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‘I faced gas chamber and got high with Charles Manson before riot led me to become a Hollywood star,’ says Danny Trejo

The US Sun
The US Sun

HOOKED on alcohol and drugs and awaiting a death sentence seems a lifetime away from the man who would become one of Hollywood’s most beloved anti-heroes.

Danny Trejo, now 77, has over 400 acting credits to his name – including From Dusk Till Dawn, Con Air, the Spy Kids franchise – and has died more than 65 times in films.
Danny Trejo has more than 400 acting credits to his name and is known for playing 'tough guy' roles in Hollywood Credit: Rex
The actor, now 77, has starred in Machete (above), From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids and more Credit: Handout

He’s reportedly worth £5.8million ($8m) today but back in 1968, things were not looking good for the future star, who was imprisoned in Soledad State Prison, California.

During a “one-thousand person riot”, Danny launched a rock at inmates but it missed and instead struck one of the guards on the head.

After being apprehended, he was one of three lags facing the gas chamber for charges including inciting a riot and attempted murder of a guard.

“I wasn’t surprised. I was always told, ‘You’ll either die in prison or of an act of violence on the street,’ Danny tells The Sun. “And I believed it.”

Let me die with dignity, I don’t want to pee my pants, to s*** and scream

This led him to make a pact with God that would engineer his transformation from a gangster to becoming a film and TV star.

Speaking to tie in with his new memoir Trejo: My Life Of Crime, Redemption and Hollywood, Danny says: “We were expecting the gas chamber, which I accepted but I thought, ‘Let me die with dignity, I don’t want to pee my pants, to s*** and scream.’

“I pleaded, ‘God, if you let me die with dignity, I’ll say your name every day and do what I can for my fellow inmates.’

“The reason I said ‘inmates’ was because I never thought I was getting out of prison and the good Lord fooled me.”

'Bring back a life sentence!'

Whether it was luck or divine intervention, Danny was spared and released from prison around a year later.

The guard was unable to identify who threw the rock and when questioned, inmates didn’t assist their captors.

“Mickey Mouse” or “Popeye did it” they claimed and soon after the prosecution was forced to drop the case.

Danny Trejo's top five films

HOLLYWOOD'S favourite antihero, Danny Trejo, ranks his top five films from more than 400 acting credits.

1. Heat (1995)

2. Con Air (1997)

3. Machete (2010)

4. Spy Kids (2001)

5. Desperado (1995)

Shortly before his release, Danny recalled a prison board agent, who he referred to as ‘Mad Dog’, giving him a blunt warning.

“I’ll never forget him saying, ‘We’re going to give you a chance to spread your wings Trejo."

Those words stick with Danny to this day, whenever he’s angry he remembers how his life could have turned out.

Abusive childhood

Danny was raised in Pacoima, California, and had a troubled upbringing with abusive parents and spent much of the Sixties in and out of prison.

When we found out [Charles Manson] could hypnotise us to feel high, we watched out for him and basically he got us loaded on weed and heroin

They included stints in California’s most renowned lock-ups – including San Quentin, Folsom, Soledad and LA County Jail – and "could have died" in a number of them.

While inside the latter, he recalled meeting a young Charles Manson but far from the sociopath known to many, back in 1961, he “wasn’t the same guy we know today”.

Danny says: “I saw a little man who couldn’t afford a belt, he had to tie his pants up with a string and even in county jail he was all dirty.

“But when we found out he could hypnotise us to make us feel high, we watched out for him and basically he got us loaded on weed and heroin.”

Manson's prison threat

This was eight years before members of Manson’s cult carried out their murderous spree in LA in 1969.

They brutally killed five people including Sharon Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski, and their unborn child.

Danny claimed Manson could have been a “great hypnotist on stage” had he not become a cult leader and Danny saw a different side to the murderer.

The monster spent 48 years after being convicted of first-degree murder and died from natural causes in 2019, at the age of 83.

Danny says: “Manson wasn’t the guy you saw doing those interviews with the swastika tattoo on his head.

Some of them started going after him and were going to abuse him until we let him sleep in front of our cell

“He was very, very cautious because on the block were a lot of African-Americans and Mexicans and not a lot of white people.

“Some of them started going after him and were going to abuse him until we let him sleep in front of our cell.

“People think you’ve got to be able to fight in prison but I’ve never seen a fair fight there, except for in the boxing ring.

“If I walk up behind you and shoot – ‘Bang, bang bang’ – or stab you three times and walk away I’ve won. It’s not about fairness, it’s about survival.”

'I'm not a tough guy!'

He says: “I think the first half of my life was a character study on the characters I was going to play.”

In 1985, he landed his first role as an extra on Runaway Train and soon after was regularly being cast as “hard man” characters on the big screen.

Despite wielding knives, guns and an array of other weapons, Dany insists he is “not tough” by any means.

He says: “Tough is a bullet… Four inches of steel would take care of any ‘tough guy’, so I don’t consider myself tough.

“I don’t even act tough, I act like a gentleman on-set and would help anybody. “

His rap sheet and time in the criminal underworld would say otherwise – but often those experiences led to some of his most compelling performances.

If you don’t cut it out, someone might put an M-80 in your a** and light it

Danny recalled being asked to “rob a poker game” for one scene and after being told "make it look real", he unleashed hell on the five stunt actors.

He recalls: “‘I kicked in the door, hit one with a gun, knocked over the next one and had a big shotgun held to another.

“‘Move! Move! I haven’t killed a white guy all day,’ I yelled.

"Later the director asked, ‘Where did you study? I said ‘Bonds, Piggly Wiggly, CVS drug stores, poker games.’

“I did that for a living so I’ve pulled from a lot of the stuff that I did.”

'Saving' Kiefer Sutherland

While filming the 1993 prison flick Last Light, Danny was asked for help from his co-star Kiefer Sutherland, who had been "threatened" by an extra.

He recalls: “Someone threatened Keifer's family after he got security to escort the actor off the set, so I discussed it with this guy.

“I told him, ‘Look this one didn’t work out but if you don’t cut it out, someone might put an M-80 in your a** and light it’.

“The next day, the guy sent a big bunch of flowers and an apology to Kiefer’s wife."

Your character is going to get his a** kicked!

Despite earning a fortune, Danny claims to live modestly and prefers to hang out with old friends rather than the Hollywood elite.

He recalls: “I’ve had to pull a few method actors aside and say, ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’

"‘I’m in character,’ they say. ‘Well, your character is going to get his a** kicked!’"

Unlike most thespians, Danny knows the darker side of life – he’s been shot at, chased by police, robbed stores, a drug addict, and more.

Danny adds: “Actors do one gangster movie and think they’re a gangster, they ought to have a class to teach them, ‘Look, you’re not a gangster!’

“When I’ve been a character, I don't want to stay as that character. I’ll go play with my kids or pick up a puppy or something.”

Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption and Hollywood was released by John Blake Publishing and is out now.
Danny shared this throwback shot of himself from 1985, when he was either nine or 10 Credit: @officialDannyT/Twitter
The actor has released a new book, where he's spoken candidly about how he went from being a gangster to a Hollywood star Credit: Bonnier Books
Danny was a boxing champion in prison and his build led him to land a number of 'hard man' roles in film Credit: AFP
The actor, who is now 77, has many films and TV shows behind him, a taco empire, books and has done voiceovers for video games Credit: © 2019 Inmate Productions Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Michael Adkins

This man is one of my Most All Time Favorite Actor.


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