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Charlie Sheen was diagnosed with HIV four years ago and has since paid millions of dollars to keep his diagnosis a secret, he told Matt Lauer Tuesday in a bombshell interview seemingly timed to beat a National Enquirer tell-all about his sex life.

“I am in fact HIV-positive,” Sheen, who is 50, said. “It’s a hard three letters to absorb. It’s a turning point in one’s life.”

Sheen says he doesn’t know “entirely” how he contracted the virus but says it wasn’t from needle sharing.

“It started with what I thought was a series of crushing headaches,” he said. “I thought I had a brain tumor. I thought it was over.”

He tells Lauer he takes four antiviral pills a day to suppress the virus and his doctor says the biggest obstacle facing him is managing his substance abuse and depression—not the HIV.

He currently has an “undetectable level of the virus in his blood,” according to his doctor Robert Huizenga, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at UCLA.

“Individuals who are optimally treated, who have undetectable viral loads, who responsibly use protection, have an incredibly low... it’s incredibly rare to transmit the virus,” Huizenga said. “We can’t say that that’s zero, but it’s a very, very low number.”

Sheen, who appeared on the show first by himself and then, in a second segment, with Dr. Huizenga, says he’s spent “upwards of $10 million” in trying to pay off people who knew about his diagnosis.

He says part of the reason for going public was to stop the barrage of “shakedowns,” telling Lauer one prostitute even took a cell phone picture of his HIV drugs in his medicine cabinet and threatened to sell it to the tabloids.

“That is money taken away from my kids,” said Sheen, who admitted to Lauer he expects some of his former sex partners to file lawsuits.

“Are you still paying some of these people?” Lauer asked.

“Not after today I’m not,” he said.

Sheen, once the highest-paid actor on TV, says his current financial situation is “not great.”

Still, Sheen’s admission was seemingly forced by a blind item about “a bad-boy Tinseltown star” with HIV first published by the National Enquirer, which named him as the star Monday.

He says he informed both of his ex-wives—Denise Richards and Brooke Mueller—and a few of his children about his diagnosis.

He also insists he always informed his partners ahead of time, leading “with condoms and honesty,” which he says led to the blackmail payments. He says he’s had unprotected sex with at least two partners after his diagnosis but says both were “under the care of my doctor and they were completely warned ahead of time.”

“I have a responsibility to better myself now and help a lot of other people,” Sheen said.


Contact the author at gabrielle@gawker.com.