Hermosa Beach, California, in the mid-1960s. Sun, surf, swanky sand castles along the Strand, and a soundtrack of “Fun, Fun, Fun.” But the hang-loose life of the locals would soon be drowned out and painted black. The social storm brewing could turn even the most perfect wave into a brutal riptide.
Karl McMillen, Jr. deserved a piece of the Pacific paradise. He’d plumbed his way up from screwfittings and sweat into mega-business ownership and multimillions. He’d earned the azure-awesome view that he woke to
every magical morning. And he’d earned the ideal family at his side. A dynamic wife and two bright, talented sons with sky’s-the-limit potential.
But that storm…
He never saw it coming. It hit hard and it hit fast. The grinding gales of addiction ripped everything he had apart.
How do you go from planning exotic family vacations and evaluating real estate investments to planning prison visits and evaluating rehab centers and criminal defense pleas? How do you watch your surfer champion sons transform into drug lords? Inmates? How do you watch your entire family die; one by one? And yet never stop fighting.
What does it take to look in the mirror and search for the meaning of enabler? To face that you’re sacrificing your own livelihood for Scotch? To ride a sheer, pounding wave of triumphs and tragedies, and then pull out and paddle back for more?
It takes a rare and special person—Karl McMillen.
“Triumphs and Tragedies: A True Story of Wealth and Addiction” chronicles top-of-the-world success juxtaposed against a downside of life no one should have to suffer. A side that proves that there are some things money cannot buy.
How Karl weathered his terrible tempest is a huge part of his story; but so is what he has done with that survival.
How he has used his powerful wealth as ammunition to fight for others. To strive to prevent anyone from enduring the tragedies he and his family went through. That is his true triumph.
Guest post from Bill Hayes.
Co-authoring Karl B. McMillen’s life story in Triumphs and Tragedies: A True Story of Wealth and Addiction took the old axiom of “write what you know” and spun it into an introspective paradox for me. While confident of both myself and the project, I was forced to become a “method actor,” learning and genuinely transforming into a different character with each word I typed.
Starting out, I was certain I knew this story inside and out. But, in truth, I didn’t know it at all.
I grew up in the heart of the 1960s in Southern California, making a socially battle-scarred transition from high school to college in the hard heat of the “Summer of Love.” I worked in the Los Angeles music industry and played in rock bands, ever surrounded by all the potent fuel that powered the lifestyle: drugs.
But I never shot, snorted, or smoked a thing.
I was insulated from the psychedelics and the other chemical treats du jour by my affinity for good old-fashioned alcohol; evidently figuring that my liver was more durable than fragile brain cells. And by some simple observations of those around me. Those who weren’t losing their minds to creative psychoses were already dead.
Then I started to write. After several successful books, Triumphs and Tragedies was offered to my partner and me.
The beach scene in the ’60s and ’70s.
I lived this stuff.
But I was wrong. I watched this stuff; I didn’t really live it. Karl McMillen, the self-made millionaire and philanthropist whose life is laid open in Triumphs and Tragedies, lived it. He lived it, his wife lived it, and his two surfing-champion sons lived it.
And Karl was the only one to survive.
He has a story.
I realized early on that this project was different. I had to become Karl. I had to become this father who switched from a life centered around a beachfront mansion and executive business decisions to an existence based upon prison visiting hours, twenty-four-hour-a-day damage control, and a constant stream of check-writing for a sick triad of bail, bribes, and barristers. I had to reach with Karl for answers, sharing untried hopes as he pioneered the first stages of what we all now know so casually as “rehab.”
Then I had to become his sons. I had to writhe and twist to understand the pleasure pull of heroin versus owning the beach and the sun and the sport that rules the waves. I had to push myself into the pain that can throw away education and heir-to-the-throne success in favor of just one more fix. I had to OD like the oldest son and scream in jailed grief like the youngest. I had to look at the 1960s and ’70s much more from the real inside—a vantage point I thought I’d already secured. I had to seek survival like Karl did, so that I could closely comprehend the war he now wages against what so few genuinely and completely understand.
I wrote what I knew, but that wasn’t enough; I needed to learn so much more.
And there’s the satisfaction in what we do.
As writers, we all want to be artists who open truths and emotions to those who absorb our work. But books like Triumphs and Tragedies take us almost completely out of the overall equation and make us a part of the bottom line.
When the creator learns as much and is inspired as much as the reader, that is art.
That is a story.
About the Authors
Karl McMillen, Jr., born in 1928, grew up in a young and developing Southern California. From an early age, Karl displayed a drive for greatness; working many odds-and-ends jobs and soaking up knowledge and skillsets from every available source.
Karl started his working career plumbing track houses in Southern California as a partner in Alert Plumbing. Karl went on to distribute plumbing supplies all throughout So Cal and Las Vegas asthe owner of Todd Pipe & Supply, which he grew to 9 locations and employed over 400 dedicated employees. Through Karl’s hard work, dedication, and commitment to his employees and customers, the success of Todd Pipe became legendary.
Karl life can be broken down into 3 distinct parts: The first was to study hard and get educated (Karl graduated from USC with a degree in Business Finance). Then came working hard and making a lot of money. Now, he’s giving it back.
In 2008, Karl and wife Carol started The McMillen Family Foundation, which currently supports more than 13 different organizations. To date, the McMillen Family Foundation has donated over $12 million to charities and foundations, including: Thelma’s Place (Thelma McMillen Center @ Torrance Memorial), House of Hope, Pathways to Independence, Friendly House, Beacon House, First Step, Lynn House, Shawl House, Ashland Home, Villa Center, and 3 Alano Clubs.
Karl’s amazing story of business success is counterbalanced by the emotional deaths of his first wife to cancer and both his sons who spent most of their lives battling substance abuse. Karl, too, has struggled with alcoholism and proudly carries his seventeen-year sobriety chip.
Karl may see himself as a “regular guy,” but to the countless number of employees, customers, friends, family members and those in need that have been touched by Karl’s good will….he is anything but a regular guy.
About Co-Authors Bill Hayes and Jennifer Thomas:
Bill Hayes and Jennifer Thomas are a powerful publishing duo—Hayes, an established author; Thomas a prolific writer, editor, designer, and publisher. Their individual and collective works include the award-winning Hullabaloo!: The Life and (Mis)Adventures of L.A. Radio Legend Dave Hull and the perennial bestseller, The Original Wild Ones: Tales of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club.
With a degree in English Literature and three successful biker books in his saddlebags, Hayes has gained renown throughout the motorcycle culture as the “world’s most literate biker.” He received the prestigious Silver Spoke Award in 2010 for his body of literary work in the motorcycling community and has spent more than a decade as the National Press and Publicity Officer of the legendary Boozefighters Motorcycle Club. Hayes has now achieved success with several new and upcoming biographies. Triumphs and Tragedies is his fifth published work.
Ms. Thomas holds a B.A. from Columbia University and a Specialized Certificate in Copyediting from the University of California, San Diego. As the owner of Beyond Words Editing, she has edited and designed books of every genre. Thomas was Editor-in-Chief of the inspirational Butterfly Tears: Stories of Entrapment to Empowerment. As the owner of Final Word Press, she co-authored, edited, designed, and published Triumphs and Tragedies.
Both Hayes and Thomas are multi-degreed black belts, co-owning Old School Kenpo Karate Studio in Torrance, California (www.oldschoolkenpo.com) and empowering women through their acclaimed Basic Yet Brutal self-defense workshops. Hayes also has a forty-plus-year “sub-career” as a professional musician.