The McMillens are proof that anyone can be destroyed by addiction, no matter
the money, success or family support. Multi-millionaire Karl McMillen built his plumbing company
from the ground up and provided a life for his wife and two sons that most could only dream of. But it
couldn’t save them.
McMillen shares with co-authors Bill Hayes and Jennifer Thomasthe heart-wrenching story of losing his
entire family to addiction and disease in his new biography “Triumphs and Tragedies: A True Story of
Wealth and Addiction” (July 2013, Final Word Press). The book is yet another brave gift provided by
McMillen in honor of his family, in the 10th anniversary year of the Thelma McMillen Centerfor Alcohol
and Drug Treatment—his first major donation name after his late wife—and the 5
th anniversary of the
McMillen Family Foundation, which supports rehabilitation centers.
“Triumphs and Tragedies” opens in the unsettled West, when the wild wave of the 1960s swept so
much of the country’s youth into the deep murkiness of drugs. Addiction was something even
McMillen himself, who was in the midst of growing a highly profitable company, couldn’t escape.
Alcohol haunted him, cigarettes took hold of his wife, and drug use consumed his two surfingchampion sons.
McMillen took a unique approach to the battle, using his talents from the business world of gathering
data, this time about the destructive force of drugs, and analyzing the treatments. McMillen explainsin
his book that enabling didn’t help his sons, but demonstrates how it was nearly impossible to avoid.
Their horrifying riches-to-rags journey from the serene and swanky shores of Hermosa Beach,
California, to a never-ending series of prison cells, health hewing, and eventual death shows the raw
and painful moments the McMillens faced each day.
McMillen hopes the book will help others to avoid the gusts and gales of the deadly sides of existence
while demonstrating that this country’s mottos about “hard work bearing success” still lives. And the
current philanthropy of McMillen, generated in the face of life’s worse trials, demonstrates much on its
own—that few, if any, have ever fought back so hard at the evils of addiction as he has.
About the Author
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
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.
Honors and Awards
–Humanitarian Award, Friendly House, 2011
–Angel Award, Beacon House, 2010
–Wholesaler of the Year, 2002
About the 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 Tragediesis 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
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m Bill Hayes; a total and complete product of being raised in Southern California in the 1960s. In my teens and early twenties, I developed a love for four things: writing, music, motorcycles, and the martial arts. All have remained a part of my life ever since, and all have become integral to a very eclectic and varied career.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
Triumphs and Tragedies: A True Story of Wealth and Addiction, the life of philanthropist Karl B. McMillen, began during the writing of my partner, Jennifer Thomas’s, recent book, Butterfly Tears: Stories of Entrapment to Empowerment. Her book centers on a remarkable charitable foundation called Pathways to Independence; one of their prime benefactors is Karl. Once we learned about his background, we knew his was a story that had to be shared. Karl McMillen is a self-made multi-millionaire who lost both his surfing-champion sons to drug abuse and his wife to smoking-caused cancer. Karl’s experiences in the world of business and the juxtaposition between the power of wealth and the power of addiction in his life makes for an unbelievable ride.
How do you create your characters?
I’ve never had to create characters, as such, since I work almost exclusively in the genre of non-fiction. However, I consider myself to be fortunate to have met, worked with, and in so many ways interacted with some of the most interesting people on the planet—people with amazing stories to tell. I take pride in developing a rapport with these people and being able to assemble the complex puzzle of their incredible lives into a portrait that even they have never imagined.
What inspires and what got you started in writing?
The real world and everything about it inspires me, especially people who have done extraordinary things, wringing every drop out of life. Living on the edge. Veering from the mainstream. My writing began in the 1960s with pieces like record reviews in some of the sleazy “underground” press publications of that crazy era. Then I went into magazines with regular columns and features in periodicals like Easyriders, BIKER, Black Belt, Thunder Press, and Real Blues. From there, I progressed into books—I’m now working on my eighth title.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I think writers write everywhere; I know I do! Maybe they don’t always have a notebook and pen in hand, or fingers on a keyboard, but the mind is always going and that’s where the stuff of their work is really formed. The observational juices never stop flowing. As far as outside sensory input goes, when I really sit down to put things together, I need silence—no music, nothing in the way of noise. I’m best in the morning but I can go for hours and hours well into the evening. And by that time—well, since my two favorite writers are Hemingway and Thompson—I can’t deny the occasional art-enhancing catalyst of California wine, Mexican beer, or Russian vodka.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
Again, since I deal in non-fiction, my ideas start when I wake up in the morning, when I check my mail, when I answer my phone, when I meet people, when I go here or there. There’s no better example of this than my closeness to the biker culture—just sitting down at a bar with the ever-present cast of characters, or attending a big event like Sturgis or Daytona and simply observing what goes on provides a million ideas!
What do you like to read?
I like to read about the real world as much as I love to write about it. So much of what I read is for research into my own projects but that is never tedious or a hardship. Recently I have read many of the books written about the Black Panther Party—for research, yes. But fascinating—yes! The same goes for a couple of books about the 1969 Charles Manson “Family” and murders. In the world of music, I have most recently read the biographies/autobiographies of Don Felder, Rick James, and Roy Orbison. And I pour over everything that is written about the biker culture. Even though most of those books are hype, sensationalistic, and biased, it’s always good to adhere to that wise axiom of “keeping your enemies close.”
What would your advice be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
Experience as much of life as you can, and then apply what you’ve seen and felt to your writing. That is when your soul, your emotions, and you will really be seen and heard in your work. That’s when simple facts and objective exposition transition from journalism to art. If you work with non-fiction, your job is to capture something or someone in a way that hasn’t been done or seen before. If you deal in fiction, then Jimmy Buffett’s philosophy is something to consider: write using “fictional facts and factual fictions,” combining your imagination with real things and people you have encountered in your life’s journey.
Anything else you’d like to share?
The subject matter of Triumphs and Tragedies: A True Story of Wealth and Addiction is something that unfortunately touches so, so many people. And it is something, as proven by this book, that transcends any kind of socioeconomic or ethnic lines. The entire epic is set along the coastlines of Southern California and Hawaii, and this tie-in to the sun and surf culture is so fitting. Because just like those boomers that roll into the North Shore of Oahu and So Cal’s Wedge, the power of addiction can crush and kill. Learning how to survive against that kind of rush requires strength, skill, and a very healthy fear of just what can happen if you get in over your head. This book helps to develop all three.
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