Also Credited As:Donald Wahlberg, Donald Edmond Wahlberg
|Actor, Writer, Music|
|August 17, 1969|
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Born Donald Edmond Wahlberg, Jr. in the predominately white and Irish Boston suburb of Dorchester, MA, he was the eighth of nine children born to teamster Donald Wahlberg, Sr., and his wife, Alma, a bank clerk and nurse's aide. Music was part of his life from an early age. At 12, he started his first band, and was a staple of the drama club and other performance-based activities in high school. All served well to distract Wahlberg from the turmoil of his home life; his parents divorced when he was 12, and he, along with younger brother Mark, went to live with his mother, while other siblings moved in with their father. While in high school, Wahlberg was persuaded to audition for a new singing group that local impresario Maurice Starr was organizing; Starr had previously struck pay dirt with an all-black R&B group called New Edition, and was looking to repeat the same success with a white lineup. Wahlberg immediately impressed Starr with his abilities, which included singing, rapping, dancing and a stage presence that was well beyond his teenage years. Wahlberg would form the core of what would eventually become New Kids on the Block by recruiting the other members - brother Mark, his friend Danny Wood, classmate Jordan Knight and his brother Jonathan, and Joey McIntyre, who ultimately replaced Mark Wahlberg - and providing the band with its name.
After a slow start, the New Kids eventually became a massive hit with preteen female audiences, who responded with a gospel-like fervor to their squeaky-clean pop harmonies and clean-cut appearances. They would amass three Top Five albums and 10 Top 20 singles over the course of their career, as well as merchandise sales in excess of $400 million. Their time at the top, however, was short-lived; by 1994, the group had shifted their focus to a more urban, hip-hop-driven sound which clashed mightily with the heartthrob persona their fan base had grown to adore. Critical reaction, which had never been less than dismissive, grew virulent in its scorn for the group, and by 1994, they had plummeted from stadium tours to club dates. With the writing more than apparent on the wall, New Kids on the Block disbanded in 1994, with each member seeking their solo fortune in a wide variety of mediums.
Though devoted to the New Kids, Wahlberg in particular always seemed to recoil from their bubble gum image, seeking instead to lend some grit to their stage personas. On occasion, he took the wrong tack in attempting to garner street creed - he was charged with attempted arson after setting fire to a hotel hallway in Kentucky in 1991 - but channeled his frustrations in other venues; most notably as producer and co-writer of brother Mark's own music career as Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, who scored a No. 1 hit with 1991's hit single "Good Vibrations." When Mark Wahlberg eventually switched gears to become a popular model and actor, Donnie followed suit, and made his acting debut in the minor urban crime drama "Bullet" (1996) with Mickey Rourke and Tupac Shakur. Having perfected his stage glower in countless music videos and photo layouts, Wahlberg soon became a go-to for various hoods, street gangsters and other nefarious types.
Most of his early roles were stock characters - a drug dealer in the low-budget horror film "Black Circle Boys" (1997); the repellant, violence-prone Mr. Grey in a TV movie remake of "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" (ABC, 1998). However, Wahlberg occasionally lent an unexpected wrinkle of vulnerability to these roles. In the Mel Gibson thriller "Ransom" (1996), his small time crook, Cubby Barnes, could not bring himself to go along with a vicious kidnap scheme involving Gibson's son, which in effect, spelled his own doom. That degree of humanity served him well in his breakthrough performance in "The Sixth Sense" (1999).
Many moviegoers were shocked to discover that the emaciated, hysterical figure that threatened Bruce Willis at the beginning of the supernatural thriller was Wahlberg, who lost 43 pounds to play the shell-shocked mental patient, Vincent Grey. He received stellar reviews for his performance, which in turn brought more substantial roles his way. Wahlberg soon settled into a blend of his early screen persona with shades of Vincent Grey: men of action and determination who struggled with psychological and emotional wounds. Some of his characters were out-and-out heroes, like the formidable World War II paratrooper Carwood Lipton, whom he portrayed in the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers" (1998), while others were adults in training, like his juvenile gem salesman in the critically acclaimed indie "Diamond Men" (2000), in which he held his own against one of the best character actors in the business, Robert Forster. There were even returns to his "Sixth Sense" character in the form of Duddits, a mentally challenged young man who proved to be the final line of defense against a bizarre alien menace in Lawrene Kasdan's disastrous adaptation of Stephen King's "Dreamcatcher" (2003).
For the most part, though, Wahlberg personified an astonishing number of troubled cops in a wide variety of features and on television series. The best of these was perhaps Los Angeles detective Joel Stevens, whose taciturn exterior concealed his agony over his wife's suicide, in the Emmy-nominated drama, "Boomtown" (NBC, 2002-03) Unfortunately, the series failed to find an audience, so Wahlberg's best-known screen cop became the ill-fated Detective Eric Matthews in "Saw II" (2005), "Saw III" (2006) and "Saw IV" (2007). A rule-breaker with a penchant for violence, Matthews' past indiscretions, which included planting false evidence, landed him on the killer Jigsaw's list of individuals needing a hard lesson in morals. Matthews was kept alive as a lure for other police officers before meeting a grisly fate in the fourth film in the franchise. There were also supporting turns as sturdy lawmen in "Righteous Kill" (2008), where he teamed with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino to track a serial killer, and the little seen but well-received "What Doesn't Kill You" (2009), which brought him back to his native South Boston.
Television soon became Wahlberg's main showcase, affording him larger and even leading roles in projects like "Runaway" (The CW, 2006) and "The Path to 9/11" (ABC, 2006). The former cast him as an attorney falsely accused of a crime who then flees the law with his family in tow, while the latter - a controversial depiction of the political intrigue that led up to the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 - had Wahlberg as a composite of various government agents who pursued Osama bin Laden. He also starred in Spike TV's first dramatic series "The Kill Point" (2007) as a police negotiator dealing with Iraq War vet John Leguizamo as he held hostages during an attempted bank robbery.
In 2008, Wahlberg reunited with the four original members of New Kids on the Block to record a new album and launch a world tour. Previous attempts to bring the group together in 1999 and 2004 had failed due to scheduling conflicts, but Wahlberg threw himself into reuniting with his bandmates after the collapse of his nine-year marriage to Kim Fey, which had produced two children. The resulting album, 2008's The Block, debuted at No. 1 and prompted a world tour that netted $34 million. Though nowhere near the level of popularity they had achieved in their initial run as pop stars, the New Kids proved to be a modest hit with their diehard fans, who returned for subsequent reunion tours in 2010 and 2011. Meanwhile, Wahlberg remained active on television, appearing in three episodes of "Rizzoli & Isles" (TNT, 2010- ) as police detective Angie Harmon's lieutenant and longtime competition, then segueing into a series regular role on the CBS police drama, "Blue Bloods" (2010- ), as a detective whose father (Tom Selleck) and siblings all work in law enforcement.