A former prison inmate turned Hollywood actor and businessman believes that everything good that happened in his life came from being good to others.
Danny Trejo spoke Saturday as part of the Wood County District Public Library Foundation Series and talked about his childhood, time in prison and how he became an actor, author and restaurateur.
He said he stopped to eat at BW3s and was surrounded by college students (it was Bowling Green State University’s family weekend).
While numerous people offered to pay for his meal, it was comped by the restaurant.
“I’m blessed. My whole life is blessed,” Trejo said.
It didn’t start out that way.
Growing up in the 1950s, his parents were regular people who believed in hard work. Trejo didn’t gel with the work ethic.
“Hard work just seemed hard,” Trejo said.
While his father and stepmother never gave him time, his Uncle Gilbert became an influence.
Gilbert was always giggling — because he was high on weed all the time.
Trejo smoked his first joint when he was 8 years old. The he started robbing people and shooting heroin with his uncle.
“People don’t like tough guys … but they take a wide birth around crazy people,” he said. “I learned how to get crazy, and people stayed away from me.”
Trejo spent years in and out of juvenile detention, and as an adult in half a dozen California prisons.
“Drugs and alcohol weren’t a problem for me, they were the answer.”
He was released from prison in 1969 after a five-year stint and stood on his mom’s lawn trying to figure out how to be a nice guy.
Trejo spied an elderly neighbor taking out her trash and went and helped. She kept an untrusting eye on him. Still, he liked the feeling he got for helping others.
He started taking the trash out for all of his elderly neighbors, and soon started a lawn-care business with equipment given to him by another neighbor.
“Everything I seemed to do for other people started to come back in some way.”
Trejo said he learned that his life was about helping other people. He became a drug counselor in 1985, when cocaine was rampant.
His movie career started that same year, when he accidentally landed a role in “Runaway Train,” where he played the role of a boxer for a daily fee of $320.
Trejo was called to the movie set to help out someone who was worried about his drug abuse.
He was asked if he wanted to be an extra.
“An extra what?” he asked.
Trejo was then asked if he could play a convict.
“I’ll give it a shot,” he deadpanned.
Trejo said everyone had fake tattoos. When he took his shirt off on set and showed his real chest tattoo — depicting a woman wearing a sombrero — he was asked to keep the shirt off.
He flashed the tattoo to the delight of the audience.
“I am the mean Chicano dude,” said Trejo, who often punctured Saturday’s talk with a high-pitched whistle used to get a person’s attention.
When he got his Screen Actors Guild card, it changed his whole life.
He went on to star in “Desperado,” all three installments of “From Dusk till Dawn,” “Con Air” and “Machete.”
He has voiced parts for the animated TV shows “Rick and Morty,” “American Dad” and “Family Guy.”
He started Trejo’s Tacos and now has four restaurants and a donut shop. Trejo also started a record label and in 2021 published his memoir “Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood.” The book debuted in the top five on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list for the week ending July 10, 2021.
“Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else. That is the way we have to live. That’s the way we have to teach our kids how to live.”
During a question-and-answer session, he said his favorite movie to shoot was “Spy Kids,” in which he plays Uncle Machete.
It gave him an audience all over the world, he said.
A representative of a treatment center asked for his advice to recovering addicts.
Spend time with people who are clean and sober, he said.
“I love being clean … life has been great without (drugs and alcohol),” he said.
Trejo signed books after the event. The line streamed from inside the Performing Arts Center into the lobby and down the hall toward the high school.
“I thought it was tremendous,” said library board member Ken Frisch. “He clearly is an individual who has lived life and has found a good path with his message of kindness and making sure you have time for people.”
His daughter, Janice, also enjoyed how Trejo tied in what happened in town so everyone had a connection.
“The message was very good and very timely. People need more kindness in their life right now,” she said.
Bryan Rupert said one reason he came to the event was because he liked Trejo’s filmography. Another was for the actor’s causes.
“In the last few years, watching him really speak out for a lot of different advocacy reasons, I really wanted to see what he had to say tonight, and he had a really good message,” he said.