Danny Trejo Celebrates 48 Years of Sobriety and Recounts the Moment in Prison That Changed His Life

"I don't think I am a big Hollywood star. I won't let myself."
Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Danny Trejo may play one badass after another on screen, but it is all clean living in real life thanks to a promise he made 48 years ago Tuesday.

"Everybody asks me, 'How do you stay so young?' I consider myself 48 years old. That's when my life started," the 72-year-old actor tells Heat Vision.  

Trejo, who has appeared in dozens and dozens of films, including Heat, Con Air, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Reindeer Games and Machete, got his break as an actor playing a boxer in the 1985 film Runaway Train. His decision to live sober occurred years prior. 

An admitted hell-raiser in his youth, Trejo says while he was incarcerated, he and a group of others were accused of starting a massive prison riot. Guards were hurt. That was May 5, 1968.

"We went to the hole and were facing the gas chamber," Trejo says solemnly. "And I remember asking God, 'Let me die with dignity. Just let me say goodbye. And if you do, I will say your name every day, and I will do whatever I can for my fellow man.'"

Trejo did not get the gas chamber. In fact, he was released from prison the following year, on Aug. 3 1969. With God fulfilling that end of their agreement, it was time for Trejo to live up to his side, he says.

"I have been keeping that promise," Trejo says. Since that time, the actor has been giving back by living clean and sober and trying to instill values into wayward youth. Becoming a movie star was a happy accident, Trejo insists. And that mind-set is how he has been able to remain sober and grounded. 

"I don't think I am a big Hollywood star," he says. "I won't let myself. I can't, because I've seen too many actors with the feeling of entitlement, and I want to slap the shit out of them." 

However, being a household name and recognizable face has allowed Trejo to do an enormous amount of good, he says.

"I help at-risk kids. I go to high schools. I do whatever I can," he says. "That's what I do. In many ways, that is my job. I am still a drug counselor." He adds, "I will get their attention before you or a doctor or a nurse or a plumber or anybody. It helps me with what I love doing." 

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