Who Is Donnie Wahlberg?
In 1984, Donnie Wahlberg auditioned for music producer Maurice Starr, who immediately enlisted Wahlberg to form the centerpiece of New Kids on the Block. In 1994 the group parted ways. Wahlberg then decided to try acting. He first gained notice as an actor with his role in the 1999 movie The Sixth Sense. In 2008 New Kids on the Block, now known as NKOTB, reunited. The group went on tour with Boyz II Men and 98 Degrees in 2013.
Early Life and Siblings
Donnie Wahlberg was born Donald Edmond Wahlberg Jr. on August 17, 1969, in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up in a predominantly Irish-American neighborhood of the city. He was the eighth of nine children; his younger sibling, Mark Wahlberg, is also a famous entertainer. Wahlberg's mother, Alma Wahlberg, worked as a nurse's assistant at nearby St. Margaret Hospital, and his father, Donald Wahlberg, was a truck driver and active member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters labor union. With so many children to provide for, the Wahlbergs were often strapped for cash. Wahlberg's mother recalled, "When I think about it now, I realize how hard it was, but back then we never even realized it! We thought everyone had all these kids, everyone lived like this."
Though the family was extraordinarily close, attending church together every Sunday, arguments among siblings were frequent. Donnie was looked to as the family peacemaker. "We'd fight over clothes, or who had the prettier girlfriend, which of us was the best athlete, stuff like that," he later recalled.
In the 1970s, when Donnie Wahlberg began elementary school, Boston was embroiled in fierce controversy over the mandatory busing of schoolchildren to enforce the desegregation of public schools. But busing put Wahlberg's life on a course toward fame and success. Wahlberg was bused more than half an hour each way to William Monroe Trotter School, a mostly Black elementary school in Roxbury. On those long bus rides, and at Trotter School, Wahlberg developed a deep affection for the soul and rap music popular among his Black friends.
Wahlberg's musical idol was Michael Jackson, and he taught himself the moonwalk and saved his allowance to buy a red leather jacket like the one Jackson wore in the iconic "Thriller" music video. Soon Wahlberg and Danny Wood, a friend also being bused to Roxbury, began spending their afternoons composing rap lyrics instead of their homework. "Being bused to school in Roxbury was the greatest thing that ever happened to us," Wahlberg later remembered.
Wahlberg's parents divorced when he was 12 years old, and he and Mark went to live with their mother while the rest of their siblings either moved in with their father or were already out on their own as young adults. Donnie and his friend Danny Wood advanced together to Copley High School, where they formed a rap group named the Kool Aid Bunch. They kept up rapping, Wahlberg says, "not because we thought we'd be rap or dance stars someday, but just because it was really fun and we loved the girls screaming for us at parties."
New Kids on the Block
In 1984, at the age of 15, Donnie's friends persuaded him to audition for well-known music producer Maurice Starr. Starr was holding open auditions to create a new boy band of white teenagers to mirror the success of his other band, the all African American R&B group New Edition. After watching hundreds of auditions, Starr was amazed by Wahlberg's combination of singing, dancing and rapping talent, and immediately enlisted him to form the centerpiece of the new group. Wahlberg quickly recruited brother Mark and Danny Wood, as well as another friend, Jordan Knight, and Knight's older brother, Jonathan.
However, unhappy with the band's pop-friendly artistic direction, Mark soon left the group and was replaced by another friend, Jaime Kelly. Starr didn't like Kelly's style, however, and soon replaced him with his own recruit, Joey McIntyre, to form the group's definitive lineup. They eventually decided to call themselves New Kids on the Block, a name taken from one of Donnie's rap lyrics. New Kids on the Block signed with Columbia Records and released their self-titled debut album in 1986. The group's first single, "Be My Girl," received almost no airplay outside of Boston, and album sales were abysmal.
With their first album a failure, the band returned to the studio with Starr, and two years later released a second album, Hangin' Tough. After a slow start, during which it appeared that the new album would go as unnoticed as its predecessor, the album's lead single, "Please Don't Go Girl," began receiving significant airplay — at first in Boston only, and then nationally. "Please Don't Go Girl" peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Singles chart.
New Kids on the Block followed up with two even more successful singles: "You Got It (The Right Stuff)," which peaked at No. 3, and "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)," which became the act's first No. 1 single. By late 1989, Hangin' Tough was the No. 1 album in the country. After a successful holiday album in 1990, New Kids on the Block released a third full studio album, Step by Step, which also reached No. 1 on the Billboard Charts, boosted by the hit singles "Step by Step" and "Tonight." For a time, New Kids on the Block was the most popular and lucrative musical act in America.
After spending several years out of the limelight, in 1994, the group shortened its name to NKOTB, parted ways with Starr, and released a new album, Face the Music, featuring a harder and more aggressive sound. Despite a fairly positive critical reception, the album performed poorly; since the band's heyday, musical tastes had shifted toward harder-edged grunge rock and gangster acts, and NKOTB's bubble-gum image proved a tough sell. Later in 1994, the group parted ways.
Movies and TV
Instead of pursuing a solo music career, Donnie decided to follow in the footsteps of his younger brother, Mark, by trying his hand at acting. At first, he landed only bit parts as drug dealers or other tough-guy types in films such as Ransom (1996) and Black Circle Boys (1997), but Wahlberg really gained notice as an actor in 1999 with an astonishing performance as the deranged ex-patient who threatens Bruce Willis in the acclaimed film The Sixth Sense. Wahlberg lost 43 pounds for the role, and audiences were shocked to discover that the emaciated, hysterical figure was the same clean-cut Donnie Wahlberg from New Kids on the Block.
Since then, Wahlberg has enjoyed a steady and successful acting career, with credits including Band of Brothers (2001), Saw II (2005) and Blue Bloods (2010), also starring Tom Selleck.
NKOTB Reunion & Recent Years
In 2008 Donnie rejoined former members of New Kids on the Block for a reunion album, The Block, which — like the group's previous projects — reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The band backed the album with a world tour, and though they weren't nearly as popular as they had been two decades before, New Kids on the Block again achieved success by reconnecting with their long-lost diehard fans.
In the summer of 2013, Wahlberg performed with the rest of NKOTB on the Package Tour to support their new album, 10. The tour also featured fellow boy bands 98 Degrees and Boyz II Men.
Donnie and Mark's 'Wahlburgers'
Along with brothers Mark and Paul, the eldest of the young Wahlberg men, Donnie Wahlberg generated buzz in January 2014 with the premiere of a new reality series airing on A+E. Highlighting the Bostonian family's hamburger joint in Hingham, Massachusetts, Wahlburgers — where Paul serves as head chef — and shedding light on the siblings' relationships and personalities, the show quickly garnered acclaim from both fans and critics, earning praise for being unlike anything any of the Wahlberg boys had done previously.
Wife and Kids
Wahlberg married Kim Fey in 1999; after nine years together, the couple divorced in 2008. They have two sons, Xavier and Elijah. In 2013 Wahlberg began dating TV personality Jenny McCarthy. McCarthy announced their engagement on The View in April 2014 and the couple wed in August.
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