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Sheen Testifies for Actor Suing Roche Over Acne Drug Effects

Actor Martin Sheen
Actor Martin Sheen. Photographer: Maz Nash/AFP/Getty Images

Martin Sheen described the “extraordinary” talent of fellow actor James Marshall in a trial claiming Roche Holding AG’s Accutane acne drug caused Marshall’s inflammatory bowel disease.

Sheen testified by video from California to jurors weighing claims by Marshall, 44, who played Louden Downey, a U.S. Marine in the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men.” Sheen, a star of the movie “Apocalypse Now” and the NBC drama “The West Wing,” said Marshall showed great promise before emergency surgery in 1995 to have his colon removed.

“He was projected as a pretty serious movie star,” Sheen, 70, told jurors yesterday in state court in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “He had a very unique talent that permitted him to go to that place where all artists try to go, that extremely personal place.”

Marshall seeks at least $11 million in damages from Roche, the world’s biggest maker of cancer drugs. The Basel, Switzerland-based company pulled its brand-name version of Accutane off the market in 2009 after juries awarded millions of dollars in damages to former users over bowel-disease claims.

Sheen, speaking from Woodland Hills, California, testified two weeks after actor Brian Dennehy appeared in court to offer similar testimony about Marshall’s talents. Marshall appeared in the television series “Twin Peaks,” and his movie credits include “Cadence,” “Gladiators” and “Hits!”

‘Prisoner’ at Home’

Marshall previously testified that he’s a “prisoner in my home” who must go to the bathroom 20 times some days and can no longer work as an actor.

Sheen said he was a close friend of Marshall’s father, a former Radio City Music Hall publicist who married one of the Rockette dancers. Sheen knew Marshall since his birth, and later directed him in “Cadence” and a TV special called “Babies Having Babies.”

“The two times I directed him he looked like an actor,” Sheen said. “He had great energy and vitality and a great sense of humor. People don’t say they heard a good movie. It’s a visual medium. It doesn’t hurt to look well.”

Stephen Bolton, Marshall’s attorney, asked Sheen to recount his acting career, which began in 1959 in the theater in New York City. Sheen, the father of actor Charlie Sheen, recounted his appearances in “Apocalypse Now,” “Wall Street,” “Gandhi” and other movies.

He tripped when Bolton asked him to name the stars he appeared with in “The Departed.”

Actors in ‘Departed’

Sheen named Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg before saying: “Some of them were enormous stars. I’m having trouble, as usual, remembering names.” Other players included Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Sheen said that Marshall changed when his ulcerative colitis followed his movie successes.

“There was a very dramatic change in his physicality,” Sheen said. “He was extremely thin. There was a marked difference in his personality. He was not as gregarious or fun-loving or as social as I remembered him. He was withdrawn in a lot of ways.”

After the colon surgery, Sheen said, Marshall “looked very wan, very thin, and kind of wasted.”

Bolton asked if it hurt his career.

“Absolutely,” the actor replied. “There’s no question about that.”

Accutane is made by Roche unit Hoffmann-LaRoche Inc. of Nutley, New Jersey.


On cross-examination, Sheen testified that he didn’t know how Marshall was treated for his acne, didn’t know at the time that he took Accutane, and wasn’t aware of his health complaints in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The trial is over lawsuits by Marshall and two other plaintiffs, Gillian Gaghan and Kelley Andrews. All three are California residents. Andrews, 29, is an account manager and Gaghan, 34, is a nursing assistant.

More than 15 million people have taken Accutane, once Roche’s second-biggest-selling drug, since it went on the market in 1982.

Roche contends Accutane’s link to inflammatory bowel disease hasn’t been conclusively proved. The company also argues it provided adequate warnings about risks that some users might suffer bowel problems.

The case combining the three ex-Accutane users’ claims is the eighth to go to trial since juries began weighing allegations against the drug. Juries in New Jersey and Florida have ordered Roche to pay at least $45 million in damages.

Cases Appealed

Appeals courts have thrown out some of the verdicts, including a 2007 award of $7 million to a Florida man who blamed the drug for his bowel disease.

An Atlantic City jury last year said Roche should pay $25.1 million to a man who attributed his bowel disease to Accutane. That case was a retrial of an earlier verdict overturned on appeal.

In August, a New Jersey appellate court also overturned a $10.5 million Accutane verdict against the company on an evidentiary issue.

Roche has won dismissals of Accutane cases filed in federal court that have been upheld on appeal and has challenged the state court verdicts by asking judges to throw them out or filing appeals, company officials said yesterday in a statement.

The case is Greenblatt v. Hoffmann-LaRoche Inc., ATL-l-1246-06, New Jersey Superior Court, Atlantic County (Atlantic City).

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