Brian Donahue

Year of Graduation: 
Actor and stuntman Brian Donahue

“People used to say to me, ‘You get beat all the time.’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, but you watched it, didn’t you?’”

On an average day, Brian Donahue ’81 goes to work expecting to be thrown down a flight of stairs, jump from a moving vehicle or dive out of a burning building. For the New York City-based stuntman and actor, it’s all part of the job. 

With his 6-foot-4, 285-pound frame and even thicker Boston accent, Donahue effortlessly inhabits “tough guy” characters, often with one thing in common — a sensational demise. “It rarely ends well for me,” he says with a laugh that instantly softens his gruff exterior. 

Donahue’s path to his current career began in his home state of Massachusetts, where he was an accomplished shot-putter at Archbishop Williams High School. Noting his talent, Donahue’s coach recommended he consider a postgraduate year at Exeter to train under legendary track and field coach Ralph Lovshin. The pair hit it off and set to work in the Thompson Cage, combining weight lifting and throwing exercises with some of Lovshin’s more unorthodox methods. “One day he said, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you, the maintenance guys found this.’ And he rolled out a 25-pound cannonball,” Donahue recalls. “When I went back to throwing the 12-pound shot, I could barely feel it.” 

Donahue capped a successful season by traveling to Naperville, Illinois, to compete in the high school national championship. There, he took home first place with a throw of 66 feet 1 inch and a track and field scholarship from the University of Texas.

In his sophomore year at Texas, Donahue doubled up in his athletic pursuits, playing on the defensive line for the Longhorns football team. After two years of school, he left Austin and returned to the Northeast to train with Olympic throwing coach Tony Naclerio. Next came stints with the NFL’s New York Jets and Green Bay Packers, and then the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts. Ultimately, injuries forced him to look for a new livelihood off the field. 

While Donahue was working a factory job in New York, a co-worker with ties to the professional wrestling world suggested he give wrestling a try. With his natural athleticism and gift of gab, it wasn’t long before he, as his character the Dublin Destroyer, was being booked in matches for the biggest name in the industry — the World Wrestling Federation. 

In wrestling, Donahue found a place where he could utilize his strength and agility while learning how to be a performer. Despite his less-than-stellar win-loss record, he relished the opportunity to entertain packed arenas and an international television audience. “People used to say to me, ‘You get beat all the time.’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, but you watched it, didn’t you?’”

Actor and stuntman Brian Donahue

Donahue went on to accept a position at Walt Disney World, performing in the live-action Indiana Jones show, where he further refined his acting chops. 

In search of more regular work in television and film, Donahue, his wife, Lori, and the couple’s daughter returned to New York, where he booked jobs on TV staples like “Law & Order,” “Blue Bloods” and “The Sopranos.” He also landed a role on the “Late Show with David Letterman” in a recurring sketch that found him roughing up unsuspecting announcer Alan Kalter. Soon he became known as “the guy,” a name bestowed upon him by Letterman and the title of a recently released documentary short about Donahue’s life. 

Donahue continues to work as a stuntman and actor, but jokes about how he’s noticed his roles changing as he ages. “They must think I’m getting older because I started out a couple of shows already dead this year,” he says with a chuckle.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the winter 2020 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.