Troy Donahue

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Troy Donahue
TROY donahue 1999.jpg
Donahue in 1999
Born Merle Johnson, Jr.
(1936-01-27)January 27, 1936
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died September 2, 2001(2001-09-02) (aged 65)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Heart attack
Alma mater Columbia University
Occupation Actor, singer
Years active 1957–2000
Spouse(s) Suzanne Pleshette (m. 1964; div. 1964)
Valerie Allen (m. 1966; div. 1968)
Alma Sharpe (m. 1969; div. 1972)
Vicki Taylor (m. 1979; div. 1981)
Partner(s) Zheng Cao
Children 1

Troy Donahue (January 27, 1936 – September 2, 2001) was an American film and television actor and singer. Donahue became a popular male sex symbol of the 1950s and 1960s.

Early years[edit]

Born Merle Johnson, Jr. in New York City, Donahue was initially a journalism student at Columbia University in New York City before he decided to become an actor.[1] After moving to Hollywood at the age of 19, he was signed by Rock Hudson's agent, Henry Willson. It was Willson who changed Johnson's name to Troy Donahue.[2]


Donahue established himself with uncredited roles in The Monolith Monsters and Man Afraid in 1957, leading to larger parts in several films. Donahue starred in Monster on the Campus, Live Fast, Die Young, and The Tarnished Angels, all in 1958, and opposite fellow teen idol Sandra Dee in A Summer Place in 1959. His role in A Summer Place made him a major star, especially among teenaged audiences. He signed a contract with Warner Bros. and played several successive leading roles in films such as Parrish, Susan Slade, Rome Adventure, Palm Springs Weekend, and A Distant Trumpet. Two of these films co-starred Suzanne Pleshette, whom he married in 1964, but divorced that same year. In 1963, exhibitors voted him the 20th most popular star in the USA.[3]

Donahue with show-girl Margarita Sierra in the ABC/Warner Brothers television series, Surfside 6 (1961)

From 1960 to 1962, Donahue starred with Van Williams, Lee Patterson, Diane McBain, and Margarita Sierra in the ABC/WB series, Surfside 6, set in Miami Beach, Florida.[2] After Surfside 6 was canceled, Donahue joined the cast of another ABC/WB detective series, Hawaiian Eye for its last season from 1962 to 1963 in the role of hotel director Philip Barton, with Robert Conrad and Connie Stevens in the series lead. Donahue also had a brief tenure as a recording artist at the height of his fame in the early 1960s, releasing a handful of singles for Warner Bros. records, including "Live Young" and "Somebody Loves Me." However, none of his recordings entered the Billboard Hot 100 list.

Later years[edit]

In 1965, Donahue was cast as a psychopathic killer opposite Joey Heatherton in My Blood Runs Cold. While Donahue was happy to break type and play a different type of role, it was not well received by the public. His contract with Warner Bros. ended shortly thereafter. Donahue later admitted that he began abusing drugs and alcohol at the peak of his career and increased usage after his career began to wane. He also suffered from financial difficulties and lost his home. In 1969, Donahue moved from Los Angeles to New York City. There, he appeared in the daytime CBS drama The Secret Storm for six months. By this time, Donahue's drug addiction and alcoholism had ruined him financially. One summer, he was homeless and lived in Central Park. In 1974, Francis Ford Coppola cast him in a small part in The Godfather Part II as the fiancé of Connie Corleone. His character was name Merle Johnson, a nod to Donahue's real name. Donahue was paid $10,000 for the role. He moved back to Los Angeles where he married for a fourth time. Donahue acted in occasional television guest spots and appeared in whiskey commercials for the Japanese television market. After his fourth marriage ended in 1981, Donahue decided to seek help for his drinking and drug use.[4] In May 1982, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous which he credited for helping him achieve and maintain sobriety.[5]

Donahue continued to act in films throughout the 1980s and into the late 1990s but never obtained the recognition that he had in the earlier years of his career.[6] Donahue's final film role was in the 2000 comedy film The Boys Behind the Desk, directed by Sally Kirkland.

Personal life[edit]

Donahue was married four times and had one child. His first marriage was to actress Suzanne Pleshette whom he married on January 5, 1964 in Beverly Hills.[7] They divorced in September 1964.[5] On October 21, 1966, Donahue married actress Valerie Allen in Dublin, Ireland.[8] They separated in April 1967 and divorced in November 1968.[9]

Donahue's third marriage was to executive secretary Alma Sharpe. They married on November 15, 1969 in Roanoke, Virginia.[10] They divorced in 1972.[4] Donahue's fourth and final marriage was to land developer Vicki Taylor. They were married in 1979 and divorced in 1981.[4] In his final years, Donahue was in a long-term relationship with mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao to whom he was engaged and lived with in Santa Monica, California.[6][2]

Donahue had one son, Sean, whom he had with a woman he had a brief relationship with in 1969.[4]


On August 30, 2001, Donahue suffered a heart attack and was admitted to Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica. He died there on September 2 at the age of 65.[5][2]


Year Title Role Notes
1957 Man Afraid Reporter Uncredited
1957 Man of a Thousand Faces Assistant Director in Bullpen Uncredited
1957 The Tarnished Angels Frank Burnham
1957 The Monolith Monsters Hank Jackson Uncredited
1958 Flood Tide Teenager at Beach Uncredited
1958 Summer Love Sax Lewis
1958 Live Fast, Die Young Artie Sanders/Artie Smith
1958 This Happy Feeling Tony Manza
1958 Voice in the Mirror Paul Cunningham
1958 Wild Heritage Jesse Bascomb
1958 The Perfect Furlough Sgt. Nickles
1958 Monster on the Campus Jimmy Flanders
1959 Imitation of Life Frankie
1959 A Summer Place Johnny Hunter
1960 The Crowded Sky McVey
1961 Parrish Parrish McLean
1961 Road to Zanzibar Donna Latour
1961 Susan Slade Hoyt Brecker
1962 Rome Adventure Don Porter
1963 Palm Springs Weekend Jim Munroe
1964 A Distant Trumpet 2nd Lt. Matthew 'Matt' Hazard
1965 My Blood Runs Cold Ben Gunther
1967 Come Spy with Me Pete Barker
1967 Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon Gaylord Alternative title: Those Fantastic Flying Fools
1970 The Phantom Gunslinger Bill
1971 Sweet Savior Moon Alternative title: Frenetic Party
1972 The Last Stop Sheriff
1974 Seizure Mark Frost
1974 Cockfighter Randall Mansfield
1974 South Seas Steve
1974 The Godfather: Part II Merle Johnson
1977 The Legend of Frank Woods Sheriff John Baxom
1977 Ultraje
1983 Tin Man Lester
1984 Katy the Caterpillar Walla (Voice) English-dubbed version
1984 Grandview, U.S.A. Donny Vinton
1986 Low Blow John Templeton Alternative title: The Last Fight to Win: The Bloody End
1987 Fight to Win Rosenberg Alternative titles: Dangerous Passages
Eyes of the Dragon
1987 Cyclone Bob Jenkins
1987 Hyôryu kyôshitsu Taggart English title: The Drifting Classroom
1987 Hollywood Cop Lt. Maxwell
1987 Deadly Prey Don Michaelson
1988 Hard Rock Nightmare Uncle Gary
1988 Hawkeye Mayor Alternative title: Karate Cops
1989 Blood Nasty Barry Hefna
1989 The Chilling Dr. Miller
1989 Deadly Spygames Python
1989 The Platinum Triangle Harold Farber
1989 Assault of the Party Nerds Sid Witherspoon Direct-to-video release
1989 American Rampage Police Psychiatrist
1989 Dr. Alien Dr. Ackerman
1989 Terminal Force Slim
1989 Sounds of Silence Larry Haughton
1989 Bad Blood Jack Barnes
1989 Hot Times at Montclair High Mr. Nichols
1990 Sexpot Phillip
1990 Click: The Calendar Girl Killer Alan
1990 Cry-Baby Hatchet's Father
1990 Omega Cop Slim
1990 Nudity Required Jack Alternative title: Young Starlet
1991 Shock 'Em Dead Record Exec
1991 Deadly Diamonds Matt Plimpton Direct-to-video release
1992 Double Trouble Leonard
1992 The Pamela Principle Troy
1993 Showdown
1998 Merchants of Venus FBI Agent Alternative title: A Dirty Little Business
2000 The Boys Behind the Desk
Year Title Role Notes
1958 Man Without a Gun Jan Episode: "Night of Violence"
1958 The Californians Episode: "A Girl Named Sue"
1959 Rawhide Buzz Travis Episode: "Incident at Alabaster Plain"
1959 Wagon Train Ted Garner Segment: "The Hunter Malloy Story"
1959 Tales of Wells Fargo Smith Episode: "The Rawhide Kid"
1959 Maverick Dan Jamison Episode: "Pappy"
1959 Sugarfoot Ken Savage Episode: "The Wild Bunch"
1959 Colt .45 James 'Jim' Gibson Episode: "The Hothead"
1959 Bronco Roy Parrott
Bart Bonner
2 episodes
1959 The Alaskans Ted Andrews Episode: "Heart of Gold"
1959-1963 Hawaiian Eye Philip Barton 26 episodes
1960 Lawman David Manning Episode: "The Payment"
1960-1961 77 Sunset Strip Star Bright
Sandy Winfield I
2 episodes
1960-1962 Surfside 6 Sandy Winfield II 71 episodes
1965 The Patty Duke Show Dr. Morgan Episode: "Operation: Tonsils"
1968 Ironside Father Dugan 2 episodes
1968 The Name of the Game Norman Hoak Episode: "Nightmare"
1969 The Virginian Bracken Episode: "Fox, Hound and the Widow McCloud"
1969 The Lonely Profession Julian Thatcher Television movie
1970 The Secret Storm R.B. Keefer Unknown episodes
1976 Ellery Queen Gilbert Mallory Episode: "The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario"
1977 The Godfather Saga Merle Johnson Miniseries
1978 The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries Alan Summerville Episode: "Mystery on the Avalanche Express"
1978 CHiPs Bob Niles Episode: "Peaks and Valleys"
1978 Vega$ Teddy Howard Episode: "The Games Girls Play"
1978 The Eddie Capra Mysteries Episode: "Dying Declaration"
1978-1981 Fantasy Island Jack Terry
Wallis Jaeger
2 episodes
1980 The Love Boat Mr. Clark Episode: "Tell Her She's Great..."
1982 Matt Houston William 'Willie' Hoyt Episode: "Joey's Here"
1983 Malibu Clint Redman Television movie
1990 Monsters Episode: "Micro Minds"
1998 Legion Flemming Television movie
1999 Shake, Rattle and Roll: An American Love Story Rob Kamen Miniseries

In popular culture[edit]

  • Troy Donahue was one of the inspirations for The Simpsons character Troy McClure, along with Doug McClure and a measure of the character's voice actor Phil Hartman.[11]
  • Donahue is mentioned in the song "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee", from the 1971 musical Grease, reflecting his status as a teen idol at the time in which the action is set. The line, which is performed by Stockard Channing in the 1978 film version, is as follows: "As for you, Troy Donahue, I know what you want to do."[12]
  • Donahue is also mentioned in the song "Mother" in the musical A Chorus Line, when the character Bobby sings, "If Troy Donahue could be a movie star, then I could be a movie star."[12]


  1. ^ Ferguson, Michael S. (2003). Idol Worship: A Shameless Celebration of Male Beauty in the Movies. STARbooks Press. p. 139. ISBN 1-891-85548-4. 
  2. ^ a b c d Bridges, Andrew (September 2, 2001). "Actor Troy Donahue dead of heart attack at ae 65". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 2A. Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  3. ^ 'Doris Day Heads Top 10' The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) [Washington, D.C] January 14, 1964: A27.
  4. ^ a b c d Stark, John (August 13, 1984). "After 20 Years Awash in Booze and Drugs, Troy Donahue Prizes His Sobering Discoveries". Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Donnelley, Paul (2003). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Music Sales Group. p. 215. ISBN 0-711-99512-5. 
  6. ^ a b Emory, Alan (August 30, 1997). "Troy Donahue at 61: still blonde, now sober". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. pp. C–7. Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Troy Donahue, Actress Wed". The Pittsburgh Press. January 5, 1964. p. 16. Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Hound Wedding Star". The Evening Independent. October 22, 1966. pp. 16–A. Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Divorces Donahue". The Free Lance-Star. November 16, 1968. p. 2. Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Actor Tory Donahue Marries T.V. Secretary". St. Petersburg Times. November 20, 1969. pp. 2–A. Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  11. ^ The Simpsons Season 2 DVD, Episode: Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment
  12. ^ a b Filichia, Peter (2010). Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit and the Biggest Flop of the Season, 1959 to 2009. p. 98. ISBN 1-423-49562-4. 

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