On Thursday, actor Danny Trejo will kick off the 10th annual Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series at Horry-Georgetown Technical College, bringing his story of personal transformation to the Grand Strand.
Trejo’s iconic rugged demeanor has served him well over the years, and he has appeared in dozens of films from “Desperado,” “From Dusk till Dawn” and “Con Air” to the “Spy Kids” trilogy, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and of course “Machete” and “Machete Kills.”
Trejo, now 72, struggled with addiction early on and has been sober for a jaw-dropping 48 years.
The HGTC Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series has been going strong since 2008, bringing with it a veritable who’s who of well-known people who have struggled with addiction: Louis Gossett, Jr., Meredith Baxter, Steve Ford [son of former President Gerald Ford and Betty Ford], three stars of A&E’s “Intervention” and others.
The series continues for three consecutive Thursdays following Trejo’s event and will include featured speakers and community panel events.
Longtime HGTC physics and natural sciences professor Casey King is the organizer and the de facto face of the series, even though he will be the first to tell you that it has a life of its own.
King has been living and teaching on the Grand Strand for more than 20 years, following a stint in nuclear energy. After finishing graduate school at the University of Virginia, his first job was as a radiation specialist for the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC] in Chicago.
“That lasted about a year, and I last worked in a nuclear power plant. I was there for about four years until about 1994,” he said.
He said he was miserable.
“I worked in the control room and it was either incredibly boring or intensely manic,” he said. “The job was bipolar.”
King made the switch to academia when a job came open at Coker College in Hartsville and he was accepted to teach.
He went on to other teaching jobs at Francis Marion University and Florence-Darlington Technical College before transferring to HGTC in 1996. He also began teaching math and physics at Coastal Carolina University in 2003.
“It was like a breath of fresh air, and incredibly refreshing to begin to teach. That’s why I have been in the teaching field for 23 years. I love it, and look forward every day to going to work,” he said.
King has four adult children, three of whom he raised as a single parent. He has been in a relationship with partner Jennifer Neafsey for nearly eight years.
King also struggled with addiction. He said he thought he had a lot of people fooled along the way, and that an active addict by his very nature has a way of covering things up.
“When my career with substance [abuse] appeared to be at its end, I knew I had no other choice but to seek some kind of help. It had been suggested to me by some friends that 12-Step programs worked – and I knew enough to do something before it was too late,” he said.
King got sober in 2005.
At that time, he was involved in organizing a general series of lectures on assorted topics at HGTC, but this changed in 2008.
“After we had done this for a few years, my partner dropped out and it was just me. I chose to include the topic of addiction and recovery because It because it was near and dear to my heart,” he said. “It was something that I had decades of experience with.”
King knew plenty of people in recovery and was already in the position to reserve the auditorium.
“I don’t think I have any special ability, but it just seemed like I was in the right place at the right time to do this lecture series.”
But he had no funds to work with, and relied for the first few years on local counselors and doctors to speak – sometimes more than once.
Eventually, HGTC got behind the series with the funding he needed to ramp things up.
The series has always been free and open to the public.
“There has never been a charge for any of this over 10 years. No money has ever been involved from the attendees,” he said.
The first Hollywood-connected speaker came in the form of screenwriter William G. Borchert, who lived in Little River at the time and wrote the 1989 film, “My Name Is Bill W.,” based on the true story of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and starring James Woods and James Garner.
King’s networking efforts paid off next when he secured cast members from A&E’s “Intervention” for speaking slots in the lecture series – and his relationship with them has grown into a valuable resource to the point where he calls them whenever he needs to.
“There are people that come to me for interventions, and I will farm it out to one of them. It’s networking at its best,” he said.
Locals might remember the billboard on U.S. 501 touting the arrival of academy award winner Louis Gossett, Jr. last year. His speaking engagement was so full that some attendees had to use an overflow area.
This is shaping up to be the same scenario with Trejo.
“We’re making plans to accommodate a large crowd. There will be closed-circuit television in five rooms,” said King.
King just got word that a film crew will be on hand to grab footage from this event for a Trejo biopic currently in production.
“I want people to see that there are multiple paths to recovery – and when Danny Trejo comes, he will tell his story and how he did it. On the second night [February 23], there will be six to eight students – all local and in recovery – who are going to tell you their stories.”
On Thursday, March 2, William C. Moyers will tell his story.
Moyers is VP of public affairs for community relations for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and son of journalist Bill Moyers. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller, “Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption.”
The final installment of the Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series on March 9 is sponsored by the local advocacy group Faces and Voices of Recovery – or FAVOR – and will include the showing of a film called “Generation Found,” which focuses on youth addiction and recovery in Houston.
Local FAVOR chapter chairman Dr. Victor Archambeau said he met King in more than three years ago, when FAVOR was being formed on the Grand Strand. The group has been involved with the lecture series since then.
“Casey joined FAVOR and asked how we could help,” he said. “He offered to extend the conference to four nights and let us have the fourth night for a program of our choosing.”
Archambeau is a family practitioner who said he has been in recovery for 23 years.
In addition to sponsoring the showing of “Generation Found,” Archambeau said FAVOR members will help with the dinner service for all four nights.
King’s efforts in the name of recovery are not lost on Archambeau.
“Casey is passionate about what he does and really wants others to get the message about recovery. This program is a labor of love for him and requires a huge commitment of time and effort to make it work,” he said.
HGTC student Dylan Parker is not in recovery, but he will be telling his story on Feb. 23.
Parker lost his brother to a heroin overdose in 2013, when Parker was 15.
“My brother Clay was someone I always looked up to dearly and loved,” he said. “He was my best friend, and we connected on so many things that we were almost twins. I don’t remember exactly when Clay first admitted his addiction. After his death, a lot of things went blurry on me.”
Parker said his brother’s problem started with the abuse of pills – first taking them orally and then injecting them – ultimately moving on to heroin and the black tar that ended his life.
“Clay’s death showed me that drugs are a disease,” he said. “It’s one that people don’t want to realize or acknowledge. I was once one of those people. Drugs not only took my brother. They’ve taken away a part of my mom and dad. When Clay passed away I didn’t want to keep quiet about his addiction. I wanted people to know that drugs are a real problem and they show no discrimination.”
Parker said his brother’s death gave him the ability to share this story with The Sun News and to speak at the lecture series.
“If this could help or save someone then by all means I know my brother is proud of me. It’s time to speak up and help those that are in need,” he said.
Although King is the founder and organizer of the lecture series, he strives to keep himself out of the picture as much as possible.
“I am not an expert. I am a physics professor and just happen to be in recovery. It’s not about me. It’s about the series,” he said.
In a statement, Trejo told The Sun News that he has never been to Myrtle Beach before.
The focus of his message is to the point:
“Never give up on someone,” he said.
And for those thinking about getting help, Trejo had this to say:
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is not a train.”
For more information about the HGTC Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series, email Casey King at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 843-477-2154.