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Beverly Hills News – Academy Award Winning Actress Patty Duke Dead at 69

Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2016 – 10:17 AM

Actress Patty Duke, best known for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, has died. She was 69.

Duke died of sepsis from a ruptured intestine, said a statement from her agency, Mitchell K. Stubbs & Associates.

In 1963, the actress won the Academy Award for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, a role she also played on Broadway.

Other roles include Valley of the DollsMy Sweet Charlie, Me, Natalie and on TV, the long-running series that piqued teenaged girls for a generation – The Patty Duke Show, 1963-9.

Born Anna Marie “Patty” Duke on Dec. 14, 1946, Duke was president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1985-88. 

She was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in 1982. She became an advocate for public education on mental health health issues.

She had a difficult childhood; her father was an alcoholic and her mother suffered clinical depression and was prone to violence. When she was six years old, her mother threw her father out of the house for good.

Subsequently, she turned her daughter over to talent agents Ethel and John Ross when Duke was only eight years old. The couple were often unscrupulous and exploitative with their stable of child actors. 

Her first starring role was as Helen Keller, with Anne Bancroft playing Annie Sullivan, from 1959-1961. Ironically, she started the Patty Duke Show in 1963, where she played herself and her identical cousin.

At the time, she did not know that she was suffering from bipolar disorder, only that she had terrifying mood swings. In her memoir Call Me Anna, she revealed that she had a miserable childhood and adolescence with the Ross’s, though her PR agents portrayed her as a normal, healthy adolescent All-American girl.

Duke also had a successful singing career, including two Top 40 hits, “Don’t Just Stand There” and “Say Something Funny.” She performed on the The Ed Sullivan Show, and was popular in the talk-show circuit.

Perhaps her most significant role was her advocacy for mental health, after she revealed in her autobiography that she suffered from what was then-called “manic depression” in 1982. Treatment with lithium and therapy put her on the road to stabilization. She was the first celebrity to come forward with such a diagnosis.

In addition to her autobiography Duke authored Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness. 

Her first marriage was to Director Harry Falk, during which she self-medicated for her enormous mood swings, became anorexic, and drank heavily. They divorced in 1970.

After a brief fling at the age of 23 with 17-year-old Desi Arnaz, Jr, which erupted in tabloid fodder and irked the actor’s mother Lucille Ball, Duke started dating actor John Astin and at the same time, rock promoter Michael Tell.

She married Tell on June 26, 1970 when she discovered she was pregnant. She was married 13 days, with the marriage ending in annulment. 

Her son, Sean Astin, as born Feb. 25, 1971. Duke thought the father might have been Arnaz, but in fact, it was Tell.

She married John Astin in August of 1972, a marriage which lasted until 1985.  

She married her fourth husband, Michael Pearce, in 1986. She met Pearce, a drill sergeant, during the production of A Time to Triumph when he was a consultant. Later, he became a firefighter. They moved to Hayden, ID an adopted a son, Kevin, born in 1988.

She is survived by her son Sean, McKenzie, and Kevin; and three granddaughters from Sean, Elizabeth, Isabella and actress Alexandra, Ali Astin – who payed Elanor Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings:The Return of the King, opposite her father, who played Samwise Gamgee.



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