Garden Grove hires colorful artist in former NFL and USC football star Todd Marinovich


The blood-red splatter on the side of the building in downtown Garden Grove looks like something out of an episode of the “CSI” police procedural TV series.

But this is no crime scene.

Rather, more than a dozen children are flicking plastic spoons full of acrylic paint on the side of the historic GEM Theater at Main Street and Acacia Parkway.

“You can use spoons, brushes, your fingers – there are no rules,” a tall, lean man wearing shorts, flip-flops, a baseball cap and T-shirt tells them.

That man — Todd Marinovich — knows all about breaking rules.

He also knows about rebirth and restoration — the reasons why he and the kids are getting all artistic on the wall this Wednesday evening.

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As part of the city’s “Re:Imaging Downtown” open streets event on Oct. 12, the Garden Grove City Council commissioned Marinovich to paint a 35-foot-by-25-foot mural on the side of the GEM.

The former standout USC quarterback whose NFL career with the Los Angeles Raiders mainly was torpedoed by drug addiction is being paid $20,000 to create the mural — with a little help.

“I feel comfortable working in a team environment,” says Marinovich, a longtime Newport Beach resident whose numerous brushes with the law dating back to college have been well chronicled.

“The worst thing for me would be to come to this city and put my own stamp on it without involving members of the community,” he says.

“That would rub me the wrong way.”

Garden Grove PD officials have instructed patrol officers to keep an eye on the mural as it takes shape behind a locked chain-link fence and green material wrapped around tall scaffolding. The goal is to prevent taggers from marring the large-scale work of public art, which Marinovich will be working on in the evenings to meet the Oct. 12 deadline.

Marinovich, 45, who drives a 1970 VW bus and recently moved with his wife and two small children to Oceanside, has been scratching out a living as an artist for six years. On Wednesday night, he loved what his young helpers created.

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Asked what their random splashes of red paint will end up representing on his mural, Marinovich didn’t hesitate.

“Strawberries,” he said.


That Marinovich is painting a mural in downtown Garden Grove seems random enough.

That the former heroin addict, pot smoker and LSD user is around to do it is something to behold.

After all, Marinovich – a surfer with a laid-back, philosophical vibe — essentially was homeless seven years ago when Newport Beach police arrested him for drug possession and resisting arrest.

Since then, he’s been keeping his demons at bay while creating a substantial portfolio of impressionist-style art – some of it edgy and some works themed to sports.

“For me, it’s (been years),” Marinovich said when asked how long he’s been clean. “And, when I (say) that, it’s to the substances that were killing me…What would be honest would be (to say) I have not conquered anything, but I have a better understanding and have learned through experience (about) what is good and not good for me.

“Even though we are all human beings, our bodies react differently…I know what my Achilles Heel is, and I’m doing damn good at staying clear of it.”

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Raised by his hard-charging father Marv Marinovich to become the perfect quarterback, Marinovich was a star player at Mater Dei and Capistrano Valley High Schools, where combined he broke the national high school record by passing for nearly 10,000 yards.

At USC in 1989, the Sporting News named him College Freshman of the Year. He was drafted in the first round by the Raiders in 1991 – ahead of Brett Favre – but was released in 1993 and suspended for the season after failing, for the third time, the NFL drug test. Marinovich never returned to the NFL.

Fellow Trojan Steve Jones, now a Garden Grove City Councilman, recalls Marinovich’s days as the big man on campus. But until recently, Jones had never met him.

Friends with Marinovich on Facebook, Jones reached out to the former quarterback when city officials were seeking temporary and public art installations to rebrand and reimaging the city’s downtown.

“We want to reinvent ourselves,” Jones said of the city, “but also to maintain an edge. Who better than Todd Marinovich to help us achieve that?”

From the start, Marinovich was enthusiastic about the idea.

“I’m picturing something to do with roots,” Marinovich told Jones over lunch when the deal was sealed.

Without giving away too much of what it will look like, Marinovich said the mural will pay homage to the city’s agricultural past and its diversity.

 “I don’t consider myself a graffiti artist,” he said. “I just take a bit of inspiration from it.”

Marinovich, occasionally taking sips of an Arnold Palmer, was in his element with his young painter helpers. Two of them were Jones’ sons, Jaden, 8, and Ashton, 6. The rest were children of Jones’ friends and of other city employees.

Marinovich rolled up to the GEM Theater at around 7:15 p.m., driving shirtless in his van and sipping a Double Gulp from 7-Eleven. He regretted that his son Baron, 5, and daughter, Coski, 3, couldn’t make it.

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“I couldn’t round them up, but they would have been all over this,” Marinovich said of his kids, who remained at home with their mother, Alexandria. She and Marinovich met in rehab.

“The thing with kids is,” Marinovich said of his young helpers, “you don’t have to tell them what to do – they just do it. And that’s awesome.”

Marinovich said he started painting at age 6 when his great-grandmother gave him a painting lesson. He said he loves art partly because there are no rules.

“And usually,” Marinovich said, “the mistakes you make are the best part.”

Marinovich’s mural will be unveiled Oct. 12 during Garden Grove’s open-streets event. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. that Sunday, the city will close three miles of downtown streets so pedestrians, cyclists, runners and skateboarders can enjoy food booths, vendors and area merchants. For more information, visit

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