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Grisham's father had 30 years in the military, including serving during World War II and the Korean War. Grisham says he was a constant hassle for his veteran father until he had a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 56.
Grisham went to see him at the naval hospital in San Diego. "He was lying in bed, looking weak, and he looks up at me and says, 'I love you.' And that was the second time he's ever said that to me in his life," Grisham says. "So I told him I'd go home and mow the lawn. He died the next morning."
Afterward, Grisham, 23 at the time, ended up taking his father's clothing and belongings, putting them in bags, and throwing them in the trash.
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"I was looking at this man: a powerful man who'd inflicted pain on me countless times over. And he lay there, looking up at me, without defense, and he admitted he was weak. And I had nothing to say to him," Grisham recalls in An American Demon.
Things didn't get better later. "My dad had a heart attack at work, and my mom had no money, no way to live. The lawsuit was over the possibility of a job-related death," he explains.
His father's workplace retorted that it was all the stress his son, Jack, had put him through that caused the heart attack. Grisham's mother ended up settling out of court.
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Grisham had always dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He recalls his first time "getting loaded" when he was in kindergarten, taking hits of marijuana in the back yard from his older brother's jade pipe shaped like a Native American's head.
While intoxicants were a constant presence, things didn't really start falling apart for Grisham until years later, in the early '80s.
When he was 25, he got his girlfriend Vickie (a pseudonym) pregnant—and while she was living at his mother's house, he started seeing another girl, Casey (also a pseudonym), who was 14 years old. (Grisham and Casey married in Mexico two years later.)
Vickie and Grisham had terrible arguments, and during one particularly bad one, Grisham kicked her in the stomach; she was almost nine months' pregnant.
Several failed suicide attempts, a total of maybe 15 arrests, driving backward down PCH from the hood of his car, an accidental stabbing and being arrested for an armed robbery he actually didn't commit (which resulted in his older sister dumping his sawed-off shotgun off the bridge in Huntington Harbor) also pockmarked this period.
"I never shot anything up. So that was my reasoning that I didn't have a problem," Grisham says, laughing in disbelief.
People began seeing him around, and instead of the usual awe he received, Grisham got a lot of "Do you know who that guy was?"
"The sad thing about it is the crazy behavior was cosigned by everybody," Grisham says. "Like, why the fuck didn't someone tell George Lucas that Jar Jar Binks was a bad idea? It's like, hey, that character is fucked. But no, everybody was busy kissing Lucas' ass, so here I am, drinking, going nuts, and yeah, people were getting pissed off, but they also said it was cool, getting drunk, getting into fights."
Grisham first started going straight in 1984, but the birth of his daughter, Anastasia, a few years later acted as a catalyst to cement his sobriety. He says he's been clean since Jan. 8, 1989.
"For me, when I got sober, it was like a tidal wave came, and I was swept along with it," he says. "I'm not really seeing what's happening, and it's dropped me off, and as the water recedes, I start to see things—just not right away. The water sucks back, and I'm 26 years old, living with my mother. It sucks back some more, and hey, you've got a daughter you're not seeing. It sucks back more, you owe $20,000 in child support. Sucks back more, you've got warrants out for your arrest. Sucks back more, you've got a father whose death you were blamed for. Sucks back more, you can't stand to be touched. Sucks back more, you've never been able to be intimate with anybody. The more it receded, the more I was able to see the damage and look at this behavior. It was like a coroner's blanket had been pulled off a frightening mess. I started waking up."
It was during his period of awakening that Grisham resolved to start helping people wherever he went, whenever he could—take, for example, T.S.O.L. stage manager Bobby Sepulveda.
In 1995, Grisham's then-band, the Joykiller, performed at the Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood. He pulled onstage a 19-year-old Sepuvelda—who was promptly punched by a bouncer, ripping open Sepulveda's eyelid.
The kid approached Grisham after the show: "You fucking owe me!"
Grisham gave Sepulveda—who had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, as well as being a victim of physical and sexual abuse—his number, and soon after, Sepulveda departed on tour with the Joykiller, helping to sell T-shirts, but actually giving away most of the merch or exchanging it for drugs and booze. Grisham eventually helped Sepulveda get into sober-living homes and treatment centers.