Todd Marinovich Goes Deep

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

It was during his time at Mater Dei that Marinovich attended one of his first keg parties, questioning the point of drinking games, when the reality of keg parties was to get drunk. But he noticed the girls were "getting sloppy drunk because, if they're not playing, they're sipping their shit." He also swallowed a quarter.

At around 16 years old, after a trip to Tijuana, Marinovich returned to his father's Mission Viejo apartment and promptly lost his virginity in his dad's bed. Up to that point, the introverted Marinovich, who says he was never GQ-quality, had only gotten to first and second base with the girls. All that would change with fame, and Marinovich, who has traveled the globe and tasted countless women, including the four stewardesses he once met on a Raiders road trip to New Orleans, rates Orange County as world-class in terms of per-capita female pulchritude.

"I consider myself lucky when it comes to the whole experience with the ladies," Marinovich says. "[The fame] was always a factor. They would be curious about all the attention on the dude in the bar. . . . I don't know if I'm dealing with the life of fate, but it was meant to be with Alix and having two kids at 39. I wasn't the safest at practicing sex. Something bigger is coming into play."

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

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Stopping near a house he once rented in Dana Point, Marinovich's mood changes. His voice grows quieter as he recalls the days just after he blew up his NFL career, a time that slowly if inexorably seemed to be progressing toward using the needle, a final destination on a path he says probably began with the pain-killers he shot up after high-school games. Heroin, for him, was like a mother's womb, a warm and safe space he never wanted to leave. But if heroin was the womb, his life was little more than a botched abortion. With sucked-up cheeks and a body that had shriveled into a skeletal, pasty frame, Marinovich saw his own ghost taunting him to walk across the threshold of death.

"I was actually looking into the mirror and had collapsed all the veins in the arms, and I was going for the jugular," he says. "Seeing myself in the reflection, hitting this bottom, that was the worst. It almost turned my stomach. And I [had] always said that'll never happen to me—and there I was."

Later, in Vancouver, during a stint as a backup quarterback with the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League, he walked into a head shop and saw orange vials on the floor. He had discovered what he describes as the Amsterdam of Canada, where addicts could indulge all manner of vice uninhibited. His high of choice: China White heroin, a variety of the drug that was less expensive and kicked the ass of the black-tar heroin to which he was accustomed.

Strung-out to the point of getting loaded before, during and after games—he once shot up during halftime—a friend convinced him to return to California, where he was hospitalized. It was in Vancouver and Dana Point that he suffered the worst heroin withdrawals of his life, agonies that drove him to ponder suicide. "It's an ache to the bone, and it really concentrates in the legs, bone-chilling chills from hot to cold," he says. "You never get comfortable. And then come the runs. You just piss out your ass. It's like the flu times 100. I thought I was a tough guy. I felt like a pussy."

According to Marinovich, the third day of heroin withdrawal is the worst; if you make it to day four, you're on your way to recovery. "I had a lot of day threes," he adds.

He drives past a rehabilitation house in San Clemente that, without elaborating, he credits for providing a turning point in his life. "Addiction is a disease of the spirit," he says. "As a 22-year-old man, I was looking around, like, 'What am I doing here [in rehab] with guys in their 40s and 50s who lost everything?' I know this new generation is doing the same thing."

Stopping at a Starbucks, an older, clean-cut man looks up from his laptop and tells Marinovich he loved the ESPN documentary. Marinovich says he feels like a movie actor when people say that. On the road back home, fighting the urge to piss, he unsuccessfully searches his pockets for his Camels, then bums a smoke. He pulls a cigarette from the box, but he accidentally snaps the filter off.

"We can fix this guy," he says. He rolls the end of the cigarette like a joint, gives it a good lick and fires it up. Then he talks about partying with B-Real from Cypress Hill, how the stoned rapper could both de-seed his weed and roll a blunt using just one of his giant hands. "I never had skills like that," he says.

After picking up a cheeseburger, fries and a soda at TK Burgers in Newport Beach, where the young female clerk sports a USC Trojans shirt, Marinovich drives the hoopty home, parks on a side street and leans back in a chair outside his front door. Through his darkest days, he says, he always knew he was going to make it. To Marinovich, there are no big deals, and sometimes the worst of times can be the best thing to happen to a person, such as going to drug court and meeting the love of your life.

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