TREJO: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood | Danny Trejo, Atria Books (2021), 288p.
With over 400 acting credits, Danny Trejo, 77, is a face almost every moviegoer will recognize. He’s also known in Hollywood as the “nicest mean guy." The mean guy part recognizes the often scary, challenging, and tough characters he has portrayed, such as Johnny 23 in the film Con Air.
As Trejo’s pivoted into acting within the entertainment world, he became known as a fixer. He once did Kiefer Sutherland a solid by “visiting” a stalker and successfully persuaded the fan to give the star space. The Mexican cartel (his words) reached out to him to let him know their concerns about a film casting them in a bad light - which was made against their wishes - the studio execs didn’t listen. And eight deaths have been linked to this flick’s production.
But the real Danny Trejo story isn’t the glitz and glam of Tinseltown. It’s the tough, unlucky, and rough start he had. Before he was out of his twenties, he had been a resident in infamous California prisons such as Folsom and San Quentin; he was first arrested at age ten. Family members introduced and enabled his marijuana, heroin, and cocaine use at age eight. His life of crime fueled by substance abuse was curtailed as he found a path toward beating back addiction.
Trejo notes his lack of more positive role models growing up but never viewed himself as a victim. This positive - take responsibility - approach empowers him to keep addiction at bay and motivates him to be an addiction activist helping others slay their dragons. Along the way, he stumbled into an awe-inspiring movie career.
The grit and hustle of Trejo’s journey are not the typical shoes traveled in by most Americans; but his story of triumph through personal responsibility, determination, and resiliency demonstrates the promise that the American Dream remains alive and within reach.