Charlie Sheen said Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show that he's HIV-positive and that he decided to appear on the show to "put a stop to this onslaught, barrage of attacks and sub-truths."
Sheen said he was diagnosed about four years ago but doesn't know how he contracted the virus. He said at first he thought he had a brain tumor because of a a series of crushing headaches.
"It’s a hard three letters to absorb," Sheen said of the diagnosis. "It's a turning point in one's life."
Sheen, 50, who has five children, said he's paid people to keep them silent and not reveal his secret. People he thought he could trust with his diagnosis have extorted "millions" from him, he said.
"What people forget is that it's money they are taking from my children, they think it's just me," he said.
He confirmed that a prostitute had taken a photo of his antiretroviral medication and had threatened to sell it to the tabloids.
Asked by "Today's" Matt Lauer if he was still paying for silence, Sheen said, “Not after today, I’m not. That’s my goal.”
"I release myself from this prison today,” he said of what he called shakedowns.
He said he was doing "a lot of drugs, drinking too much" and making "bad decisions" because he was depressed over his diagnosis.
Asked if he knowingly or unknowingly transmitted the HIV to someone else since his diagnosis, Sheen said, "Impossible."
The actor said he's had unprotected sex since his diagnosis, but that "the two people I did that with were under the care of my doctor and they were completely warned ahead of time."
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world’s largest AIDS organization, said HIV is transmitted through having sex without a condom, sharing needles or syringes and by pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
"The old adage holds true that it’s better to be safe than sorry," said AHF Chief of Medicine Dr. Michael Wohlfeiler. "Even relying on the word of someone who says they are ‘undetectable’ is risky because a lot of people are not adherent to the daily pill regimens—especially those who are struggling with addiction. It’s truly a shame that people have gotten themselves in trouble in a variety of different ways because they did not take the simple and easy precaution of using a condom.”
Sheen said he hopes by going public with the diagnosis he will help other people with HIV.
"I have a responsibility now to better myself and to help a lot of other people and hopefully with what we're doing today others will come forward and say, thanks Charlie," he said.
Sheen had a drug-fueled public meltdown in 2011 after which he was fired form CBS' “Two and a Half Men.”
He has made few public appearances since his show "Anger Management" went off the air in December 2014. Sheen appeared on television most recently when he reprised his "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" role for the ABC sitcom, "The Goldbergs," in February.
Sheen said Tuesday he was on the “triple cocktail” of HIV medications and that he was not doing drugs but was still drinking a little bit.
When asked whether he would stop drinking, Sheen said, “perhaps the freedom of today may lead to that as well.”