From Inmate #1 to El Machete

The most killed Hollywood actor went from a life of crime and heroin addiction to drug counselor, business owner and philanthropist.

By Annette M. Lesure, Staff Writer

Danny Trejo’s car collection at his home in the San Fernando Valley includes his favorite Buick Riviera. The car’s image is depicted on the garage wall behind it and includes fellow actress Michelle Rodriguez, in addition to Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake, that Trejo robbed as a teenager in the 60s. (Photo by Annette M. Lesure/The Valley Star)

Danny Trejo went from sitting on death row at age 21 to becoming world-renowned as “El Machete,” a character originally created by director Robert Rodgriguez in the movie “Spy Kids.”

With over 400 IMDB actor credits, Trejo says his fame is simply to help grab the attention of people and kids who need his help with sobriety and reform. The owner of four successful Los Angeles restaurants and a donut shop has played every role from a monkey to a stork and accepts any work that comes his way.

“Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else,” said Trejo, who says he refuses to be ungrateful.

The father of three who also survived liver cancer, brain surgery and Hepatitis C, recently released a tell-all autobiography called “Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood,” in addition to “Trejo’s Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A.: A Cookbook,” in 2020.


Was your documentary “Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo” named after the numerous times you played unnamed acting roles called “inmate # 1?”

Yes, absolutely! Everybody thought it was ‘cause I was in prison. When I first got into the [acting] business I played ‘inmate #1’ in so many movies.

What is your all-time favorite movie?

I have to say my all-time favorite is a movie with Val Kilmer called “Tombstone” and I would have loved Machete even if I wasn’t in it. That’s my kind of movie…when I can laugh at violence. My mom went to the Machete premiere with me. When I was in the pond naked with three women, I didn’t want her to see and she said, ‘Shhh callate tu’ (be quiet). Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino were sitting behind me and they laughed, ‘his mom almost slapped him!’

Trejo, whose favorite pastime includes working on his old cars, talks about his favorite car:

My favorite car is a 1965 Buick Riviera, because in 1965 when the FEDs busted me in North Hollywood, they beat me all the way to the Federal Building in downtown, in a 1965 Buick Riviera. I remember the carpet was tan and he kept punching me and I was bleeding all over it. Then when we got to the federal building, they realized there was no statute for bunko sales. I sold them pure sugar and it was a bunko sale. So, they took me back to North Hollywood, beating me up. Then I got turned over to the state, but in today’s law, it would have been thrown out of court. In fact, I beat it twice in court; you beat it three times, they kick it out of court, so we had it beat. But the feds got my crime partner to testify. They said, ‘You know what, if you don’t plead guilty, we’ll testify that you sold heroin.’ I tried to kill him (laughs). I got ten years and he got probation.

Mural honoring Danny Trejo in his hometown of Pacoima, Ca. by artist Levi Ponce. (Photo by Annette M. Lesure/The Valley Star)

Tell me about the Madame Tussauds new Danny Trejo figure:

They made a wax figure of me; it’s unreal. It’s so funny because Governor Gavin Newsom called me and said, ‘Dan, I want to make that unveiling so bad, but I can’t. I’m up north in conference, but just know my heart is there.’ I remember saying, ‘God, the only time I ever thought about the governor was for a parole.’”

Who is the most powerful woman in your life?

Danielle, my daughter, is the most powerful woman in my life. She’s the only woman to ever slap me on the mouth. When a waitress would ask ‘Will there be anything else?’ I’d say ‘Yeah, gimme a kiss!’ My daughter was there one time when I said that and bam! She slapped me and said, ‘Dad! You can’t say that anymore! That’s sexual harassment. What would you do if a man said that to me?’ I said, ‘Kill him.’ (bursting out in laughter) So, you know, she would always use herself as an example.


Trejo, who often dresses up as Santa Claus during the holiday season to hand out toys to disadvantaged children in the San Fernando Valley, said he will be 80 in three years with no plans to retire and has four new movies in the works.