Troy Donahue was a Hollywood actor who became popular in the ’50s and ’60s. The A Summer Place star later fell into the snares of alcoholism and financial struggles that rendered him homeless at some point. Michael Gregg Michaud in his new book, Inventing Troy Donahue – The Making of a Movie Star explored the life of the actor.
Michaud revealed to Fox News Digital that he decided to write about Donahue because he was fascinated by the life of The Boys Behind the Desk star. “I realized there was no book about Troy Donahue and his life was far more interesting than people even realized,” he told the news outlet. “He achieved a high level of stardom and then almost disappeared. I met him a few times and he was just a lovely, lovely man. And I was interested in how a young actor could undertake a career that blossomed so quickly and then it suddenly ends.”
Troy Donahue’s drinking problem almost ruined his acting career before it started
Donahue while pursuing his acting career moved from New York City to California. He got the opportunity of his life while sitting at The Golden Pheasant in the San Fernando Valley when William Asher, a producer at Columbia Studios offered him a screen test because of his suntanned body.
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However, just before his audition, the late actor got drunk and drove his car 40 feet down into the Malibu Canyon before hitting a tree that prevented the automobile from crashing down the whole 250 feet. Despite sustaining several serious injuries, including two cracked ribs, a bruised spinal cord, a concussion, a cracked kneecap, and a crushed kidney, he managed to survive.
Michaud noted in his book that although Donahue was unable to make his screen test, surprisingly his career did not end. “He, of course, missed his screen test,” the author wrote. “He was more upset about that than his injuries. He slowly, but surely recovered. Then in the summer of 1956, a friend introduced Troy to an actress named Fran Bennett, who was represented by Henry Wilson, a notorious agent. Henry thought Troy would be great and wanted to represent him. Troy went to Universal for a test and he was signed right away. He was just 21 years old.”
Troy Donahue fell from grass to grace and became homeless
The author detailed that by 1969, Donahue’s fame began to dwindle and his contract with studios was terminated. “Diane McBain talked about how they were all cut loose,” Michaud said. “They were terminated from the studio one by one. They had no idea what to do.”
However, the late Donahue made effort to reinvent himself but to no avail. “He did a film called ‘My Blood Runs Cold,’ which was just terrible. It was such a departure from the beautiful blonde, blue-eyed boy at the beach,” the author wrote. “He was trying to transition into other types of roles. He was previously in ‘Palm Springs Weekend,’ which he hated. He objected to it. He called it a ‘beach party movie in the desert.’ He was drunk out of his mind throughout filming. Carole Cook, who was in the picture with him, said he was the most beautiful guy she’s ever seen, but he was bombed from morning ‘til night. Despite all this, he was tired of playing a teenager on spring break, and he did put his foot down. He was suspended immediately. It was the beginning of the end.”
After losing his contract, Donahue fell deeply into drinking, went broke, and lived on the street. “He ended up filing for bankruptcy after his second divorce,” Michaud said. “There was no more work. For six months, Donahue said he lived in a bush in Central Park [in 1970] and kept everything he had in a backpack.”
Troy Donahue makes a spectacular comeback
After years of suffering, one of his former schoolmates, Francis Ford Coppola who was a filmmaker gave him the role of Merle Johnson in his movie, The Godfather Part II. “Coppola heard about what Troy was going through and wanted to help,” Michaud wrote. “He was paid $10,000 for the role. It was a small role, but a memorable one.”
The late actor also decided to sober up by joining Alcoholics Anonymous. This had a positive mark on his life as he transformed himself and his career and this got him more movie roles. “He was very happy. He worked quite a lot. He did mostly direct-to-video, low-budget movies. But he was working again. And he enjoyed his sobriety. He was proud of himself,” the author wrote. “He encouraged people to get a grip if they were having a problem with addiction because he was able to do it. Life for him became very peaceful. After four marriages, he found love with mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao, and they had a quiet life in Santa Monica. Troy even said at one point, ‘I’m really happy to just be Mr. Cao.’… And then he discovered he had a son and a daughter he didn’t know about. They were then introduced to him in his life… I believe he was very happy in the end.”
Sadly, on August 30, 2001, the Cockfighter star had a heart attack that claimed his life three days later at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica where he was admitted.