Martin Sheen's Outspoken History of HIV and AIDS Activism

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Thankfully, Charlie Sheen knows he will have support from his family.

The 50-year-old actor told the Today show that  he is HIV positive

By coming forward about his HIV status, the former Two and a Half Men star hopes he will help others do the same. "I have a responsibility now to better myself and to help a lot of other people," Sheen said. "Hopefully with what we're doing today, others may come forward and say, 'Thanks Charlie. Thanks for kicking the door open.'"

Though he has yet to comment on his son's reveal, Charlie's father, Martin Sheen, has long been an outspoken HIV and AIDS activist. The elder Sheen has advocated for numerous causes over the years, ranging from civil rights to anti-war efforts, and some of the West Wing actor’s most inspired moments of activism over the past two decades have been in support of the HIV and AIDS communities.

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Perhaps what inspired his later advocacy, Sheen played Ned Weeks, the main character in The Normal Heart, when Larry Kramer’s drama about the early ‘80s HIV/AIDS crisis debuted in London’s Royal Court Theater. Sheen was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance.

Two years later, Sheen traveled to Philadelphia to support Burning Bush, a non-denominational spiritual resource center to provide “spiritual, emotional, and physical nourishment” to AIDS patients and their caregivers.

Sheen was among the earliest wave of celebrities to voice their support for HIV/AIDS causes, and at Burning Bush a meditation room was dedicated to his childhood friend, John Crane, who died of AIDS in 1987.

"I brought a photograph of John to hang in the meditation room," Sheen said at the time. "The last four days of John's life, I held a vigil with him. It's gratifying that this room is dedicated to his memory."

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Most recently, Sheen acted as chairman, alongside son Emilio Estevez, at the Cinema Against AIDS Toronto event, which raised $1 million to benefit amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research and Dignitas International.

According to amfAR, Sheen delivered a message from Elizabeth Taylor during the event, praising the film community’s “courage, conviction, and grace” in the fight against AIDS.

Sheen has previously said he does not differentiate his HIV/AIDS advocacy from any ofhis 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,” he 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."

He has also been outspoken about Charlie’s troubles in the past, as well as his continued support for his youngest son, saying of the Two and a Half Men star’s 2011 breakdown, “What he was going through at that time, we were powerless to do much. Except to pray for him and lift him up…You can assure them you're there and you love them, but you cannot effect change. You pray for a moment of clarity, you trust in a higher power, and you never, ever give up hope. Because that is a measure of despair."

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