After his service as a Navy SEAL, Remi Adeleke had a role in Transformers: The Last Knight
Remi Adeleke’s life is straight out of a Hollywood movie.
Born in Nigeria and living the first few years of his life with extreme wealth, everything took a drastic turn for Adeleke, now 36, when his father died, they lost all of their money, and his mother moved him to the Bronx.
“That’s where my American journey began,” Adeleke tells PEOPLE. “And it didn’t start off well.”
At 8 years old, he began to steal, and when he went to high school, he began selling drugs and running a fake sneaker business.
“By the time I was 19, I was bringing in thousands and thousands of dollars,” he recalls. “I was using that money to fund a record company because that was my dream.”
It took Adeleke getting into a “very bad deal with a drug dealer” who showed up at his apartment and threatened both his life and his mother’s for him to “wake up and change everything”.
He vowed that very night to leave his rough and dangerous life in the past. For the next six months, he thought hard about what to do next.
“I decided to join the military,” says Adeleke. “I finally came to the realization that I had nothing left. I had failed at everything in my mind. I had failed at my record company, I had failed at selling drugs, I failed at all of these things and I was like, ‘What else do you have left, Remi? You have absolutely nothing left.’ I had to hit rock bottom first.”
At the recruiter’s office, he met Tiana Reyes, a woman who would change his life forever. When she ran a background check on him, she saw he had two warrants out for his arrest.
“I tried to bolt out of there because I knew I wouldn’t be able to join the military now,” he says, “but she asked me where I was going and if I had a suit.”
Adeleke told her no, but that he did have nice pants and a shirt. Reyes said to come back the next day.
When Adeleke showed up, she took him to a judge in New York and a judge in New Jersey and advocated on his behalf.
“She told the judge that I had made mistakes, but that I was trying to join the military,” says Adeleke. “Tiana asked him if he could give me a chance and expunge my record so I could enlist.”
Both judges unanimously said yes.
“They said what I was doing was an act of patriotism and if that Tiana could vouch for me, then they would say okay,” he recalls.
After his aunt spent almost all of her money to pay for his court fees, Adeleke joined the Navy and dreamed of becoming a SEAL.
“After failing at so much in my life, I knew I couldn’t fail at this,” says Adeleke, who would walk three miles every day to a pool and taught himself how to swim. “I had to learn everything.”
After a year of training, he got accepted into the Navy SEAL program, but got kicked out the first time.
“I was still stuck in my old ways, and I hated the training,” he says. “They sent me back to Camp Pendleton and that time, I served in the infantry as a medic. I was humbled. It was something that needed to happen. About two years later, I went back to SEAL training.”
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This time around, he “flew through SEAL training” and out of the 270 people in his class of 2008, he was one of the 29 who graduated.
“I felt like I finally made it,” says Adeleke, who was a SEAL until 2016.
During that time he met his wife Jessica on Match, got married in 2011 and had two sons who are now 4 and 5.
After deciding to spend more time with his family at home, he got a phone call from someone who worked for filmmaker Michael Bay. He was told that Bay was looking for former Navy SEALs to play a small roles in his film and that it would take one day to shoot.
That shoot ending up turning into six months and “opened up the doors for me in the entertainment industry.”
Adeleke signed an endorsement deal with the clothing company Jockey and had a role in Transformers: The Last Knight, which came out in 2017.
It was when he made an appearance on the Today show that year to promote the film that host Kathy Lee Gifford told him he needed to write a book.
“She told me, ‘I know your heart. Your heart will be there to inspire people, not to beat your chest. Write a book,'” says Adeleke, who welcomed his third boy six weeks ago. “I told her okay, she walked me to Harper Collins, and that’s how it all happened.”
And on Wednesday, his book Transformed: A Navy SEAL’s Unlikely Journey from the Throne of Africa, to the Streets of the Bronx, to Defying All Odds was released.
“I want people to know my story and realize they can transform too,” he says. “They can get through it all and succeed.”
He adds, “I was also really able to reflect when I wrote it. I was just blown away after I saw how many women played a massive role in me being where I’m at today. I am so lucky.”