By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
At night, Zilliott played drums at clubs in Orange County and LA and constructed a music studio at a three-car garage on Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. In 1986, the same year his wife gave birth to their oldest daughter, he quit his white-collar job and dedicated himself to music. "I spent the next decade or more putting bands together: Sensible Shoes, Nomad, Sojourn, Duck Soup, Nude Girls Tonight," he says. "I was the drummer, but I basically managed them, did the logistics, booking and record-company solicitation. We never got signed; We got really close to signing with Atlantic Records, but the band fell apart. Basically, every band fell apart just prior to getting signed. That is the nature of bands: They don't want to be successful. They want to sleep in. It's a self-destructive lifestyle."
In 1988, Zilliott became a father again. The financial pressure of raising two kids and his lack of monetary success in the music industry led him to give up his drumming career and work as a carpenter for a construction firm. But when he stopped playing music, he lost what he saw as his passion in life. "I started turning to alternatives and found cocaine to be an alternative," he says.
Zilliott recalls the next five years as a blur of drugs and extramarital affairs. In 1991, he started marriage counseling and checked himself into a drug-rehabilitation program at South Coast Medical Center. "When I was in rehab, I decided that the truth would set me free and confessed certain shenanigans to my wife. Infidelity was all part of the insanity of drugs. She divorced me and moved with the kids to Nevada."
Zilliott says he spent the next several years trying to kick his habit and maintain a relationship with his kids, which wasn't easy, he says, because his ex-wife had married a born-again Christian and didn't approve of his lifestyle. To pay child support and fight his ex-wife's efforts to win sole custody of their children, he managed a law office in Newport Beach. He remarried, and in 1999, he got his law career back on track after being accepted to Whittier Law School. Three years later, he received his law degree. By then, however, his cocaine addiction had morphed into a serious drinking problem. He became a regular customer at Costa Mesa's Shark Club and Goat Hill Tavern, downing shot after shot of Patron Silver tequila.
On Dec. 4, 2001, his last day of law school, Zilliott got his first arrest for drunk driving. He had just pulled out of the parking lot in his Volkswagen convertible and was fishing around in the passenger seat for a brand-new Elvis Presley Christmas CD. "I was swerving, and the next thing I knew, I had flashing lights behind me," he says. "That was the beginning of the legal ramifications of my alcoholism." In May 2002, Zilliott got drunk at the White House, a bar and restaurant in Laguna Beach, in a misguided effort to blow off steam as he studied for his upcoming bar exams. He got into a heated argument with a bouncer.
"I had enough tequila in me to kill a horse," he recalls. "They pushed me out the door violently backward, and when my ankle hit the sidewalk, it gave and broke in three places. That led to a lawsuit, but I had to disclose it to the state bar, and now I had a DUI and a drunken altercation on my record. You have to pass a very rigid moral-character test for the state bar, and I had very obvious alcohol issues. They said I needed to address my alcohol usage, and my moral-character application was denied."
Zilliott pushed on with his bar-exam study regime, aided by a steady supply of Vicodin tablets. "I took the bar addicted to Vicodin because of my broken leg and could barely even physically get up to the test site in Ontario," he says. "I failed the bar. I don't even remember taking it."
With his legal career on permanent hold, Zilliott managed to find work with a company that handled worker's-compensation cases for a medical-equipment company. The job required him to travel around the state. The long hours, combined with his drinking habit, gradually destroyed his second marriage. His company placed him on a leave of absence for four months after he failed to show up for a week at court hearings in Fresno. He'd spent the entire week drinking in his motel room. Zilliott used his time off to become a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. "I'd get sober for 60 days, and then go back [to drinking] again," he says. "My second wife left me at that point in time. She couldn't take the problems."
In early 2005, Zilliott went back to work. Almost immediately, he resumed his drinking. In April, his two daughters flew from Nevada to John Wayne Airport for a scheduled visitation. It was a Friday afternoon, and the previous day, Zilliott had just found a new apartment he could afford to live in now that his second wife had moved out of their house. He'd celebrated that evening with a few cocktails and kept drinking throughout the night and the next day. "I never showed to pick them up," he says, adding that he hasn't seen either daughter since. "I was at home getting drunk. I lost the relationship with them I had been trying to build for 14 years. And as a result of that binge, I never made it into work, and they fired me."