For all of his life, Danny Trejo has been a fighter. As a prizefighter, he fought others. While battling drug addiction, he fought his own inner demons. And now, at 77 years old, he’s willing to go to the mat for anyone he feels is in need of a supporter.
“I think I confess to a lot of things [in the book] simply because I wanted people to know that it’s not their fault. It’s like a lot of people do things for them, not to you,” Trejo said to Inside Edition Digital while discussing his autobiography, “Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood.”
“Some men are broken. And I was broke for a long time,” he said. “Broken. And so it was almost impossible for me to have an honest relationship with somebody.”
The beloved actor has lived several lives in his 77 years and has come to a point of realization that “only God can judge me,” he said.
And he’s found a way to reflect on what, for a long time, were put the pieces of his broken self, in which he co wrote with his best friend Donal Logue. And he’s come out the other side of his experiences with a markedly different outlook on life.
“I would rather shoot for the moon and miss than aim for the gutter and make it,” Trejo said.
His memoir he went from a life of crime shaking hands with then-President Barack Obama.
Below are five highlights of Trejo’s conversation with Inside Edition Digital.
Danny Trejo’s Charles Manson Connection
Long before being convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy of commit murder in the 1969 killings of seven people, including Sharon Tate, Charles Manson was locked up in Los Angeles County Prison with Trejo.Trejo was not intimidated by the man who would become an infamous cult leader.
“Everybody has this image of Charles Manson. Charles Manson was like five-foot-five,” Trejo said.
When Trejo met Manson in 1961, he used a string around his waist as a belt. “He wasn’t like a gangster. He wasn’t like a thug. People were going to take advantage of him,” Trejo said of Manson, who he called a “hippie” and “unimpressive.”
Trejo and his friends offered Manson protection behind bars in exchange for drugs.
Trejo’s Uncle Gilbert Was His Driving Force, for Better or Worse
Trejo is candid about his family in his book.
And no had a bigger impact on Trejo than his uncle, Gilbert, who he looked up to as “the rockstar of my era in my family.”
Gilbert was his father’s youngest brother. As the youngest in a family of 11 kids, he was also close in age to Trejo.
“Me and him just gravitated toward each other. And that was my role model. It just happened. He was a drug addict, and an armed robber. And he was just a beautiful person,” Trejo said. “Everybody else was loud and screaming and yelling about what you’re supposed to be in. Gilbert was just cool. And he always seemed like the guy that wore the good shoes and the pressed pants and the nice shirt and always had money. What impressed me was he always had a big wad of money.”
Gilbert taught Trejo, then 9, how to box, skills that would play an important role in his survival on both the streets and in prison. Gilbert inadvertently led his nephew down a life of crime as they grew up together in Southern California, Trejo said.
“He taught me, never be a bully. Don’t fight down. Don’t take any step backwards. He taught me everything that I was going to need to know when I got to San Quentin State Prison,” Trejo said.
Following a youth in and out of various California correctional facilities, by the early 1970s, Trejo did all he could to get clean, sober and try to live an honest life. Trejo says he found God and religion, which helped him on his new enlightened path but his uncle Gilbert struggled with his sobriety and continued to live a life of crime that by 1982, landed him back in Folsom Prison.
Trejo calls his uncle his “North Star” in his book, noting he was “powerless” when it came to Gilbert’s addiction. After his uncle returned to Folsom, the two drifted apart.
But in tribute to his uncle, Trejo named his firstborn son Gilbert and the character he portrays in the blockbuster crime saga, “Heat” alongside Rober DeNiro and Al Pacino, was named “Gilbert Trejo.”
Danny Trejo Is an Accidental Movie Star
“Honest to God, everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else, everything,” Trejo said.
Trejo has been in the acting business for nearly 40 years and has over 400 acting credits to his name. He has starred with everyone from DeNiro and Pacino in “Heat,” to George Clooney and Salma Hayek in “From Dusk till Dawn,” and is known as one of the most beloved action heroes, “Machete.” His recurring roles in acclaimed TV series like “Sons of Anarchy” and “Breaking Bad,” as well notable appearances in movie series like the “Spy Kids” franchise, have made him an international star.
But to hear Trejo tell it, it was all an accident.
“And I got into the film business, again, trying to help somebody. I was trying to be an extra. I met a kid that took me to this one film, ran into a guy named Eddie Bunker. All of a sudden me and him just became best friends. All of a sudden I was an actor. I got cast as a boxer in a movie called ‘Runaway Train’ with John Voight and Eric Roberts, and I haven’t looked back,” he said.
While known for his tough guy roles, Trejo has cried on camera and is not afraid to show his emotions off-screen, either.
“Some of us grew up with this toxic masculinity,” he said. “In toxic masculinity, there’s no room to tell your children, ‘I love you with all my heart.’ There’s no room to be faithful.”
And the role that has been most special to him was one of the most emotional: when his son, Gilbert, directed him in the 2018 film, “From a Son.” He recalled how his son kept showing him baby pictures and photos of them together through the years to get ready for a big emotional scene in the film.
“I lost it! I mean, this was not a manly cry. I think it’s the first time that I channeled the guy that really lost his son. I mean I had boogers,” he said, smiling.
Danny Trejo Is Also a Philanthropist
Trejo’s tough exterior is just a facade, as the actor notes he’s always willing to do whatever it takes to help his fellow human.
That’s the only way that I have found that you can stay out of prison. Get rid of drugs and alcohol and do what you can for your fellow man. And it says, ‘Good things will come to pass,’” he said.
And since getting out of prison in August 1969, Trejo has done everything he can to do just that. He speaks at drug counseling meetings in Los Angeles and while traveling for movies. He’s also quick to lend a hand when someone is in financial trouble.
He admitted that his secretary has told him, “Danny, you give away more money than you make.”
But it’s by following religion and God that he’s found the path to not only success but inner peace.
“I can’t do something for you and expect something. Because if you’re expecting it, a lot of times life will disappoint you,” he said.
His Moment With Then-President Barack Obama Is One He’s Most Proud Of
While filming in Austin, Texas, Trejo went to meet then-President Barack Obama.
It is a story that Trejo doesn’t tell in the book but proudly spilled to Inside Edition Digital.
“I’m standing there, and President Obama steps out of line. He goes, ‘Hey! I know you! You’re Machete!’” Trejo recalled. “I almost started crying. At one time, my life ambition was to be the lightweight and welterweight champion of San Quentin. I never thought I was getting out of prison. I thought that was my life.”
But life for Trejo turned out to be much, much more than that. And seeing the president of the United States starstruck to see him is just one of the many moments Trejo is proud to claim ownership of.
“It doesn’t matter where you start. It matters where you end,” he said.