Todd Marinovich Goes Deep

The ex-NFL superstar on life, death and everything in between

Alix says she met her future husband in what local loadies call "Harbor Drug Court," otherwise known as the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach. After making his move on her in a probation office, Marinovich asked Alix into a more private area so he wouldn't have to endure the possible embarrassment of getting shot down when he asked for her phone number.

"I had no clue who he was, and it didn't matter to me," she insists. "I love him for the person he is today."

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Marinovich sits next to a painting he’s reworked four times
Tim Melideo
Marinovich sits next to a painting he’s reworked four times
Marinovich: The obsessive artist 
at work
Tim Melideo
Marinovich: The obsessive artist at work

Back at his studio, Marinovich rummages through materials as he shakes a can of spray paint. An obsessive artist who has the typical difficulty of not knowing precisely when a piece is finished, he has a backlog of commissioned work he must finish. A man in Indiana, whose home Marinovich described as a contemporary museum, invited him to fill a room with original paintings.

As a kid who wanted to play pro ball, Marinovich was constantly told he needed something to fall back on. At the same time, the adults in his life always dismissed creative arts as a non-viable career path. "I don't think people are encouraged creatively enough," he says. "There's so much criticism early on, and it turns people off. You know, that was something that was passed down to me—you can't survive through art. Sometimes you hold onto those things when you're little. They're ingrained."

He almost proved the critics right when he threw away his football career, struggled as an artist and musician, and wound up in jail more times than he can count thanks to his drug addiction. Marinovich, who has been arrested on myriad drug violations over the years, says he doesn't know what his rap sheet looks like, but that it took him about a decade to get off probation. To celebrate, he took Alix to Costa Rica.

"Being a name, it's like a Catch-22," he reflects. "There were a lot of times when it was helpful, and there were times it was hurtful. There was no middle ground. It was extreme. There were times people would go out of their way to help me, and there were times where they were going out of their way to fuck me, and that's reality. When I was going to jail sober, that was a whole different trip."

Two days later, outside the Balboa Peninsula home his mother owns, where he and his family live, Marinovich is loading his acoustic guitar and several paintings for a June 2 gallery show in Los Angeles into a blue Lincoln Town Car that appears to be more than 20 years old. Windows are stuck halfway up, and buttons are missing throughout. The passenger's-side visor hangs limply. Given to him by a college teammate, the car has a handicap sticker on the license plate. He calls it "the hoopty."

Dressed in dark-blue jeans cuffed at the bottom, black Chuck Taylors and a white T-shirt covered by an oversized green sweater, he settles into his seat with a yogurt drink in-hand. As he drives south on Pacific Coast Highway, Marinovich recalls the old haunts, party spots and people who colored his life. As Forster's music plays through a wireless speaker propped on the dashboard, he talks about kicking his own addiction, inspired by his best friend, who had been clean for about eight years prior to relapsing and dying of heart failure. Marinovich's last hit of heroin was in 2009, after getting a hook in Santa Ana.

Now, he has a family to live for; he looks out his window and shakes his head. "I didn't think it could be done," he says. "I thought everyone else was bullshitting, but I knew he wouldn't bullshit me. Death is . . . fuck . . . I don't like it."

The hoopty rumbles along the Newport coast, with the draft of brilliantly painted sports cars and lumbering SUVs blowing through the open windows. Marinovich inhales a Camel Wide and says he still feels as though he's 10 years old around his aging father, Marv, who is no longer the physical specimen he still pictures in his mind. The sun dissolves the morning clouds, and moments pass with only the sound of Forster singing softly about the Pacific Ocean.

"There's some really freakin' cool parts of Orange County," Marinovich says. "It's the crowds. . . . It's not like it was. I sound old when I say that. My grandmother would say it's the Rose Bowl and it brings all the Midwesterners out here and they stay, and it's fucked it up for everybody."

In the less-fucked-up days, as it was for a lot of Orange County natives, Marinovich had his fair share of orange fights in the groves. His battlegrounds were in the foothills of Orange and Tustin. Then there were the days of "heaven" in Holy Jim Canyon in the Santa Ana foothills near Trabuco Canyon, where he and his friends got high on mushrooms. Driving past Laguna Beach's Thousand Steps Beach, he laughs about spending summer days blitzing through cases of beer and toking up with friends because the cops "wouldn't haul their asses down" to the sand. And who hasn't hoped to find a naked bombshell emerging from the water of San Onofre State Beach's clothing-optional Trail 6 strand, only to discover a collection of waddling codgers spreading their glory before the sun?

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