ACTOR Troy Donahue, blue-eyed '60s teen heartthrob, dead of heart attack at 65

Monday, September 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Actor Troy Donahue, a blond, blue-eyed heartthrob of the 1950s and '60s who starred in teen romances like ``A Summer Place'' and ``Parrish,'' has died. He was 65.

Donahue died Sunday at St. John's Hospital and Medical Center in Santa Monica after suffering a heart attack on Thursday, said family friend Bob Palmer.

The actor played Sandra Dee's young lover in 1959's ``A Summer Place,'' a role that made him a teen matinee star.

``He was a good-looking, blond guy who looked great on the beach,'' Palmer said. ``He was a little more moody _ he wasn't a gee-whiz guy. His character was more the brooding youth, but with heroic underpinnings.''

Donahue went on to star in a series of teen romances, including ``Parrish'' (1961), ``Rome Adventure'' (1962) and ``Palm Springs Weekend (1963).

Donahue was born Merle Johnson Jr. on Jan. 27, 1936, according to a Warner Bros. studio biography from 1960. His father headed the motion picture division of General Motors Corp and his mother was an aspiring actress.

The New York City native moved at 19 to Hollywood, where he was discovered by Warner Bros. The release of ``A Summer Place'' made him for a time the studio's top fan-mail draw.

``They'd ask me to light a cigarette and when I did, they screamed and fell down,'' Donahue said of his fans in an interview with The Associated Press a year after the film's release.

During his heyday, Donahue split his time between the movies and television, appearing in ABC's detective series ``Surfside Six.'' He was given his screen moniker by Henry Willson, the same film agent who named Rock Hudson.

``It was part of me 10 minutes after I got it. It feels so natural, I jump when people call me by my old name. Even my mother and sister call me Troy now,'' he told AP.

By the late 1960s, the studios stopped making the kind of teen films that propelled Donahue to stardom. He had a bit part in 1974's ``Godfather, Part II,'' playing a character called Merle Johnson. But with his career in decline, Donahue began abusing drugs and alcohol, even spending a summer homeless in New York's Central Park. He became sober by the early 1980s.

``I realized that I was going to die, and I was dying _ or worse than that, I might live the way I was I was living for the rest of my life,'' Donahue said at the time.

``He had some adversity in his life and challenged it all,'' actress Connie Stevens, who appeared with him in three movies, said on CNN Sunday.

He became sober by the early 1980s and has had bit parts since then, including in director John Waters' 1990 film, ``Cry-Baby.''

Donahue was married at least four times, including to actress Suzanne Pleshette.

He is survived by a sister and two children. At the time of his death he lived in Santa Monica with his fiancee, mezzo soprano Zheng Cao, Palmer said.