Matinee idol, screen icon Donahue dies

'A Summer Place' role marked actor's flight to stardom

HOLLYWOOD — Troy Donahue, a heartthrob actor who climbed to stardom in the 1950s with his role in “A Summer Place,” died Sunday. He was 65.

Donahue suffered a massive heart attack Thursday and died Sunday morning at Saint John’s Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., said Bob Palmer, a family friend and the actor’s publicist.

Born Merle Johnson Jr. in New York City, the blond, blue-eyed Donahue was a journalism student at Columbia University when he began his acting career.

His debut in the 1957 film “Man Afraid” was followed by another half-dozen films before Donahue signed with Warner Bros. and starred as Sandra Dee’s young lover in “Summer Place” in 1959.

He soon became a teenage heartthrob, appearing in such films as “Parrish” (1961) and “My Blood Runs Cold” (1964).

Around the same time, he also enjoyed success on the small screen, appearing on “Surfside 6” (1960-62) and “Hawaiian Eye” (1962-63).

His career struggled after his contract with Warner Bros. ended in 1966. He appeared in “The Godfather, Part II” in 1974, in the bit part of a playboy named Merle Johnson.

By the late 1980s, Donahue was appearing in mostly low-budget movies like “Bad Blood” (1989), “Assault of the Party Nerds” (1989) and “Cry-Baby” (1990).

He is survived by a son and a daughter and by his longtime companion and fiancee, Zheng Cao, an opera singer.

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