Patty Duke, like so many child actors before and after, lived her life in the public eye. That spotlight brought to focus her most private struggles as she became a powerful advocate for mental illness awareness in addition to being a gifted actress.
Duke died early Tuesday morning in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, of “sepsis from a ruptured intestine,” according to a statement from her manager. She was 69 years old.
In 1963, when she was just 16, she became the youngest person at the time to win an Oscar for supporting actress for her portrayal of Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker,” a role she originated on Broadway.
“I don’t think it will change things for me,” the starlet told The Times after she won. “I’m still just one of the kids.”
Patty Duke, left, as young Helen Keller, with Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan in 1962’s "The Miracle Worker.”(Los Angeles Times)
Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft in the 1962 film “The Miracle Worker.”(Los Angeles Times)
Patty Duke, 16, poses with her Oscar and her lucky Chihuahua in April 1963.(R.L. Oliver / Los Angeles Times)
Patty Duke and Ed Begley congratulate each other on winning Oscars for supporting actress and actor on April 9, 1963. The 16-year-old Duke was honored for her performance in "The Miracle Worker."(Los Angeles Times)
“The Patty Duke Show” ran on ABC from Sept. 18, 1963, to April 27, 1966. The show was created as a vehicle for rising star Patty Duke, who played both Patty Lane and Cathy Lane. A total of 104 episodes were produced, most written by Sidney Sheldon.(Handout)
Patty Duke went dark in the 1967 drug drama “Valley of the Dolls,” based on the novel by Jacqueline Susann.()
Patty Duke at a 1968 photo shoot in Central Park for her album, “Time To Move On (Patty Duke Sings Folk Songs).”(Real Gone Music)
Barbara Parkins, from left, Lee Grant and Patty Duke, from the 1967 film “Valley of the Dolls,” reunited in New York in 2000 for a screening and discussion of the movie.(Richard Drew / Associated Press)
Patty Duke and Ronny Cox star in the 2000 TV movie “Love Lessons.”(Chris Helcermanas-Berge / CBS)
In 2001, Patty Duke was reunited with son Mackenzie Astin, playing the mother of his character on an episode of the USA series “First Years.”(Scott Humbert / USA TV)
Patty Duke was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles on Aug. 17, 2004.(Damian Dovarganes / AP)
In this March 23, 2010, file photo, Patty Duke appears during a news conference at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills.(Damian Dovarganes / AP)
The truth was more complicated.
Duke’s life was marked with both success and struggle. Her earliest years were marred by an alcoholic father and a violently depressive mother. From the time she was 8, Duke was raised by talent managers John and Ethel Ross. In her memoir “Call Me Anna,” Duke revealed that the Rosses left her little control over her career or life and began supplying her with alcohol and prescription medication when she was 13.
Undeterred by the challenges of her upbringing, Duke continued to find success through her craft. After her Oscar win for “The Miracle Worker,” Duke told The Times, “It seems like a dream. I’m still not sure if it happened. When they announced it, I just sat there. I couldn’t move.”
Despite her early success in “The Miracle Worker,” Duke’s film career faltered, leading her instead to conquer the small screen with her own show. Duke debuted on “The Patty Duke Show” in 1963, in which she played both main characters Patricia “Patty” Lane, all-American teenager, and Catherine “Cathy” Lane, her identical cousin from Scotland.
“Patty was very embarrassing to me,” the actress told The Times in 2013. “They would write those outrageous things for her to do. I would dive in and do it, but I couldn’t wait to get to Cathy. She was sensible, and I’d like to think she was classy.”
Duke eventually found peace with her struggle playing TV’s famous cousins, she told The Times in 2002.
“When you walk down the street and a total stranger sings a 40-year-old theme to you, you go, ‘Someone was paying attention.’ I love it! Strangers nod and smile or call out, ‘I love you,’ ” Duke said. “What a nice way to go through life.”
Later, Duke would discover her passion for mental illness awareness advocacy, a quest that rose out of her own diagnosis with bipolar disorder in 1982. Duke credited medication and therapy for aiding her recovery; she was the first celebrity, via her 1987 autobiography, to make her struggle with bipolar disorder public.
The actress had said she was grateful for her close relationships with son and “The Lord of the Rings” star Sean Astin, 45, and his actor brother, Mackenzie Astin, 42, despite the rough childhood to which she subjected them before her illness was diagnosed. Her family called her Anna Banana. After Sean had his own children, she became Nana Anna Banana.
“I had no patience,” she admitted to The Times. “The thing that these kids had going against them was that you never knew when what was all hunky-dory was going to fly out the window and you were going to be screamed at and berated and either ostracized or made to do some humiliating punishment.”
Now her son Sean hopes his mother’s mental health advocacy continues after her death.
“Before the suffering became too great, we talked about how the core mission of her mental health work might continue beyond her life,” Sean said in the introduction to a newly launched Crowdrise campaign in his mother’s honor, the proceeds of which will be used to establish the Patty Duke Mental Health Initiative, dedicated to continuing support of mental health programs.
Of his mother, Sean said, “She became a voice for the voiceless, a reassuring presence for the scared, the intimidated and the lost. She was a healer of many souls and a champion for so many in need.”
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