Public Reactions to and Impact of Celebrity Health Announcements: Understanding the Charlie Sheen Effect

Diane B. Francis, Elise M. Stevens, Seth M. Noar, Laura Widman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Charlie Sheen, a popular actor, disclosed his HIV positive status on national television in November 2015. The purpose of this study was to examine reactions to and impact of Sheen’s HIV disclosure, specifically empathetic reactions, public engagement (information seeking, interpersonal communication, information sharing), and HIV testing intentions. We surveyed 751 adults about 2 months after Sheen’s disclosure and found high exposure to the announcement as well as information seeking, interpersonal communication, and information sharing about HIV. We found significant demographic differences in engagement with Sheen’s disclosure, with African Americans more likely to seek information and engage in conversations. Interpersonal communication mediated the relationship between empathy and HIV testing intentions. Public figure announcements, when widely-reported like that of Sheen, offer compelling health communication opportunities to inform and educate the public about disease and produce changes in public engagement that may impact behavioral intentions and ultimately behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-494
Number of pages16
JournalHoward Journal of Communications
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 20 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © 2018 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • Celebrity health announcements
  • Charlie Sheen
  • Empathy
  • HIV prevention
  • Interpersonal communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Strategy and Management


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