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Notorious Ladies’ Man Troy Donahue Only Discovered He Was a Father When His Son Was 13 Years Old

Comfort Omovre
Jun 15, 2019
11:09 A.M.
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After years of alcohol addiction and drug abuse, Troy Donahue met his 13-year-old son, whom he did not know existed. Here's a glimpse into the actor's personal life and rise and fall in Hollywood.

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Throughout the '50s and '60s, actor Troy Donahue was the guy every teenage girl dreamed of. He was a good-looking man with blonde hair and blue eyes -- the type that women were easily attracted to.

For a few years, he was a Hollywood star. Although, according to the actor himself, he was never compensated like one. Soon after, his life spiraled down before he pulled himself together and met his child.

Troy Donahue, circa 1960. | Source: Getty Images

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EARLY YEARS

Born Merle Johnson in New York City, Donahue aspired to be a Hollywood actor. His mother was a stage actress who opened the world of acting to her son. Donahue previously shared:

"I can remember always being exposed to Broadway and theater people. I can remember sitting with Gertrude Lawrence while she read her reviews in 'The King and I.'"

Donahue took up journalism at Columbia University and played in stock productions. By the time he made his on-screen debut, Donahue already had a name change engineered by his agent and studio executives. 

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Troy Donahue posing by a car in 1956 in California. | Source: Getty Images

"At first, they had Paris, the lover of Helen of Troy in mind. But I guess they thought they couldn't name me Paris Donahue because there was already a Paris, France and Paris, Illinois," he said.

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In 1957, Donahue made his film debut in "Man Afraid," but it wasn't until two years later that he signed with Warner Bros. and starred in "A Summer Place" -- the movie that launched him into stardom. Donahue played the nice boy who got a woman pregnant in the film.

Three years after that interview, in 2001, he died of a heart attack at the John Hospital and Health Center at the age of 65.

After his breakthrough role, Donahue was often cast as the good guy and paired with blonde women. Despite becoming a teen heartthrob, Donahue did not earn like one. "I was living like a movie star but wasn't being paid like one," he revealed. "I lived way over my head and got into great trouble." 

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Troy Donahue and Angie Dickinson at the Golden Globe Awards, Hollywood, California, on March 8, 1960. | Source: Getty Images

DONAHUE SPIRALS DOWN

In the years that followed, Donahue married four times. His first wife was Suzanne Pleshette, followed by Valerie Allen, Alma Sharpe, and Vicky Taylor, all of which ended with a divorce. The once-beloved actor also became an alcoholic and drug addict as his career slowly crashed. He recalled:

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"I was loaded all the time. I'd wake up about 6:30 in the morning, take three aspirins mixed with codeine, slug down half a pint of vodka, and then do four lines of cocaine."

Admittedly, he would never be drunk on set. However, he would have a little energy boost in his trailer without anyone knowing of his vices. His alcoholism, however, had nothing to do with his career.

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According to the actor, he began drinking in seventh grade while studying for an exam. Soon, it became a habit that nearly destroyed his life. At one point, Donahue lived in a Central Park bush and kept his belongings in a backpack.

When his fourth marriage left him shattered, he decided it was time to put his life in order. So in May of 1982, he sought professional help to get sober. He shared:

"I look upon my sobriety as a miracle. I simply do it one day at a time. The obsession to not drink has become as big as the obsession to drink. I was very fortunate."

Troy Donahue during a luncheon honoring actress Beverly Garland January 19, 2001 in Los Angeles, CA. | Source: Getty Images

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MEETING HIS SON

Shortly after reaching sobriety, the actor received the biggest surprise of his life when a woman he once knew in Los Angeles walked up to him and told him something that would change his life.

Donahue recalled how he spent a few times with her, so when she pointed at a 13-year-old sitting across from where they stood and informed the "Parrish" actor that the boy — Sean — is his son, he believed.

However, there is another reason why the actor didn't doubt her words; the "A Summer Place" star said he looked at the boy and saw an image of himself at that age. It turned out that little Sean always knew that Donahue was his father.

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Troy Donahue posing for a studio shot. | Source: YouTube/Most Actors and Actress Hollywood

The two hit it off, and there was no awkwardness between father and son. Sean's mother never asked for child support, and the actor got to see him as often as he could. Donahue could not meet his son earlier because he had been battling drug and alcohol addiction for two decades.

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Having a son may have come as a surprise to some who heard of Donahue's sexuality rumors. However, he admitted that he was a straight man. He said:

"I love women. Sometimes, I guess too much."

HIS DEATH AND CAREER

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The "Rome Adventure" star lost his career to his addictions. Still, after getting sober, he was able to find jobs in musicals like "Bye-Bye Birdie" but never resumed his outstanding career. He appeared in low-budget films like "Cry-Baby," "Bad Blood," and "Assault of the Party Nerds."

In '98, Donahue said in an interview that he was not worried about not having roles in movies, as he saw his career at an end. The New York native also saw himself as a good actor contrary to the negative opinions of critics.

Three years after that interview, in 2001, he died of a heart attack at the John Hospital and Health Center at 65. Donahue never returned to his vices, and in the end, he was a healthy man who exercised often and still had a close relationship with the son he met after fixing his life. 

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It seems that other teen heartthrobs also went through the same challenges after fame. One of them is Montgomery Clift, who struggled with addiction while keeping his sexuality a secret from the world.

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