Sheen files $100 million suit against Warner Bros.
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 11:31 PM
SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Charlie Sheen brought his verbal war against Warner Bros. and the executive producer of "Two and a Half Men" to the courtroom on Thursday, filing a $100 million lawsuit seeking to recoup his salary and wages for the show's cast and crew.
The breach of contract lawsuit alleges production was halted on the CBS sitcom in part to punish Sheen for recent behavior that has included two hospitalizations and, in recent weeks, a series of interviews in which he has attacked executive producer Chuck Lorre. But the suit and Sheen's attorney, Marty Singer, say most of the incidents cited by Warner Bros. for firing Sheen occurred before his tirades against Lorre began.
"The suspension and termination of Mr. Sheen occurred only after Mr. Sheen had finally been provoked into criticizing Lorre in response to his harassment and disparagement campaign which had been going on for years," according to the suit.
The filing comes four days after Sheen was terminated from "Two and a Half Men," leaving the top-rated sitcom's future in doubt.
Sheen's lawsuit alleges that Warner Bros. bowed to Lorre's desire to punish Sheen, and that the producer and studio conspired to blame the actor for causing production to stop.
A termination letter cited concerns about Sheen's health. Singer said it would be illegal for the studio to fire the actor if he had the physical and mental issues described in the letter.
"We're saying he was ready, willing and able to work and he could have worked," Singer said.
The suit also was filed on behalf of the sitcom's other cast members and crew, who were put out of work. Although they are not a party in the case, Singer said the actor is attempting to get reimbursement for all members of the show who lost money because of the actions of Warner Bros. and Lorre.
Last week, Warner announced it was paying the "Men" crew for four of the eight episodes it canceled this season.
Lorre's attorney, Howard Weitzman, said the allegations against his client are as "recklessly false and unwarranted as Mr. Sheen's rantings in the media. These accusations are simply imaginary."
The lawsuit is about a "fantasy" lottery payout for Sheen, Weitzman said in a statement Thursday, adding, "Chuck Lorre's concern has been and continues to be about Mr. Sheen's health."
The studio declined to comment on the suit, as did series co-star Jon Cryer.
On top of Sheen's $100 million request for damages, the 45-year-old actor is seeking punitive damages.
He took to Twitter soon after the lawsuit's filing, writing, "Fastball: Torpedo away... You corporate Trolls were warned. And now you've been served!"
The complaint states that Sheen's most recent contract, executed last May, entitles him to be paid whether the series films for up to 24 episodes per season through late 2011. Singer said Sheen was prepared to walk away from the show last year, but that the studio and producers wanted him to return despite his being accused of domestic violence in Aspen, Colo., against then-wife Brooke Mueller.
Sheen's lawsuit states that he attempted to return to the series in mid-February, but was told that Lorre had not prepared production scripts for the season's remaining episodes, which was later shortened.
"I think his theory of the case is interesting," said Jeffrey Spitz, an entertainment litigator for more than 25 years. "He's pitched it in a way that is potentially beneficial to him in that he's saying all of this occurred before he opened his mouth."
Spitz said that may enable Sheen's attorneys to keep his most recent interviews from being used during the trial, although what evidence may be heard will be decided by a judge.
"It also gives him a good leverage position in any settlement negotiations," said Spitz, a partner at Greenberg Glusker who has represented Sharon Stone and boxer Oscar de la Hoya in legal disputes.
The lawsuit includes several references to Lorre's ego and claims the veteran television producer of shows such as "Roseanne" and "The Big Bang Theory" has trouble managing top-tier actors.
"This dispute is not the first time that Lorre has had problems working with major television stars, including Roseanne Barr, Cybill Shepherd, and Brett Butler," the complaint states.
Sheen's firing had followed a rare, raging public battle between a Hollywood star and those who employ him, with Sheen claiming the right to live as he pleased - including the acknowledged use of illegal drugs, although he's said he is currently clean - as long as he showed up sober and ready to work.
After he was cut from the sitcom, Sheen had texted his intention to sue, as he put it, "Big."
"Two and a Half Men," which debuted in 2003, stars Sheen as womanizing bachelor Charlie Harper, who creates an ad hoc family with his neurotic brother, the divorced Alan (Cryer) and Alan's son, Jake (Angus T. Jones).
The show was co-created by veteran producer Lorre, who contributes two other comedies to the top-rated CBS lineup, "The Big Bang Theory" and "Mike & Molly." Like "Men," both are produced with Warner.
Warner and CBS had long faced a balancing act with Sheen through years of wild behavior, rehab and two ugly splits from wives No. 2 (Denise Richards) and No. 3 (Brooke Mueller Sheen). On one side was the wayward star, on the other was TV's most successful and highly lucrative sitcom, an enduring hit for CBS and a moneymaker in the hundreds of millions for Warner.
Last month, when Warner canceled the remaining eight episodes of what was intended to be a 24-episode season of "Men," it cited Sheen's public behavior and rants against Lorre.
In a series of interviews, including with ABC's "Good Morning America" and NBC's "Today" show, Sheen boasted about his "epic" partying, said he's fueled by "violent hatred" of his bosses and claimed to have kicked drugs at home in his "Sober Valley Lodge."
He glorified himself as a "rock star from Mars" with "fire breathing fists" and "Adonis DNA" and talked about his home life with two women he nicknamed his "goddesses."
The actor, who was among TV's highest-paid at a reported $1.8 million per episode for "Men," brashly said at one point that he would ask for $3 million if he signed a new contract for future seasons.
Singer said Sheen's contract included a clause requiring certain disputes to be settled outside the court system through arbitration, but that the issues raised in Thursday's lawsuit are not covered by the contract clauses.