May 16, 1944
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
(m. 1962; div. 1965)
(m. 1971; div. 1975)
(m. 1975; div. 1978)
(m. 1997; div. 2009)
Danny Trejo (//; Spanish: [ˈtɾexo]; born May 16, 1944) is an American actor. Trejo's film career began in 1985 with Runaway Train. He went on to star in a multitude of other movies, including Desperado (1995), From Dusk till Dawn (1996), Con Air (1997), From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999), From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (2001), Reindeer Games (2000), and Grindhouse (2007). With his frequent collaborator and second cousin Robert Rodriguez, he portrayed the character Machete, which was originally developed for the Spy Kids series and later expanded into its own franchise.
Trejo was born on May 16, 1944, on Temple Street in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, to Mexican-American parents. He is the son of Delores Rivera King and Dionisio "Dan" Trejo (1922–1981), a construction worker. Trejo was the result of an extramarital affair; Delores's husband was away fighting in World War II. His parents met at a dance hall in Highland Park, Los Angeles in 1943. He had a maternal half-sister, Dyhan, but saw neither her nor Delores from the age of three and a half until 1965; his father banned his mother from seeing him after Trejo sprained his arm in her care.
Trejo was often abused by his father. Shortly after his birth, Trejo and his family briefly lived in San Antonio, Texas; they fled Los Angeles because Dionisio was wanted by police for stabbing another man. After a year, they returned to Los Angeles and Trejo's father turned himself in. By 1949, Trejo shared a room with his cousins at their grandmother's house. His stepmother was Alice Mendias, "his only source of comfort" when he lived with his father.
Trejo was using marijuana, heroin, and cocaine by ages 8, 12.  Trejo's uncle Gilbert introduced him to all three and was responsible for Trejo overdosing on his first heroin fix. When he was 13, he moved to the diverse neighborhood of Pacoima, Los Angeles, and recalls never really experiencing racism while growing up. Years later, he purchased his childhood home and often lived in it.
Life of crime and incarceration
Throughout the 1960s, Trejo's life consisted predominantly of intermittent jail stints in the California prison system. The accounts of his prison chronology, though, are notably conflicting; by one account, his final term in custody is said to have ended in 1972, but in reality, Trejo did time in various juvenile offenders' camps, including three years at Camp Glenn Rockey, San Dimas for maiming a sailor (stabbing him in the face with broken glass), followed by numerous California prisons between 1959 and 1969; "I was in San Quentin, Folsom, Soledad, Vacaville, Susanville, Sierra".
Trejo arrived at San Quentin State Prison in 1966, and his heroin use was exacerbated shortly thereafter. Furthermore, he was a debt collector and drug dealer, often participating in or witnessing acts of serious violence, including murder. Simultaneously, he focused on boxing and became a champion in San Quentin's lightweight and welterweight divisions.
Regarding himself, Trejo has suggested his physical appearance contributed to his constantly getting into trouble. In 1968, a prison riot broke out during Cinco De Mayo at Soledad. Trejo ended up in solitary confinement and facing capital charges, potentially the death penalty, after hitting a guard with a rock. In solitary, Trejo found faith and became a member of a 12-step program, having first attended one "by accident" aged 15, and successfully overcame his drug addictions; recalling in 2011 that he had been sober for the previous 42 years. It was also while incarcerated that he achieved his high-school diploma.
In July 1969, Trejo was released from custody for the final time and returned to Pacoima, Los Angeles, after having served five years of a 10-year prison sentence. Prior to his film career, Trejo worked as a labor foreman for developer Saul Pick, and contributed toward the construction of the Cinerama Dome. He was also a gardener and salesperson; part owner of a lawn care company, and has been a substance misuse counselor since 1973.
Film and television
1980s: Acting debut
Trejo worked with Western Pacific Med Corp in the 1980s, assisting them with the establishing and operating of sober living houses within the San Fernando Valley. He met a "good looking tattooed kid" during a meeting in one such house, who explained that he worked as a film extra and was paid $50 per day to stand there. Intrigued, Trejo considered becoming a film extra, initially due to the easy money and publicity it could afford his work with Western Pacific Med Corp. Trejo signed with an agent and would hand out his details whilst working on film sets, in the hopes of finding more opportunities to help those in need. Late one night, Trejo received a call from a teenaged patient, asking for his assistance in dealing with cocaine problems on the set of Runaway Train (1985).
While there, Trejo was offered a job as an extra in the film's prison scenes. Edward Bunker, himself a former convict and at the time a well-respected crime author who was writing the screenplay for the film, recognized Trejo, with whom he had done time at San Quentin. Remembering Trejo's boxing skills, Bunker played a pivotal role in securing Trejo as Eric Roberts's personal trainer and boxing advisor. Trejo was paid between $320 and $350 per day; "When I got my first paycheck, I thought they made a mistake!" Bunker also convinced director Andrei Konchalovsky to offer Trejo a small acting role, asserting that Trejo's personal experiences of incarceration would provide authenticity to the prison drama. Following his acting debut, Trejo was oblivious to being typecast as a prisoner in similar roles for years to follow; "I [did not] know I was being stereotyped. I just knew I was working."
Penitentiary III was his first billed role. Whilst filming he met Anthony Gambino of the Gambino Crime Family; Gambino allegedly had financial interests invested and was there to meet the leading man, Leon Isaac Kennedy. Trejo was paid $120 cash each day, but the project often went into overtime; "We were stacked with cash." On a good month, Trejo was taking home as much as $700 by 1989 from being an extra alone; yet, people often assumed he was far wealthier after a few appearances on television. Trejo says this worked to his advantage as a drugs counsellor, though, because clients would recognize him as an actor, therefore appreciating his presence and the humbleness of his work all the more.
1990s: Blood In, Blood Out and career progression
Trejo had made a dozen movies by 1990, including Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, and Marked for Death. He enjoyed the making of Guns, yet alleges Erik Estrada took issue with the cast and crew being more familiar with Trejo than himself. Trejo says Estrada's ego got the better of him; he believes Estrada arranged for Trejo and a number of others to fly coach instead of first class on the way to Hawaii for filming.
In 1991, Edward James Olmos offered Trejo the role of Pedro Santana in American Me. Trejo was unimpressed by the script and his initial meeting with Olmos. Trejo claims rumors began circulating within the Mexican Mafia that the script was taking narrative liberties. Before Trejo had the chance to attend a second meeting with Olmos, he received a call from Joe 'Peg Leg' Morgan, the then-living don of the Mexican Mafia; Morgan approved of his choosing a role in Blood In, Blood Out instead of American Me. In 2021, Trejo stated that he believes Olmos has yet to accept him as a serious actor.
Of his experiences of Blood In, Blood Out, Trejo recalls feeling uncomfortable around many of the other actors during rehearsals, as they were more established. During production at San Quentin, Trejo often had flashbacks to his time there; filming scenes in C550, his former cell, merely exacerbated such feelings. Though his previous works brought him opportunities, Trejo credits Blood In, Blood Out as having brought him "legitimate, worldwide fame."
Heat went through two script revisions whilst Trejo read for the part. He ultimately secured the role, which reunited him with Michael Mann, who directed him in the television miniseries Drug Wars: The Camarena Story a few years prior. Mann initially mistook Trejo for his uncle Gilbert; he found the resemblance uncanny, having met Gilbert whilst shooting The Jericho Mile at Folsom in the late 1970s; production required the co-operation of the inmates, and Gilbert happened to be one of the shot-callers. Trejo's character in the film was initially called 'Vince' but renamed 'Trejo' in honor of Gilbert. Filming could be upward of 17 hours per day, but Trejo said he was grateful for how much he learned; "watching De Niro, Kilmer, and Voight, I learned a lot about how they saved [their performances] for when it mattered." He recalls being mentored by Robert De Niro, who was a patient and instructive scene partner. Trejo and De Niro improvised the former's death scene.
In 1996, Trejo was cast in the French production Le Jaguar and reunited with Voight for Anaconda, both of which were filmed in Manaus, Brazil. When production for Anaconda moved to Venezuela, Trejo would go out socializing on his days off. The producers were worried given a possible coup d'état had made parts of the country unsafe to travel; a group of teenagers brandished AK47's on one occasion, demanding Trejo's combat boots. Because of this, Trejo says he negotiated a higher salary to remain within the confines of his hotel.
Trejo described 1997's Con Air as a "macho fest from the start" and the cast were often pulling pranks on one another. He remembers Nicolas Cage as being "cool as hell" and John Cusack as a "kickboxing badass". Trejo met many of his longtime friends on set, including: John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, and Dave Chappelle.
2000s: Health scare, Spy Kids and the establishing of 'Machete' Cortez
After concluding Reindeer Games in 1999, Trejo contracted Hepatitis C and "had to drag [his] ass" from Canada to Austin, Texas to begin filming of Spy Kids in 2000. Spy Kids marked Trejo's debut as the fictional Isador 'Machete' Cortez. Having already made Desperado (1995) and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) together, the opportunity to collaborate with Robert Rodriguez, Antonio Banderas, and Cheech Marin once again "felt like [a] family reunion." Spy Kids provided Trejo with worldwide recognition and for the first time he was "instantly recognizable" amongst children around the globe.
By the time of Bubble Boy in 2001, Trejo's illness had progressed to the point that much of the cast had noticed his weight loss; Trejo states that his past drug use had caught up with him. He described himself as having been pale and weak throughout production, and pre-occupied with keeping his diagnosis a secret within Hollywood for fear of reprisal. Trejo was "out of it" and struggling to remember his lines due to prescription medication. By the time Spy Kids premiered in September 2002, Trejo had fully recovered.
Throughout the 2000s Trejo appeared in productions such as: XXX (2002), Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), The Devil's Rejects (2005), Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror (2006), Delta Farce (2007), Grindhouse (2007), Rob Zombie's Halloween (2007), Urban Justice (2007, alongside Steven Seagal), and Valley of Angels (2008). He also made a number of television appearances, including: Monk (2004), Desperate Housewives (2005), Stargate: Atlantis (2007), and Breaking Bad (2009–2010). Trejo also voiced the character Enrique on King of the Hill (2003–2010). His life is documented in the 2005 independent biographical film, Champion, featuring some of Trejo's close friends: Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Steve Buscemi, and Robert Rodriguez. Trejo also shared his tumultuous journey from convict to movie star with KTTV in Los Angeles, 2013, in a segment filmed in Trejo's home.
2010s: Becoming a lead actor
Regarding his continued growth as a professional actor, Trejo has remarked, "I'm so blessed. I'm still scared that somebody's going to wake me up and say, 'Hey, we're still in prison. Let's go to chow’". Trejo also played 'Machete' in a trailer made for Rodriguez's film collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, Grindhouse. In 2010, he starred in a full theatrical release of the film Machete, based on the character Machete and again in 2013 for the sequel film, Machete Kills.
In 2012, Trejo starred alongside Ron Perlman and Charles S. Dutton in the Craig Moss action film Bad Ass (2012). He played the main character of Vietnam veteran Frank Vega, based on 67-year-old "Epic Beard Man" Thomas Bruso. That same year, Trejo appeared again with Ron Perlman, in a supporting role on season four of the FX television drama Sons of Anarchy.
In 2014, Trejo produced his first film, titled Ambition, and produced his second film, the action film Bad Asses.
In 2015, Trejo appeared in a television commercial for Snickers that aired during Super Bowl XLIX, in which he portrayed Marcia Brady prior to eating the Snickers candy bar. In 2016 and 2017, he appeared as himself in transparent disguises in TV ads for Sling TV.
On August 6, 2017, Trejo made a guest appearance on season three of the Rick and Morty animated TV show, on the episode "Pickle Rick", in which he voiced the part of Jaguar. Together with Sasha Grey, he was a lead actor in China Test Girls (2017), directed by Frankie Latina. That same year, he also appeared in Brooklyn Nine Nine as Detective Rosa Diaz's father in an episode centered around Diaz's struggle to come out to her family.
In the TV show The Flash, Trejo appears as the father of Cisco's love interest, Gypsy. His character works as a breacher (an interdimensional bounty hunter) who can manipulate the space-time fabric and travel to parallel worlds.[episode needed]
In 2021, Trejo competed in season five of The Masked Singer as "Raccoon" and was eliminated in his second appearance. Trejo later mentioned in the interview that he "couldn't stop laughing" after the panel had thought that "Raccoon" was originally portrayed by Danny DeVito.
That same year, he appeared in season six of Running Wild with Bear Grylls and portrayed one of the many forms of Mr. World in the third and final season of American Gods. In 2021, Trejo voiced the Ghost of Huet in the Disney+ special Muppets Haunted Mansion.
In 2004, Trejo made an appearance in the videogame Def Jam: Fight for NY, playing one of the villains, an enforcer for Snoop Dogg's character. Trejo's character is named after him and uses the streetfighting style.
Trejo lent his voice to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002) and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (2006) for the character Umberto Robina, who also resembles Trejo. He voiced Raul Tejada, a Ghoul, in Fallout: New Vegas (2010).
Trejo appeared in the PlayStation Move game The Fight: Lights Out (2010) as an instructor for the player's character. He appeared as himself in the second map pack installation for Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010), the "Escalation" map pack, on the zombie map "Call of the Dead".
His voice and appearance is in the 2018 game Guns of Boom. He can be seen in the introduction of Greg Hastings's Tournament Paintball Max'd ("Play for Real", B-Real & DJ Lethal). In 2019, he was added as a playable character to the battle royale mode of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.
Trejo has made a number of cameo appearances in various music videos throughout his career, including Kid Frost's "La Familia" (1995), Sepultura's "Twisted" (1996), Jay Chou's short movie-music video "Double Blade" (2003), Mobb Deep's "Got It Twisted" (2004), Rehab's "Bartender Song (Sittin’ at a Bar)" (2008), and Enrique Iglesias's "Loco" (2013).
He also appeared in adult entertainer Lupe Fuentes's music video "We Are the Party" (2012) with her band, The Ex-Girlfriends. In 2014, he featured as the character Machete in the official music video for Train's "Angel In Blue Jeans". In 2015, Trejo appeared in the music videos "Repentless" and "Pride in Prejudice" from Slayer's album Repentless.
Trejo was a contributor to the book Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars (2015).
In 2020, he published a cookbook titled Trejo's Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A., sharing recipes and stories from his life.
In 2021, Trejo published his memoir Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood, co-written with his longtime friend Donal Logue. The book debuted at number four on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list for the week ending July 10, 2021.
Over the years, Trejo has opened a series of successful Los Angeles restaurants. In January 2016, these included a taco restaurant on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, his own brands of beer, coffee, and various merchandise, with ice cream sandwiches under development. His first was Trejo's Tacos (2016), followed by Trejo's Cantina (2017) and Trejo's Coffee and Donuts (2017). Trejo's Donuts is located on the northeast corner of Santa Monica Blvd and Highland Avenue. As of 2020, he is the owner of eight restaurants.
In 2017, the rainbow cauliflower tacos made the Los Angeles Times's list of 10 most favorite recipes of 2017. The restaurants are overseen by executive chef Mason Royal. As of 2018, their most recent venture would be an expansion of a donut food truck in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Trejo has been married and divorced four times, and has three children.
In 1962, following his release from Youth Training School, reputedly one of California's most notorious juvenile prisons, he met his first wife, Laura. Her parents did not approve of their relationship, and they were married in the backyard of Trejo's family home. Trejo believes his drug use and criminal lifestyle contributed to their marriage's demise; Laura filed for divorce during his second confinement at Youth Training School.
He was married to Debbie from 1971 to 1975, and to Joanne from 1975 to 1978.
Trejo has three children: Danny (born 1981), actor and director Gilbert (born 1988), and actress Danielle (born 1990). His eldest child, nicknamed "Danny Boy", is from a relationship with Diana Walton; they were together from 1978 to 1983. His latter two children are from a relationship with Maeve Crommie. They were together from 1986 to 1997, and he has also helped her raise her two sons from a subsequent relationship.
Trejo battled liver cancer in 2010. In 2011, he moved to the San Fernando Valley to be closer to his mother after she sustained a knee injury; she died in 2013. Prior to this, he lived in Venice. In August 2019, he witnessed a car colliding with an SUV at an intersection and helped extract a five-year-old trapped in a child safety seat inside the overturned SUV. In relation to the incident, he was quoted saying: "Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else. Everything."
Trejo is known for his distinctive appearance. In addition to his heavily lined face, scarred from cystic acne and boxing brawls, and the long hair and mustache he usually sports, he has displayed the large tattoo on his chest (depicting a woman – a Charra wearing a sombrero) for many roles.
During the filming of Blood In, Blood Out at San Quentin, Trejo met Mario Castillo, a prisoner in the midst of drug addiction. Trejo helped him overcome his addiction, and they became good friends upon Castillo's release from prison. They have since spoken together at juvenile halls and recovery centers across California.
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