The term “sex symbol” is as old as Hollywood itself and Troy Donahue, one of the first teen idols of his era, held sway over the entire industry in the 60s. He had the charm, poise, and charisma to burn. Donahue came to fame in the early ’60s, thanks to his part in a string of Warner Bros films, but sadly, his career didn’t pan out as he might have liked. Read on for details of the highlights in his career and the struggles he encountered en route to stardom.
What Was Troy Donahue’s Early Life Like?
Troy Donahue was named Merle Johnson, Jr. after his birth in New York City on the 27th of January 1936. Donahue aspired to be an actor from a very young age, however, his parents never supported him but wanted him to pursue a career in a more stable field like medicine, or the legal profession. Donahue got his acting genes from his mother who was a stage actress; his father worked at General Motors as the manager of the motion picture department.
Raised in New York City, Donahue was well connected with Long Island and was exposed to a lot of Broadway actors. Choosing his parents’ wishes, Donahue enrolled at a New York military academy. However, his plans to attend the US Military Academy in West Point was truncated by a knee injury. Unfortunately, his father passed when he was 14, after which he had a brief stint working as a messenger at a film company his father founded.
Speaking about his passion for acting as a youngster Troy said:
“Acting is all I ever wanted. Ever since I can remember, I’ve studied and read plays. My mother would help me, but my parents didn’t want me to become an actor. They preferred something more stable – doctor, lawyer,… anything.”
The Beginning of His Career in Acting
Troy enrolled at Columbia University to study Journalism. While in school, his passion for acting won him over and saw him relocate to Hollywood. In Hollywood, Donahue met an agent named Henry Willson who changed his name from Merle Johnson to Troy Donahue.
To begin his professional career, Donahue signed a contract with Universal Pictures in 1956 but only got to play small roles until 1959, when his new contract with Warner Bros. brought him a part in A Summer Place which became his breakthrough.
Donahue was then typecast in a number of films and soap operas aimed at teenagers, thus bringing him the teen idol status. Unfortunately, by the mid-60s, Donahue found his career on a downward spiral due to a combination of factors; including the fact that his teenage audience had matured and his subsequent films were no longer appealing.
Troy Donahue at a Glance
Awards and Challenges of His Career Journey
Troy Donahue lived in luxury during the peak of his career in the early 60s. However, after his career began to decline, he realized that his pay which was a far cry from what a star should earn was not enough to sustain his lifestyle. He was forced to declare bankruptcy and things were never the same after that.
A frustrated Donahue buried himself in drugs and alcohol all to the detriment of a career he was trying hard to revive. He received $10,000 for a small part in 1974’s The Godfather Part II which sadly became his most lasting role despite appearing in a dozen more films.
Troy Donahue got a hold of his addiction by the 80s, however, he couldn’t quite make a major comeback. At the peak of his powers, Troy won Golden Globe’s Most Promising Newcomer for his performance in A Summer Place. He won The Most Popular Male Star at the 1962 PhotoPlay Awards and was nominated for the Top Male New Personality at the Laurel Awards in 1960.
What to Know about Troy Donahue’s Family Life
Unsurprisingly, Troy Donahue had romantic relationships with many women in his lifetime. He had four short-lived marriages which all ended in divorces. The divorces were no doubt part of what compounded his problems with his profession.
His spouses included actress Suzanne Pleshette (1964), Valerie Allen (1966 – 1968), Alma Sharpe (1969 – 1972), and Vicki Taylor (1979 – 1981). From the 90s till his death, Donahue was in a relationship with Chinese-American opera singer, Zheng Cao.
Troy never had a child with any of his wives, however, one of the women he dated casually in the 60s brought it to his knowledge in the 80s that he had fathered a son with her. She introduced him to the boy named Sean who was already in his teens in the 80s. Sean had all along known that Troy Donahue was his father.
When and How Did He Die?
Troy Donahue passed on the 2nd of September 2001, following a heart attack he suffered a few days earlier, on the 30th of August. Despite being unable to get back in the saddle, Troy continued to act in bit parts. His final film role was in The Boys Behind the Desk (2000).
His career might not have propelled him right back into the spotlight, but Donahue did find peace in his last years. After getting sober with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, he became a Christian and credited his faith with helping him find strength.