

Turning our attention back to Charlie Sheen, one might be reasonable to assume that his act of suicide was more related to his career than it was to actually harming himself.  Certainly fathering 5 children over the past 26 years with three different wives, and the accidental shooting of his fiancee at the time Kelly Preston (who went on to marry John Travolta) would seem to indicate that his pathology differed greatly from that of Pete Ham.

However, and here’s the thing, this self-destructive tendency in whatever form it may manifest itself, is obviously as Haisha indicates a reflection of a much deeper and more troubling mental condition that can turn a mega-star into a pariah.

In the case of Haisha’s husband Aronsohn, she indicates that he often receives calls from some of the biggest stars in the industry asking if they could be in one of his series.  Even though these are well known celebrities, the fact that they have a history that while different, reflects a similar track to that of Sheen’s, Aronsohn avoids these names like the plague.  So much so, that he would rather have a less known, less talented artist who has a stable track record.  Or as Haisha puts it, life’s just too short to put up with the nonsense.

As for Sheen’s future, as well as other Outsider Artists who share a common dysfunctional propensity, while there is of course hope for a recovery and a return to the amiable professional with whom the cast and crew of Two and a Half Men had known throughout the early years of the show, there is a greater possibility of a tragic end whether it be by death or a descent into what ever happened to what’s his name oblivion.

Whatever your thoughts, this is without a doubt one of the most memorable interviews I have ever done.

Remember to use the following link “Melody & Mental Illness: The Tragic Story of Badfinger” to listen to the on-demand broadcast.


Comments are closed.

  • Books Written by Jon Hansen

%d bloggers like this: