Danny Trejo in a press photo
The former-criminal turned Hollywood movie star, Danny Trejo has made a documentary about his life called Inmate #1 (2020). A penal-league boxing champion, he was traditionally cast as a tough guy in movies like Desperado (1995), Heat (1995), and Con Air (1997).
Trejo admits to robbing Bob’s Big Boy Burbank during his troubled youth growing up in Pacoima. He still resides in the San Fernando Valley, in which his garage has a floor-to-ceiling mural of Bob’s Big Boy Burbank with Michelle Rodriguez’s character from Machete (2010) and his 1965 Buick Riviera.
The mural in Trejo's Garage
Danny spent much the 1960’s in California’s toughest prisons: Tracy (1963-65), San Quentin (1965-68), and Soledad (1968-69). The most famous tattoo in the world, according to Danny, was worked on by inmate Harry Ross in all three. The Mexican Revolution cowgirl also known as a “charra” on his chest is recognizable due in large part to Danny rarely wearing a shirt. An excellent article on Grantland describes the meeting of Danny Trejo, “He is shirtless, and will not make the slightest move to put on a shirt — nor the slightest hint that a shirt is nearby, if he even wanted to put one on — for the rest of the afternoon.” The “founding father” of black and grey art with single needle, Mark Mahoney, of Shamrock Social Club in Hollywood did the tattoo on Danny’s back. This website details all Trejo’s tattoos and their meaning.
Early chest tattoo of Trejo
While in solitary, sure he would receive a death sentence for throwing a rock that hit a prison guard, Danny prayed, “God if you let me die with dignity, I’ll say your name every day and do whatever I can for my fellow man.” His case was thrown out on a technicality that there were no witnesses, despite a thousand guys that were in the prison yard.
Trejo committed himself to the pledge and became a drug counselor. A production assistant on Runaway Train (1985) asked Danny to help him stay sober on set. On account of his tough look, Danny was first asked if he’d like to be an extra. Then recognizing him from prison, the convicted felon turned screenwriter and actor, Eddie Bunker (aka "Mr. Blue") asked him to be the boxing trainer. Finally the director said in broken Russian-English, “You must be in my movie.”
Danny Trejo as "Navajas"
The train kept a-rollin’ for Trejo. As the knife-wielding assassin “Navajas” in Desperado (1995) he steals scenes from the other actors without having any lines. After killing Steve Buscemi, then another six people in a limousine, he’s ultimately shot to death.
Danny Trejo as "Trejo"
With scenes shot at Bob’s Big Boy Burbank in Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), he plays “Trejo” who gets brutally tortured, so much so he begs his colleague Robert DeNiro to finish him off.
The strangely popular and star-studded farce, Con Air (1997) with Nicolas Cage and John Malkovich casts Trejo as the unsavory “Danny 23,” twenty-three being the number of times he’s been convicted of rape. His character gets mutilated and killed in the plane crash.
Despite these three roles in landmark movies from the 1990’s, Danny’s mother still didn’t understand the level of her son’s success until she invited all her friends over to watch him make a guest appearance on the daytime soap, The Young and the Restless (2008).
Danny Trejo as "Machete"
After being stabbed, shot, maimed, crushed, hung, choked, decapitated, and blown to bits, Danny Trejo, thanks to director Robert Rodriguez, finally finds himself as the lead hero in the latin exploitation action film, Machete (2010). From then on, everybody — even his mom — started calling him “Machete.”
The badass, penal-league boxing champion, who loves tacos, has also done voice overs for the video game Grand Theft Auto (2002, 2006) and guest-starred in TV's Breaking Bad (2009) and Sons of Anarchy (2011).
Trejo eating tacos
Trejo is a restaurateur with multiple Trejo’s Tacos locations. Trejo’s Cantina was featured in the Anthony Bourdain season 9 premiere of Parts Unknown. "It's just really good," said the late-writer and TV host, whom Trejo called the Pope of the food industry. Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts were called the best donunts in Los Angeles by LA Weekly.
His friends include Rob Zombie, Slayer, Marilyn Manson, and Lady Gaga, but Trejo says, “I’m into Oldies; Mary Wells, The Beatles. He’s been to England and visited Abbey Road. He claims the song “Hey Jude,” heard on an officer’s radio, started a prison riot when Bob’s Big Boy Burbank Hall-of-Famer Paul McCartney sings out, “Jude Judy Judy Judy Judy owwwww ooowww.”
Trejo with his '65 Buick Riviera
Trejo has a 1965 Buick Riviera Clamshell, a 1976 Cadillac Seville, a 1952 Chevy Stepside Pickup, a 1936 Dodge Touring Sedan, a 1942 Chevy Stylemaster, a 1961 Two-Tone Ford Econoline, and a 1956 Chevy Chop-Top Bel Air. He’s been on an episode of Bob’s Big Boy Burbank Hall-of-Famer’s Jay Leno’s Garage. He describes cars as beautiful women, “Rims, they’re the shoes. Paint job, that’s the makeup. The chrome, that’s the jewelry.” Danny has expressed interest in acquiring more cars and even opening his own auto shop.
After rescuing a young special-needs child who was trapped in an overturned car in Sylmar, California, Trejo told ABC News, “Everything good that’s happened to me has happened as a direct result of me helping someone else. Everything.” Danny and the people he calls friends carry brand new pairs of socks and underwear in the trunks of their cars to give to homeless in need.
The man whose laugh sounds like a happy machine gun, still lives in the San Fernando Valley. On being such a part of his community, he jokes, “He’s gone from being ‘Machete,’ the baddest guy on the planet, to being ‘Marsha Brady.’ And I have a lot of fun with everything.”
Photo by Estevan Oriol