Actor Danny Trejo Talks Sobriety and Success in Hollywood

Actor Danny Trejo is known for taking on “tough guy” roles. You may recognize him from films such as “Desperado,” “From Dusk till Dawn,” and “Machete,” but, what you may not know is that he has been in addiction recovery for 54 years.

Trejo Inspires Others in Recovery

Trejo plays intimidating characters on screen, but behind the scenes, he shows a softer side. When was the last time you heard of a big-time movie star giving out his personal phone number?  78-year-old Trejo told America Addiction Center’s “Addiction Talk” host Joy Sutton that if someone is struggling with addiction and asks him for help, he doesn’t hesitate.

“I’ll give them my cell number and say anytime you feel like drinking or using drugs call me.”

Even inmates call him from prison. “These guys have done a lot of time in jail, sometimes your family is gone or won’t speak to you and you just need someone who understands.”

Trejo can relate to battling addiction and being behind bars. His history with drugs and with law enforcement began at a very early age: When he was seven, he participated in his first drug deal, at 10, was arrested for the first time, began using substances at age eight, and by 14, he was addicted to and selling heroin.

Trejo says the lifestyle made him feel tough or “macho.” “I didn’t want to be a scared little kid, so I used drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.”He spent the majority of his adolescence in jail, and by 22, he was a prisoner at San Quentin.

“I was in solitary confinement and felt like it was the end for me, my life was over and I had done nothing.”  That is when he found faith, became a member of the prison’s 12-step program, and began a life of sobriety. He was released from custody for the last time in 1969.

“The parole board expected me to come back with a life sentence.” But Trejo knew he had to move forward and stay sober.

Trejo began his unique path to acting in 1985. He was working as a substance use counselor and was offered a job as an extra in a movie. The role was to play a convict.

“I remember the director asked if I could play a convict.” I laughed and said I don’t think that would be a problem.” While on the set, he was recognized by the screenwriter, who served time at San Quentin with Trejo. Knowing his history and expertise in boxing, this connection led him to become the personal trainer and boxing advisor to actor Eric Roberts.

Trejo’s training as an actor didn’t come in typical Hollywood fashion.” The first half of my life was like a character study for all these roles.”

For Trejo, giving back, especially to the youth, is more important than being a celebrity. “Because these kids recognize me, I can have an impact and be an inspiration, help them to stay on the right path.”

When talking about his recovery Trejo says, to succeed, your sobriety has to become a way of life. “When I walk into a liquor store now, I see a skull and crossbones and, for me, that means death.”

“But, I am alive and thankful every day.”

Danny Trejo’s best-selling memoir is Trejo: My life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood.

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