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Troy Donahue: Bio, Net Worth, Cause of Death

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Who is Troy Donahue?

Troy Donahue: Bio, Net Worth, Cause of Death

Troy Donahue (born Merle Johnson Jr. on January 27, 1936; passed away on September 2, 2001) was an American singer and actor in film and television. During the 1950s and 1960s, he was a popular sexual icon.


Early years

Donahue was the son of a retired stage actress and the manager of the film division at General Motors. He was born in New York City. Donahue stated in an interview in 1959:

Acting has always been my only desire. Since I can recall, I have read and studied plays. My mother would assist me, but neither of my parents wanted me to become an actor. They desired something more stable, such as a doctor, lawyer, or Indian chief.

In 1984, he added, “I recall always being exposed to Broadway and theater people.” “I recall sitting with Gertrude Lawrence as she read her The King and I reviews.”

Troy and his family grew up in Bayport on Middle Road.

Donahue attended a New York military academy to please his parents, where he met Francis Ford Coppola. He had planned to attend West Point, but a track meet knee injury prevented him from doing so. He attempted to enlist in the military but was rejected.

Donahue moved to New York at age 18 and began working as a messenger for the film company his father had founded (who had died when he was 14). According to him, he was fired because he was too young to join the union. He attended Columbia University, where he majored in journalism. He performed in summer productions in Bucks County. He briefly trained with Ezra Stone before moving to Hollywood.


One evening, producer William Asher and director James Sheldon spotted Donahue in a Malibu restaurant and arranged an unsuccessful screen test with Columbia Pictures.

Later, Donahue was involved in a car accident in which he veered off the road and fell 40 feet down a canyon.

He was introduced by actress Fran Bennett to agent Henry Willson, who represented, among others, Rock Hudson. Willson signed him and rechristened him Troy Donahue.

“Initially, they were thinking of Paris, Helen of Troy’s lover,” Donahue states. “But I suppose they thought they couldn’t name me Paris Donahue because Paris, France and Paris, Illinois already existed.” Later, he explained, “It took me five minutes to adjust to my new name.”


In October 1956, Donahue signed with Universal Studios. Beginning with small roles in films such as Man Afraid, Man of a Thousand Faces, The Tarnished Angels, Above All Things, and The Monolith Monsters, he eventually rose to prominence (all 1957).

In 1958, he also appeared in Summer Love and Live Fast, Die Young, with a slightly larger role. He first appeared on television in a guest role on Man Without a Gun. Then came appearances in This Happy Feeling, Wild Heritage, Voice in the Mirror, The Perfect Furlough, and Monster on the Campus (billed fifth). He appeared as a guest star in episodes of The Californians, Rawhide, Wagon Train, Tales of Wells Fargo, and The Virginian, among others.

Later, he stated, “In the majority of those Universal films, if you went to get popcorn, you missed me.”

In the 1959 movie Imitation of Life, Donahue played a young white man who beats up his new black girlfriend when he finds out she is his girlfriend. He got good reviews for this role.

The Warner Bros. and A Summer Place collaboration

Donahue’s career took off when he was cast opposite Sandra Dee in Warner Bros.’s 1959 film A Summer Place. It was directed by Delmer Daves. He was given a long-term contract by Warner. [10] They employed him as a guest star in episodes of their Western-themed television series, including Colt.45 (1959), Maverick (1959), Sugarfoot (1959), The Alaskans (1960), and Lawman (1960). (1960).

A Summer Place was a success and established Donahue’s reputation, particularly among teenage audiences. In 1960, The Film Daily named him one of the five “finds” of the year. He played a supporting role in the disaster film The Crowded Sky (1960).

He was rumored to be cast in Splendor in the Grass, but Warren Beatty beat him out.

Surfside 6

Instead, Warner Bros. cast him in Surfside 6 (1960–1962), one of Sunset Strip’s announced spin-offs in April 1960. Donahue starred alongside Van Williams, Lee Patterson, Diane McBain, and Margarita Sierra in the Miami Beach, Florida-based ABC series Surfside 6. After Surfside 6 was canceled, Donahue joined the cast of Hawaiian Eye, another spinoff of Sunset Strip, in the role of hotel director Philip Barton for its final season from 1962 to 1963, alongside Robert Conrad and Connie Stevens.

Surfside 6 is an ABC/Warner Bros. television series starring Donahue and showgirl Margarita Sierra (1961–1962).

Donahue’s career took a big step forward when Joshua Logan quit as director of Parrish (1961) and was replaced by Delmer Daves, who cast Donahue in the successful movie.

Donahue and Daves reunited for another Susan Slade melodrama (1962). Suzanne Pleshette starred in their fourth film, Rome Adventure (1962), a romantic comedy.

In 1962, he claimed to have received between 5,000 and 7,500 fan letters per week.

Exhibitors voted him the twentieth most popular star in the United States the following year. He was also well-known in Japan.

“I guess because I was blonde, blue-eyed, and tanned, people associated me with all the beach movies that were popular at the time, despite the fact that I never acted in one,” he explained later. “I was always the gentleman, the one who did what was expected of him.”

He did appear in Palm Springs Weekend (1963), a film about a beach party, alongside several other Warner Bros. actors. As a change of pace, Pleshette and he were cast in Raoul Walsh’s final film, A Distant Trumpet (1964), a Western.

Recording artist

At the height of his popularity in the early 1960s, Donahue also released a handful of singles for Warner Bros. Records, including “Live Young” and “Somebody Loves Me.” None of his recordings, however, made the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Having left Warner Bros.

In the 1965 film My Blood Runs Cold, Donahue was cast as a psychopath opposite Joey Heatherton. While Donahue was excited to play a different type of role, the public did not respond positively. Donahue requested his release from his contract with Warner Bros. in January 1966, despite the fact that it ran until the beginning of 1968. Later, Donahue claimed:

Jack Warner called every studio for which I had previously worked and used his influence to keep me unemployed. I was discriminated against, and everyone in the industry knew it. Please print the above. In one European film, I played a nineteenth-century astronaut, but no one ever saw it. Then, by the time I was able to find employment again, it was too late because my profession was already out of style.

Later, he reflected on this time period. “They extracted from me until the well ran dry.” My image originated from Warner Bros., and it was a fading one. I believe I am somewhat more complex than the roles I was assigned to play. ” In 1967, he stated that Parrish was his most satisfying film. As an actor, I had the best script and the best opportunity. Not many of these were presented to me. However, I did receive excellent exposure at Warner Bros. I am now free to make my own decisions. I’ve made more money on my own in two years than I did during the entirety of my contract. “

Come Spy with Me (1967), Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon (1967), and The Phantom Gunslinger (1967), a Western for Albert Zugsmith, were not very good (they were all shot in 1967 and came out in 1970).

Donahue reneged on a contract to perform in the play Poor Richard at the Pheasant Run Playhouse in 1967. He was charged with $200,000.


Donahue signed a long-term film and television contract with Universal Studios in 1968. This went on for a year and led to four roles: guest spots on Ironside (1968), The Name of the Game (1968), and The Virginian (1969), as well as a part in the TV movie The Lonely Profession (1969).


In 1968, Donahue declared bankruptcy and ultimately lost his home.”I was living like a movie star but wasn’t being paid like one,” he says. I lived beyond my means, got into serious trouble, and lost everything as a result. I went from living in a beautiful home with a garden and a swimming pool to shabby apartments. “

Donahue later said that he started using drugs and alcohol when he was at the top of his career and got worse as his career went downhill.

I was constantly loaded… I would wake up around 6:30 a.m., consume three aspirins laced with codeine, half a pint of vodka, and four lines of cocaine. That was only done so I could unlock the front door and peek outside to determine if I could face the day. I would lie, steal, and cheat, all the wonderful things that intoxicated individuals do. I was dextrous. No one knew how much I drank at that time. If a bottle was left out on the counter, I would quickly take a sip and replace it.

“I spent a great deal of time judging beauty contests and opening banks during this time,” Donahue said. He also wrote scripts for television under a pseudonym.

Donahue struggled to succeed in an evolving Hollywood. As he stated later, “If you’re the boy next door and you’re supposed to be squeaky clean, all you had to do to become a hippie was let your sideburns grow.” Donahue claims that when he met casting directors, they would ask, “Why don’t you comb your hair?”Why have you grown a moustache? What is the purpose of your beard? ” He also believes that his anti-Vietnam War Democrat status harmed his career because “everyone assumed I was a Republican.”

Under a pseudonym, he penned screenplays and appeared in The Owl and the Pussycat in stock.

Travel to New York.

Donahue relocated from Los Angeles to New York City in 1969. After a few years, he stated:

It took courage to leave Hollywood, but staying would have been worse. I owned a home, seven black Cadillac convertibles, and was divorced twice. I had already turned my back; turning around was simple. It makes no difference whether I have a beard or a crewcut. People respond to me as a result of my humanity. I am aware that I will be rejected by Hollywood, but I don’t communicate with anyone there anyway. My lifestyle is laid-back; I smoke weed and ride bicycles, but I’m neither a drug addict nor a hippie fanatic. Jesus Christ has given me strength, and he is easier to follow than Zen Buddhism. I’m not strung out. I am a professional and reasonable actor.

Donahue appeared on the CBS daytime drama The Secret Storm for six months while in New York. He later referred to the part as “the best part I’ve ever had.”

Donahue’s drug addiction and alcoholism had bankrupted him by this time. He was homeless one summer and lived in Central Park. “There was always someone who could find Troy Donahue amusing,” he says. I would meet them in a park, on the street, at a party, or in bed. One summer, I lived in a bush in Central Park. I carried everything in a backpack.

He was in low-budget movies like “Sweet Savior” in 1971, “The Last Stop” in 1972, and “Seizure,” Oliver Stone’s first film as a director, in 1974.

In 1974, Francis Ford Coppola cast him as Connie Corleone’s fiance in a small role in The Godfather: Part II. Merle Johnson was his character’s name, a reference to Donahue’s real name. Donahue was paid $10,000 for one week of work for the role.

Return to Los Angeles.

Donahue relocated to Los Angeles, where he tied the knot for the fourth time. In 1974, he was in Monte Hellman’s film Cockfighter and filmed South Seas in the Philippines.

He occasionally appeared on television (Ellery Queen, The Hardy Boys, CHiPs) and in whiskey advertisements for the Japanese television market. Donahue said in 1978:

After eight years at Warners, I worked on a few unsuccessful independent films. I traveled, played stickball, got married a few times, and had numerous affairs. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and did the things I never had the opportunity to do as a child. Now that I’ve decided to return to the workforce, I’ve been encouraged by a number of people who believe I have the necessary skills and attributes.

Return to a Summer Place was considered for a TV movie, but it was never produced.

After the dissolution of his fourth marriage in 1981, Donahue decided to seek treatment for his alcoholism and drug abuse. In May of 1982, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, which helped him achieve and maintain sobriety, according to him. He states, “I view my sobriety as a miracle.” “I simply take each day as it comes.” The obsession to abstain from drinking has surpassed the obsession to drink. I am extremely fortunate.

Later ages

Through the 1980s and into the late 1990s, Donahue continued to act in films. He made an appearance in the feature film Grandview, U.S.A.”Teenage girls would swarm around C. Thomas Howell and teenage boys would swarm around Jamie Lee Curtis, but Donahue was the biggest celebrity,” director Randall Kleiser recalls. These women, who had grown up idolizing him, followed him everywhere he went.

However, he never achieved the same level of fame as he did in his early career years. Donahue’s final film role was in Sally Kirkland’s 2000 comedy film The Boys Behind the Desk.

Personal Life

Sean is the only child of Donahue’s four marriages. He married Suzanne Pleshette, with whom he had co-starred in two films. They wed in Beverly Hills on January 5, 1964, and divorced nine months later.

Donahue married actress Valerie Allen on October 21, 1966 in Dublin, Ireland. In November 1968, they divorced after separating in April 1967.

Alma Sharpe, Donahue’s third wife, worked as an executive secretary.They were married in Roanoke, Virginia, on November 15, 1969. “I was incapable of caring for myself, and I knew this friend would take me under her wing,” he explains. They split up in 1972. Donahue’s fourth and final wife was real estate developer Vicki Taylor.They wed in 1979 and were divorced in 1981. Donahue was in a long-term relationship with the mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao, to whom he was engaged and with whom he shared a home in Santa Monica, California, during his final years. In 1969, Donahue had a brief relationship with a woman with whom he had a son, Sean. When he ran into the woman again in the early 1980s, he learned about the son for the first time. As he remembered it in 1984:

She approached me and introduced herself, and I recalled that we had met four or five times in Los Angeles in 1969. Nothing major. For fun and games only. She stated, “I’m glad I saw you. I’ve always wanted to share something with you. Troy, look over there. ” I looked across the room and saw a 13-year-old who resembled my appearance when I was young. She said, “This is your son, Sean.” “He has always known that you are his father.” I now see him every few weeks.

Donahue was imprisoned for 15 days in 1958 for speeding. In 1961, his ex-fiancee, Lili Kardell, filed a lawsuit against him for damages, alleging that he had struck her without provocation.


Donahue suffered a heart attack on August 30, 2001, and was admitted to the Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. Three days later, on September 2, at the age of 65, he passed away.


  • Troy Donahue’s early film roles included “Man of a Thousand Faces,” “Man Afraid,” “The Tarnished Angels,” “The Monolith Monsters,” and “Above All Things.”
  • He appeared in the 1958 crime film “Live Fast, Die Young.” This was followed by roles in “This Happy Feeling,” “Voice in the Mirror,” “Wild Heritage,” “Monster on the Campus,” and “The Perfect Furlough.”
  • In the 1950s, the actor also appeared in a variety of television programs, such as ‘The Californians,’ ‘Wagon Train,’ and ‘Rawhide.’
  • In the 1959 drama film “Imitation of Life,” he played a man who beats up his girlfriend when he discovers that she is partially black, a role for which he received positive reviews. In the same year, he received his big break when he was cast in Warner Bros. ‘A Summer Place.’
  • During the early 1960s, Donahue also had a brief career as a singer and released a handful of songs, including “Somebody Loves Me” and “Live Young.”
  • In 1960, he starred in the disaster movie “The Crowded Sky.” Two years later, he starred in the melodramas Susan Slade and Rome Adventure.
  • In the years following his 1968 contract with Universal Studios, Troy Donahue appeared in Ironside, The Name of the Game, and The Virginian. In 1970, he appeared on the CBS drama series The Secret Storm.
  • During the 1970s, he appeared in numerous low-budget films, such as “The Last Stop” and “Sweet Savior.” The actor had a minor role in ‘The Godfather Part II’ in 1974. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he remained a prominent film actor. His last film appearance was in the 2000 comedy “The Boys Behind the Desk.”

Major Works

  • Troy Donahue starred alongside Lee Patterson, Van Williams, and Diane McBain from 1960 to 1962 in the Warner Bros. television series ‘Surfside 6′ During this time, he also portrayed Parrish McLean in Delmer Daves’ ‘Parrish,’ a film about an independent-minded young man and his ruthless tobacco magnate stepfather.
  • In 1962-1963, Donahue portrayed hotel director Philip Barton in the detective drama ‘Hawaiian Eye’ In key roles, Mel Prestidge, Robert Conrad, and Anthony Eisley also contributed to the success of the production.