Danny Trejo, 52 Years Sober, Urges Those Fighting Addiction to Seek Treatment During Pandemic

Danny Trejo, 52 years sober, helped CRI-Help CEO Jack Bernstein get his life back on track.
Courtesy of Sean Ross

Danny Trejo, 52 years sober, helped CRI-Help CEO Jack Bernstein get his life back on track.

“I got honest. I got clean. You can too,” says an intense Danny Trejo, pointing a finger while looking directly into the camera for dramatic effect on his latest project. But Trejo is not playing a character, rather, he appears as himself in a new TV ad campaign for CRI-Help, a well-known Los Angeles-based nonprofit treatment center.

The spot — part of CRI-Help’s “Fight” campaign — debuts on the eve of the center’s 50th anniversary and is aimed at raising awareness around substance abuse recovery. It arrives during the holiday season, a time known to be challenging for some struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, not to mention during a global pandemic that has increased isolation and fueled financial insecurity for many Americans.

Says CRI-Help COO Brandon Fernandez, “The physical and emotional triggers often imbued in this time of year can lead to increases in drug and alcohol consumption. Over the last decade, CRI-Help has consistently seen an uptick in admissions right before and after the holidays. We want people to know that we are here to help.”

In the moody spot, Trejo fights his demons — literally and figuratively — in and out of a boxing ring. He appears alongside four CRI-Help counselors (and onetime clients), none of whom had any prior acting experience. “Casting former clients who are now role models at CRI-Help helps add to the authenticity of the piece and reinforces the value of one addict working with another,” says A.J. Lewis, CRI-Help board member and Emmy-winning producer of the campaign.

The ads are helmed by Clio Award-winning director Sean Ross, and all creative talent involved donated their time and services to the nonprofit.

Seeing Trejo in a ring will be a familiar image for those who know his backstory as a top prison boxer at California’s San Quentin State Prison, where he spent time for armed robbery in the 1960s. It was there that Trejo found recovery and got clean. He’s been sober for 52 years.

“Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else,” says Trejo, who detailed his journey in the Brett Harvey-directed feature documentary Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo.

Adds CRI-Help CEO Jack Bernstein, “I have known Danny for almost five decades. During the '70s and '80s Danny contributed to my own recovery by his sharing his experiences with me. Like CRI-Help, Danny has also helped many drug addicts suffering from the disease of addiction.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.