Iconic Hollywood “tough guy” Danny Trejo has lived an incredible life, and he’s been sober for 46 years of it. A new AARP documentary, produced by Washington, D.C.-based filmmaker TJ Cooney, tells the story of how the Desperado actor transitioned from a life of substance abuse and violence to becoming a drug counselor, Hollywood actor, and mentor for young people.
“I thought that drugs were my answer. As long as I stayed loaded, I’m okay,” recalls Trejo in a clip from the film, released exclusively to The Fix. “But life would turn into chaos.”
As a teen, Trejo was in-and-out of juvie and prison, where he started boxing. In his mid-20s, he was released from prison and made a decision to get sober. “I dedicated my life to helping other people,” he says.
After beginning a career as a drug counselor, Trejo ended up on a Hollywood movie set while helping one of his clients, who turned out to be an actor. He was hired as an on-set boxing coach, and was ultimately cast as an extra in the film. The role jumpstarted his acting career, and he has since appeared in up to five movies a year alongside actors like George Clooney and Robert De Niro.
“Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else,” he says.
Trejo continues to mentor young people and speaks at college campuses across the country. “My passion is talking to young people who want to stay out of trouble,” he says. “My message is: staying away from drugs and alcohol, and education, is the key to anything you want to do.”
He uses his notoriety to get young people to listen, and hopes his own story will inspire others to follow in his footsteps. “I love that responsibility of being able to help people do right,” he says. “I was an addict and alcoholic and I know that road. That road leads to death, institutions or insanity. I’ve been sober for 46 years and have had a great, great life.”
Editor’s note: I was introduced to Danny Trejo by researching Bob Timmins’ story. Bob is recognized as the first recovery coach. When Bob was in San Quentin, he was friends with Danny. Upon Bob’s release Bob went to Danny’s house, expecting to start where he had left off, robbing and drugging. He knocked on Danny’s door, Danny gave him a room, fed him a meal and took him to his first 12-step meeting. Danny introduced Bob to his first sponsor, a sponsor/sponsee relationship that lasted over twenty years. Danny was pivotal in saving Bob’s life.