Trejo was born on May 16, 1944, on Temple Street in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, to Mexican-American parents. He is the son of Delores Rivera King and Dionisio "Dan" Trejo (1922–1981), a construction worker. Trejo was the result of an extramarital affair; Delores's husband was away fighting in World War II. His parents met at a dance hall in Highland Park, Los Angeles in 1943. He had a maternal half-sister, Dyhan, but saw neither her nor Delores from 1949 until 1965; his father banned his mother from seeing him after Trejo sprained his arm in her care.
Danny Trejo (/ˈtreɪhoʊ/ Spanish: [ˈtɾeho]; born May 16, 1944) is an American actor. He has appeared in films including Desperado, Heat, and the From Dusk Till Dawn film series. With frequent collaborator and his second cousin Robert Rodriguez, he portrayed the character of Isador "Machete" Cortez, which was originally developed for the Spy Kids series and was later expanded into its own franchise of the same name.
Aged seven, Trejo participated in his first drug deal. He was first arrested at the age of 10, but experienced his first incarceration at Eastlake Juvenile Hall in 1956.
While doing a stint in Los Angeles County jail in 1961, he met Charles Manson, who he described as a "dirty, greasy, scrawny, white boy" who was allegedly a talented hypnotist.
In 1962, following his release from Youth Training School, reputedly one of California's most notorious juvenile prisons, he met his first wife, Laura. Her parents did not approve of their relationship, and they were married in the backyard of Trejo's family home. Trejo believes his drug use and criminal lifestyle contributed to their marriage's demise; Laura filed for divorce during his second confinement at Youth Training School.
Trejo arrived at San Quentin State Prison in 1966, and his heroin use was exacerbated shortly thereafter. Furthermore, he was a debt collector and drug dealer, often participating in or witnessing acts of serious violence, including murder. Simultaneously, he focused on boxing and became a champion in San Quentin's lightweight and welterweight divisions.
Regarding himself, Trejo has suggested his physical appearance contributed to his constantly getting into trouble. In 1968, a prison riot broke out during Cinco De Mayo at Soledad. Trejo ended up in solitary confinement and facing capital charges, potentially the death penalty, after hitting a guard with a rock. In solitary, Trejo found faith and became a member of a 12-step program, having first attended one "by accident" aged 15, and successfully overcame his drug addictions; recalling in 2011 that he had been sober for the previous 42 years. It was also while incarcerated that he achieved his high-school diploma.
In July 1969, Trejo was released from custody for the final time and returned to Pacoima, Los Angeles, after having served five years of a 10-year prison sentence. Prior to his film career, Trejo worked as a labor foreman for developer Saul Pick, and contributed toward the construction of the Cinerama Dome. He was also a gardener and salesperson; part owner of a lawn care company, and has been a substance misuse counselor since 1973.
Throughout the 1960s, Trejo's life consisted predominantly of intermittent jail stints in the California prison system. The accounts of his prison chronology, though, are notably conflicting; by one account, his final term in custody is said to have ended in 1972, but in reality, Trejo did time in various juvenile offenders' camps, including three years at Camp Glenn Rockey, San Dimas for maiming a sailor (stabbing him in the face with broken glass), followed by numerous California prisons between 1959 and 1969; "I was in San Quentin, Folsom, Soledad, Vacaville, Susanville, Sierra".
Trejo's movie career began in 1985, when he accidentally landed in the American indie film Runaway Train, where he played the role of a boxer for a daily fee of 320 dollars. He went on to star in a multitude of other films, including Desperado, From Dusk till Dawn, Con Air, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter, Reindeer Games, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and Grindhouse.
In 1991, Edward James Olmos originally offered him the role of Pedro Santana in American Me. Trejo was unimpressed by the script and his initial meeting with Olmos. Trejo claims rumors began circulating within the Mexican Mafia that the script was taking narrative liberties. Before Trejo had the chance to attend a second meeting with Olmos, he received a call from Joe 'Peg Leg' Morgan, the then-living don of the Mexican Mafia; Morgan approved of his choosing a role in Blood In, Blood Out instead of American Me. In 2021, Trejo stated that he believes Olmos has yet to accept him as a serious actor.
Trejo found a new talent agent with the help of Raymond Cruz. He was first cast in an episode of Baywatch, followed by a part in 1993's Last Light, Kiefer Sutherland's directorial debut.
In 1996, Trejo was cast in the French production Le Jaguar (which was French for The Jaguar) and reunited with Voight for Anaconda, both of which were filmed in Manaus, Brazil. When production for Anaconda moved to Venezuela, Trejo would go out socializing on his days off. The producers were worried given a possible coup d'état had made parts of the country unsafe to travel; a group of teenagers brandished AK47's on one occasion, demanding Trejo's combat boots. Because of this, Trejo says he negotiated a higher salary to remain within the confines of his hotel.
In 1997, he married Debbie Shreve; they separated in 2005 and he filed for divorce in 2009.
After concluding Animal Factory in 1999, he contracted Hepatitis C and "had to drag [his] ass" from Canada to Austin, Texas to begin filming of Spy Kids in 2000. Spy Kids marked Trejo's debut as the fictional character Isador 'Machete' Cortez. Having already made Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn together, the opportunity to collaborate with Robert Rodriguez, Antonio Banderas, and Cheech Marin once again "felt like [a] family reunion." Spy Kids provided Trejo with worldwide recognition and for the first time he was "instantly recognizable" amongst children around the globe.
By the time of Bubble Boy in 2001, his illness had progressed to the point that much of the cast had noticed his weight loss; Trejo states that his past drug use had caught up with him. He described himself as having been pale and weak throughout production, and pre-occupied with keeping his diagnosis a secret within Hollywood for fear of reprisal. Trejo was "out of it" and struggling to remember his lines due to prescription medication. By the time Spy Kids premiered in September 2002, Trejo had fully recovered.
In 2004, Trejo made an appearance in the videogame Def Jam: Fight for NY, playing one of the villains, an enforcer for Snoop Dogg's character. Trejo's character is named after him and uses the street fighting style and was a Featured fighter and a Playable character.
In 2006, Trejo reprised the role in the PSP videogame which was entitled Def Jam Fight for NY: The Takeover.
Regarding his continued growth as a professional actor, Trejo has remarked, "I'm so blessed. I'm still scared that somebody's going to wake me up and say, 'Hey, we're still in prison. Let's go to chow’". Trejo also played 'Machete' in a trailer made for Rodriguez's film collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, Grindhouse. In 2010, he starred in a full theatrical release of the film Machete, based on the character Isador 'Machete' Cortez and again in 2013 for the sequel film, Machete Kills.
Trejo battled liver cancer in 2010. In 2011, he moved to the San Fernando Valley to be closer to his mother after she sustained a knee injury; she died in 2013. Prior to this, he lived in Venice, a neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. In August 2019, he witnessed a car colliding with an SUV at an intersection and helped extract a five-year-old trapped in a child safety seat inside the overturned SUV. In relation to the incident, he was quoted saying: "Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else. Everything."
In 2011, he appeared in the action movie Recoil as Drayke Selgado, with WWE wrestler and actor Steve Austin and played the role of the Ripper in Cross.
In 2012, Trejo starred alongside Ron Perlman and Charles S. Dutton in the Craig Moss action film Bad Ass. He played the main character of Vietnam veteran Frank Vega, based on 67-year-old "Epic Beard Man" Thomas Bruso. That same year, Trejo appeared again with Ron Perlman, in a supporting role as Romero 'Romeo' Parada on season four of the FX television drama Sons of Anarchy.
He also appeared in adult entertainer Lupe Fuentes's music video "We Are the Party" with her band, The Ex-Girlfriends. In 2014, he featured as the character Machete in the official music video for Train's "Angel In Blue Jeans". In 2015, Trejo appeared in the music videos "Repentless" and "Pride in Prejudice" from Slayer's album Repentless.
In 2014, Trejo produced his first film, titled Ambition, and produced his second film, the action film Bad Asses.
In 2015, Trejo appeared in a television commercial for Snickers that aired during Super Bowl XLIX, in which he portrayed Marcia Brady prior to eating the Snickers candy bar. In 2016 and 2017, he appeared as himself in transparent disguises in TV ads for Sling TV.
Over the years, Trejo has opened a series of successful Los Angeles restaurants. In January 2016, these included a taco restaurant on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, his own brands of beer, coffee, and various merchandise, with ice cream sandwiches under development. His first was Trejo's Tacos, followed by Trejo's Cantina and Trejo's Coffee and Donuts. Trejo's Donuts is located on the northeast corner of Santa Monica Blvd and Highland Avenue. As of 2020, he is the owner of eight restaurants.
In 2017, Trejo played the role of 'Muerte' in Cross Wars and the 2019 film Cross: Rise of the Villains respectively.
In 2017, the rainbow cauliflower tacos made the Los Angeles Times's list of 10 most favorite recipes of 2017. The restaurants are overseen by executive chef Mason Royal. As of 2018, their most recent venture would be an expansion of a donut food truck in Las Vegas, Nevada.
On August 6, 2017, Trejo made a guest appearance on season three of the Rick and Morty animated TV show, on the episode "Pickle Rick", in which he voiced the part of Mr. Jaguar. Together with Sasha Grey, he was a lead actor in China Test Girls (2017), directed by Frankie Latina. That same year, he also appeared in Brooklyn Nine Nine as Detective Rosa Diaz's father in an episode centered around Diaz's struggle to come out to her family.
Also in 2019, Trejo had a supporting role in the film Acceleration, as Santos. and voiced the role of Clint Beltran in Family Guy on the episode "Shanksgiving".
His voice and appearance is in the game Guns of Boom. He can only be seen in the introduction of the action sport first-person shooter video game which was entitled Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball MAX'D ("Play for Real", B-Real & DJ Lethal). In 2019, he was added as a playable character to the battle royale mode of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.
In 2019, Trejo became ring announcer for the full contact karate league Karate Combat in the season Karate Combat: Hollywood. Following this he received a karate lesson from Karate Combat sensei and former UFC champion Georges St-Pierre.
In 2019, Trejo played the roles of Jose in Wish Man, Eduardo Hernandez in Grand-Daddy Day Care, Miguel in The Short History of the Long Road, Carlos in The Outsider, Himself in Madness in the Method, Grave-digger in Bullets of Justice, Rondo in 3 From Hell and Himself in Slayer: The Repent less Killogy.
In 2019, he participated in promotions for Magic: The Gathering Arena, along with Sean Plott.
In 2020, he published a cookbook titled Trejo's Tacos: Recipes and Stories from L.A., sharing recipes and stories from his life.
In 2021, Trejo competed in season five of The Masked Singer as "Raccoon" and was eliminated in his second appearance. Trejo later mentioned in the interview that he "couldn't stop laughing" after the panel had thought that "Raccoon" was originally portrayed by Danny DeVito.
In 2021, Trejo has a guest appearance in the DLC expansion game Far Cry 6: Danny and Dani vs. Everybody.
In 2021, Trejo published his memoir Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood, co-written with his longtime friend Donal Logue. The book debuted at number four on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list for the week ending July 10, 2021.
That same year, he appeared in season six of Running Wild with Bear Grylls on the episode "Danny Trejo in the Moab Desert". and portrayed one of the many forms of Mr. World in the first two episodes of the third and final season of American Gods. In 2021, Trejo portrayed the Ghost of Huet in the Disney+ puppet comedy Halloween special Muppets Haunted Mansion.
— Trejo discussing past relations and infidelities with USA Today, July 2021.
In 2022, Trejo also has a guest appearance in the 2D-platforming skateboarding game Olli Olli World, appearing in the fictional Radlandia. He also appears as Machete in the 3rd DLC for the game Scum.
In 2022, Trejo made his official Star Wars debut in the Disney+ space Western television series The Book of Boba Fett as a Rancor keeper on the episode "Chapter 3: The Streets of Mos Espa".