Exploitative or empowering? Dr. Phil's interview with Shelley Duvall sparks controversy

On Wednesday afternoon, “The Dr. Phil Show” released a promotional clip for Friday’s episode featuring an interview with a visibly unwell Shelley Duvall.

The actress is famous for her consistent appearances in the films of Robert Altman, specifically as Olive Oyl in Altman’s “Popeye,” as well as her sterling performance in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”

But the Duvall featured in the clip with Dr. Phil McGraw is a far cry from the Duvall that audiences may remember from her film roles. She is disheveled and speaks of suspecting that former “Popeye” costar Robin Williams is not really dead but merely “shapeshifting” and that she has seen him. 

Duvall also tells McGraw that she is being threatened by a man who is “the Sheriff of Nottingham” and that she also believes that there is a whirring disc inside of her. 

By the end of the video, Duvall admits to McGraw that she’s very ill and in need of help, something the good doctor assures her he’s there to provide. 

After the teaser appeared online, many decried the choice to document Duvall’s illness as exploitative.

Vivian Kubrick, daughter of Stanley, posted a letter on Twitter Wednesday night calling McGraw’s choice to proceed with the interview “a form of lurid and exploitative entertainment” that is “appallingly cruel.”

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There is an increasing amount of transparency when it comes to Hollywood and mental illness, but the circumstances leading to McGraw and Duvall’s interview remain unknown, leaving it unclear if the episode is driven by empowerment or exploitation.

Representatives for “The Dr. Phil Show” were not immediately available for comment.

“Dr. Phil” is a syndicated talk show that airs in Los Angeles at 3 p.m. on CBS. Duvall’s interview with McGraw is scheduled to air Friday.

libby.hill@latimes.com

Twitter: @midwestspitfire

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