Martin Sheen: 'faith and family are what endure'

Martin Sheen

Martin Sheen

"Film is an illusion, fame is ephemeral - faith and family are what matter" - so said Hollywood star Martin Sheen when he appeared on Desert Island Discs with Kirsty Young on Sunday.

Working with his son Emilio on 'The Way' Sheen's forthcoming movie set on the Camino de Santiago was "a joy". "Life doesn't get any better than that." Emilio was born when Martin was just 21. He said: "When he was born I thought, 'Here is the guy I have been waiting for all my life.' He is a companion, a younger brother almost. And that is the way it has always been."

Sheen described his childhood in a large immigrant family, he was one of 12 children born to an Irish mother and Spanish father - where money was short but there was a great deal of love. When his mother died suddenly, when he was just eleven, Sheen said: "the wind was blown out of our sails."

While all his brothers became golfing caddies, Martin decided from an early age that he wanted to act - much to the concern of his father. But he helped him get through drama school, and lived to see his son's success.

Sheen spoke frankly about his drinking problems as a young man. In 1977, while filming Apocalypse Now, he had a serious heart attack which prompted a big change in his own habits and attitudes. He stopped drinking and began thinking seriously about his life. After reading the Brothers Karamazov, on 1 May 1981 he said he rejoined the Catholic faith. He said he felt his mother had been guiding him back. From that time on he has dedicated himself to working for peace and human rights issues, and had been arrested 67 times.

Sheen admitted that the family struggle with his son Charlie Sheen's difficult behaviour. "Charlie is dealing with the most profound problems and addiction, it is no secret. His behaviour has been an example of that."

"If he had cancer, how would we deal with him? Well, he has another disease and it is equally as dangerous as cancer. And so we lift him up and we pray for him and be present to him. And we try to meet with him as much as we can. But he is an adult and he needs a lot of help on a lot of different levels."

"He has been out there on his own for a very long time and as a family you never get used to it. It is a rollercoaster ride and it's been going on for some time. So we deal with it every day."

Sheen paid tribute to his wife Janet, with whom he will be celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary in December this year. He said: "She is a great companion, teacher, wife, mother, with a great sense or humour ...the most remarkable human being I have ever known", adding that "honestly, I still don't have a clue who she is".

Martin Sheen chose a mix of Bob Dylan, classical pieces and hymns. He chose:

Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues
Enya Enya singing: How Can I Keep From Singing?
The second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 in C Major, played by
Daniel Barenboim with the English Chamber Orchestra
Vivaldi's Spring from the Four Seasons, played by Pinchas Zukerman Beethoven's Ode to Joy from Symphony No 9 in D Minor played by The Netherlands Radio Chorus with the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink
The London Emmanuel Choir singing: How Great Thou Art
Bob Dylan's Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
Pachelbel's Canon in D Major performed by The Berlin Philharmonic

To listen to the programme visit:

See also: ICN - A father and son project

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