It was the tell-all celebrity interview everyone wanted. So how did an Australian gossip-monger, sacked from local television before launching a glittering online gossip career in Hollywood, get the global scoop?

Dylan Howard has found a friend in Charlie Sheen, the disgraced darling of Hollywood gossip sites who has titillated readers with his bizarre drug-addled partying and anti-semitic rants. Howard has been holding the star’s hand through his public humiliation, from the tell-all confessional to the voluntary urine and blood tests in an attempt to prove his sobriety.

It all culminated in a grainy internet interview for the US gossip site RadarOnline.com, where Howard is the “senior executive editor”. The Sheen exclusive was broadcast around the world — including a lengthy slab on last night’s A Current Affair — and Howard has been busily conducting radio and TV interviews talking about the scoop.

It’s a long way from Channel Seven’s newsroom in Melbourne, which fired Howard after a grubby chequebook journalism affair over AFL drug testing in 2008.

Howard’s story on AFL players failing drug tests put him in court and caused friction between the league and its broadcast partner. A Melbourne couple claimed they were paid by Seven for a manila folder containing the failed drug tests of AFL players. Howard’s accomplices were eventually convicted of theft after they told a court the tabloid hack had offered them $3000 for the secret files. Seven and Howard escaped conviction, but the reporter was fired a day later.

When his footy reporting roles at radio stations SEN and 3AW were also terminated, Howard quickly moved to the gossip beat where he started freelancing for fellow footy newshound Craig Hutchison’s Crocmedia. Not long after he was fingered by A Current Affair as the source for the candid Lara Bingle nude snap which was published by Woman’s Weekly.

Howard — who declares himself a “Celebrity/News/Justice Pundit” on Twitter — now finds himself in the bathroom of Sheen’s LA mansion. He was with the star for a home urine test — “so it could not be faked,” Radar reported — which he passed. During their chat Sheen hit-out at his employers, US network CBS, which had just cancelled production on his hit sitcom Two and a Half Men:

“These a-sholes claim they know this and we are going to prove them wrong… Out of respect, Dylan Howard called me to see if this was true. I said it was not. Dylan challenged me to a urine test, I told him that if I passed it he would have to drink it!”

“Thankfully,” Entertainment Weekly reported yesterday, “[Sheen] did not hold him to it.”

Just to be sure, Howard then arranged for a court-certified California laboratory to conduct a blood test, covering marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines and alcohol. RadarOnline breathlessly reported: “The embattled Two and a Half Men star had three vials of blood drawn from his left arm by a technician from a court-certified toxicology laboratory on Saturday afternoon.”

With the results in hand, Howard then took to network TV, appearing on Good Morning America to announce the news: “The good news for Charlie Sheen as he’s watching from home is he tested negative for every single one of those tests. The blood test only goes for a window for only 24 hours. The urine tests for some 72 hours. But this is a big win for Charlie Sheen.”

And a big win for Howard. Along with the around-the-clock updates online, Dylan has been stoking the scandal via Twitter. “I am officially promising an interview in #charliesheen’s toilet,” he tweeted before the drug test; and “#charliesheen like you have never seen before”.

Just why Sheen picked out the reporter from the crowded pack of paparazzi following his every move is unclear. Howard wouldn’t comment to Crikey, issuing a terse “pass” when questioned via email.

Back in January, Sheen was texting Howard from hospital. “People don’t seem to get it,” he said in the message. “Guy can’t have a great time and do his job also?” It’s the first reported encounter between the pair, but the reporter had already made a name for himself in Hollywood gossip traps with his celebrity scoops.

Perhaps Radar Online’s biggest break came last year when the site leaked the infamous Mel Gibson tapes, in which the actor allegedly launched a profanity-laced tirade against ex-lover Oksana Grigorieva. The veracity of those tapes and how they were acquired was questioned at the time, but that didn’t stop the site becoming an online gossip powerhouse.

Formerly a magazine with a focus on entertainment, fashion and politics, RadarOnline was relaunched in 2009 as an online-only pop culture celebrity news outlet. American Media Inc. bought the masthead in 2008, bringing it under the same umbrella as infamous gossip tabloids The National Enquirer and Star. The business was declared bankrupt in November but won approval from regulators in December to restructure.

Peter Fray

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