James Gatzke was struggling with depression, and living off handouts and charity, with only his seven cats for company, when he hit the jackpot.
Three weeks ago, the unemployed 44-year-old was eating beef stew out of a can, and scraping by on food and cash donations from neighbours and charities.
His water and power supply had long been cut off, he hadn't worked since August when he was laid off from his job as a cab driver, and he hadn't bathed in months.
"All I wanted for Christmas was to have dinner with my parents in heaven. That's how down and depressed I was," Gatzke said.
A gamble on the Illinois state lottery changed all that, turning the down-at-heel Gatzke into a multi-millionaire overnight when he netted 5.5 million dollars in a November 26 draw.
"It feels like I hit a homerun in the ninth inning of the World Series," he said this week. "I still can't believe it happened."
With no immediate living relatives, Gatzke called on a longtime friend, J.R. Bramlett, to help him manage his new-found funds.
Within a day, Bramlett helped Gatzke open a bank account and buy a car --a black 1991 Cadillac with 155,000 miles on it.
Bramlett also took Gatzke for his first full meal since November 20 -- a prime rib dinner with all the trimmings.
In return, Gatzke made Bramlett his beneficiary should something happen to him.
Gatzke is close to buying a home and barn on 3.5 acres in the country.
He's considering donating the modest brick bungalow that he inherited from his parents in Calumet Park, suburban Chicago, to a local church, and of course he's promising to take care of the two elderly ladies who helped him out during the tough times.
But otherwise, Gatzke is not planning any major changes.
"I'm going to relax and take it easy for a while," he said. "And I am going to play the Mega Millions (lottery)."