It was when he overdosed on heroin for the ninth time that Khalil Rafati decided to turn his life around. Today, he is the millionaire founder and owner of the Californian health food business Sunlife Organics.
In 2003, Rafati then 33 was a homeless drug addict. He had also been arrested multiple times for drug offences.
“I was completely messed up… I was always in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep”, Rafati said while speaking to BBC.
The ninth time he overdosed, he finally realised he had to turn his life around. It was then that he joined a rehab centre and became clean. He has been drug-free since.
Rafati’s life is nothing less than the plot of a Hollywood movie. Born in Ohio to a Jewish mother and a Muslim father, he had a troubled childhood.
He dropped out of school and was arrested numerous times for vandalism and shoplifting. At the age of 21, he moved to Hollywood with the dream of becoming a movie star. His acting career didn’t quite take off and he made a living cleaning cars for big name Hollywood stars, including Elizabeth Taylor and Jeff Bridges, and Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist Slash. This was when his life took a downward spiral as he got addicted to drugs. He even started dealing drugs so he could fund his own habit.
After quitting drugs in 2003, Rafati took up several jobs to keep himself busy. He worked at two rehab centres in Malibu, washed cars, walked dogs and did gardening. “I was able to save money,” he says. “I worked hard, seven days a week, 16 hours a day.”
An old friend from Ohio started teaching him about vitamins and organic food. This is when he became obsessed with making his own fruit and vegetable juices. “At that moment I was looking for anything that would make me feel better,” said Rafati.
In 2007, he opened his own rehab centre, called the Riviera Recovery. For rehab patients, he would make exotic juice blends such as one he called Wolverine — a mix of banana, maca powder, royal jelly and pollen.
The reputation of his juices spread beyond the walls of the rehab facility and people started calling in to buy them.
Seeing the demand for the drinks, he set up a separate business in 2011. Sunlife Organics was launched in Malibu using his savings. It saw instant success with sales of $1 million in its first year.
Today Sunlife Organics has six outlets and employs more than 200 people. In addition to juices, it sells a wide range of clothes and food.
Rob Nazara, an analyst at Deutsche Bank in New York, says Khalil’s story shows real strength of character. “No matter what the educational or professional background someone may have, the success of an entrepreneur is driven by grit, determination and ambition,” he said.
Rafati also still runs Riviera recovery and owns a yoga studio in Malibu. His autobiography titled ‘I Forgot To Die’ was released in 2015.
“I don’t consider myself super intelligent,” said Rafati. “But I have a hunger for life, and put all of myself into something when I decide to do it.”
This story originally appeared on BBC.