Hollywood Legend Patty Duke Dies at age 69


On August 17, 2004, Duke received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to the motion picture industry.

Hollywood legend Patty Duke has died, she was 69.

Duke passed away at 1:20 AM Tuesday morning. She died from sepsis due to a ruptured intestine.

Duke’s son, Sean Astin, said the family is “relieved” because Duke was in a lot of pain and the process took a long time to play out.

Duke’s family issued a statement, saying, “This morning, our beloved wife, mother, matriarch and the exquisite artist, humanitarian, and champion for mental health, Anna Patty Duke Pearce, closed her eyes, quieted her pain and ascended to a beautiful place.”
“We celebrate the infinite love and compassion she shared through her work and throughout her life.”

Duke was a child star — winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at 16 years old in 1963.

Anna Marie Duke 1959

Anna Marie Duke 1959

Anna Marie “Patty” Duke was born in Elmhurst, Queens, New York, the youngest of three offspring born of Frances (née McMahon), a cashier, and John Brock Duke, a handyman and cab driver. She was of German (from her maternal grandmother) and Irish descent (on both sides, her paternal grandparents, James and Katness (O’Hara) Duke, having immigrated to New York from County Longford, Ireland).

Duke, her brother Raymond, and her sister Carol experienced a tough childhood. Their father was an alcoholic and their mother suffered from clinical depression and was prone to violence. When Duke was six, her mother threw her father out; when she was eight, her mother turned her care over to talent managers John and Ethel Ross, who were looking for a girl to add to their stable of child actors after already promoting her older brother.

The Rosses’ methods of managing Duke’s career were often unscrupulous and exploitative; they consistently billed Duke as being two years younger than she actually was and padded her resume with false credits. Ethel Ross gave the sweeping name-change order; “Anna Marie is dead; you’re Patty now.” She hoped that “Patty Duke” would duplicate the success of tween actress Patty McCormack. This act would have painful repercussions for Duke in the future.

One of Duke’s first acting jobs was on the soap opera The Brighter Day, in the late 1950s. She also appeared in print ads and in television commercials.

At age 12 in 1959, Duke appeared on The $64,000 Question and won $32,000. Her category of expertise was spelling. In 1962 it was revealed that the game show was rigged and she was called to testify before a panel of the United States Senate.

In 1959 Duke appeared in a television adaptation of Meet Me in St. Louis as Tootie Smith, the role originated in the film version by Margaret O’Brien.

Duke’s first major starring role was playing Helen Keller (with Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan) in the Broadway play The Miracle Worker, which ran for nearly two years (October 1959-July 1961). About midway through the production-run, her name was placed above the title on the marquee. The play was subsequently made into a 1962 film, for which Duke received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. At 16 Duke was the youngest person at that time to receive an Academy Award in a competitive category.

In 1961 Duke returned to television, starring with Laurence Olivier and George C. Scott in a television production of The Power and the Glory.

patty_duke_1965In 1963, Duke was given her own series, The Patty Duke Show, which Sidney Sheldon created especially for her. Sheldon asked Duke to spend a week with his family at their home to generate ideas. At that time it was not known that Duke had bipolar disorder but he did notice that she had two distinct sides to her personality and so developed the concept of identical cousins with contrasting personalities.

Duke portrayed both main characters: Patricia “Patty” Lane, a fun-loving American teenager who occasionally got into minor trouble at school and home; and her ‘prim and proper’ “identical cousin” from Scotland, Catherine “Cathy” Lane. William Schallert portrayed Patty’s father Martin, Jean Byron her mother Natalie, Paul O’Keefe her younger brother Ross, and Eddie Applegate her boyfriend Richard. The show also featured such high-profile guest stars as Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, Paul Lynde, and Sal Mineo.

patty_duke_on_set60_3The series lasted for three seasons and earned Duke an Emmy Award nomination. In 1999 the program’s characters were revisited and updated in The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin’ In Brooklyn Heights, with Cindy Williams taking on the villain role of Sue Ellen Turner when Kitty Sullivan was unable to reprise her role. In 1996, 30 years after The Patty Duke Show ended, Duke was ranked #40 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.

Despite her successful career, Duke was deeply miserable during her teenage years. The Rosses made efforts to portray her as a normal teenager, but she later indicated in her memoir Call Me Anna that she was virtually the Rosses’ prisoner and had little control over her earnings or her life. The Rosses controlled her and her mother by allowing them only a small amount of money to survive on. They also started supplying Duke with alcohol and prescription drugs when she was 13; this along with her undiagnosed bipolar disorder contributed to her young-adult substance-abuse problems. As an adult, Duke accused both Rosses of sexual abuse. Upon turning 18 Duke became legally free of the Rosses, only to discover that they had squandered most of her earnings, in violation of the Coogan Act.
patty_duke_show_cast_colorIn 1967, with The Patty Duke Show cancelled, Duke attempted to leave her childhood success behind and begin her adult acting career by playing Neely O’Hara in Valley of the Dolls. The film was a box office success, but audiences and critics had a difficult time accepting all-American-teenager Duke as an alcoholic, drug-addicted singing star. While the film has since become a camp classic—thanks, in large part, to Duke’s over-the-top performance —it almost ruined her career at the time.

Duke starred in Me, Natalie, a 1969 film in which she played an “ugly duckling” Brooklyn teenager struggling to make a life for herself in the Bohemian world in Greenwich Village. One of her co-stars was a young actor making his screen debut, Al Pacino. The film was a box-office failure, but Duke won the Golden Globe for Best Actress (Musical or Comedy) for the role.

patty_duke_valley_of_the_dollsDuke returned to television in 1970, starring in a made-for-TV movie, My Sweet Charlie. Her sensitive portrayal of a pregnant teenager on the run won Duke her first Emmy Award, but her acceptance speech was rambling, angry, and disjointed, and led many in the industry to believe she was drunk or using drugs at the moment. In fact, Duke was in the throes of a manic phase as part of her then-undiagnosed bipolar disorder, which would remain undiagnosed until 1982.


Patty Duke-Aston (left) and Gavin MacLeod star in a 90 minute premiere of THE LOVE BOAT Saturday, September 22 at 8PM on ABC

Duke worked primarily in television from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s. Among other TV appearances, she could occasionally be seen as a guest celebrity on the game show Match Game. She received her second Emmy for the TV miniseries Captains and the Kings in 1977 and her third in 1980 for a TV version of her 1979 stage revival of The Miracle Worker, this time playing Anne Sullivan to Melissa Gilbert’s Helen Keller. Her turns in the made-for-TV movies The Women’s Room (1980) and George Washington (1984) both garnered her Emmy nominations.

In 1982, Duke was cast alongside Richard Crenna in the ABC sitcom It Takes Two, from Soap and Benson creator Susan Harris. The socially topical series depicted both Duke’s and Crenna’s characters as a modern career couple (hers was a lawyer, his a surgeon) and the moral and personal challenges that abounded from their professions. Helen Hunt and Anthony Edwards played their teenaged offspring. Although It Takes Two was praised, ABC cancelled the series after one season due to low ratings.

Duke would subsequently work with Susan Harris on a new ABC series, Hail To The Chief, which premiered in April 1985. She appeared as the first female President of the United States in the ensemble, all-star series (the cast featured Dick Shawn, Herschel Bernardi, Glynn Turman and Ted Bessell as Duke’s husband, among others) and the material was topical yet off-the-wall, much in the fashion of Soap, like which it was partially serialized. Hail To The Chief was less successful than the star’s and producer’s previous joint effort of It Takes Two and was cancelled after seven episodes. In 1987, Duke returned to series television in another short-lived comedy, Karen’s Song, which aired on the fledgling Fox network.

While between series in 1986, Duke starred in the made-for-TV movie A Time to Triumph, the true story of Concetta Hassan, a middle-aged woman struggling to support her family after her construction worker husband suffers an on-the-job injury, eventually becoming a United States Army helicopter pilot. On-set, Duke became good friends with Army drill sergeant Michael Pearce, who was a technical adviser for the production; the couple married on March 15, 1986.

Duke succeeded Schallert as president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1985 and would hold the post until 1988, becoming the second woman (actress Kathleen Nolan was the first) to be elected to the position.

In 1990, Duke’s autobiography, Call Me Anna, was adapted for television; she played herself from her mid-30s onward.

Though Duke’s primary medium from the late-1970s to the mid-2000s was television, she continued to take small roles in movies. Her 1982 portrayal of a lesbian fashion designer in the Canadian film By Design garnered her a Genie Award nomination for Best Foreign Actress. Duke would later portray the mother of Meg Ryan’s character in the 1992 film adaptation of the play Prelude to a Kiss. Her appearances in three episodes of Touched by an Angel resulted in a nomination in 1999 for an Emmy.

Duke gradually reduced her work schedule throughout the first decade of 2000, but took occasional TV and film roles. She returned to the New York stage in 2002, playing Aunt Eller in a revival of Oklahoma! She returned to New York in 2005, but not for any role; she instead attended a memorial for Anne Bancroft, who had died from uterine cancer.

On November 2, 2004, Duke announced that she would undergo single cardiac bypass surgery in Idaho. The surgery was successful.

On October 4, 2007, Duke appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, talking about her bipolar disorder to a guest, advising the guest to seek out a support group.

In early 2009, Duke reprised her role(s) as Patty Lane and Cathy Lane in PSAs about retiring for The Social Security Administration.

Another opportunity for her to reprise Patty and Cathy has been in 2016 for the promotion of MeTV.

On March 24, 2009, she replaced Carol Kane as Madame Morrible in the San Francisco production of the musical Wicked. She left the production on February 7, 2010.

On July 20, 2009, Duke was given a tribute in her honor at The Castro Theatre in San Francisco titled “Sparkle, Patty, Sparkle!” During the evening, Duke met and posed for pictures with over one thousand fans and was interviewed on stage by comic Bruce Vilanch. In addition to showing clips from her long career, Duke’s 1967 film Valley of the Dolls was screened at the end of the evening. The event sold out the 1400 seat theater.
In 2010, Duke recorded a series of PSAs for the Social Security Administration to help promote applying online for Medicare, including one with George Takei.

In May 2011, Duke directed the stage version of The Miracle Worker at Interplayers Theater in Spokane, Washington.

In June 2011, TVLine announced that Duke will be joining the cast in Lifetime’s drama The Protector playing the role of Beverly, the mother of Ally Walker’s titular homicide detective. The series was cancelled not long after this announcement was made.

She played the mother of a murdered deep-sea diver on the Oct. 10, 2011, episode of Hawaii Five-0.

In the fourth season of Fox’s hit show Glee, Duke played lesbian jeweler Jan, who helped Blaine Anderson pick out a wedding ring to propose to his ex-boyfriend Kurt Hummel.

In the third season of Disney’s Liv and Maddie, Duke guest starred as Grandma Janice and Great-aunt Hilary, a pair of identical twins against Dove Cameron who is also playing a pair of twins.

Duke had a successful singing career, including two Top 40 hits in 1965, “Don’t Just Stand There” (#8) and “Say Something Funny” (#22). Another recording was “Dona Dona” in 1968, which she performed as the second song on The Ed Sullivan Show. Also during 1968, she had appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and after George Jessel’s comic appearance, she was introduced and sang the Irish classic, “Danny Boy”. She also sang songs on such shows as Shindig!, Kraft Music Hall, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Merv Griffin Show. She sang in the 1965 feature film Billie and sang on the soundtrack of the 1966 feature film, The Daydreamer, in which she voiced the character of Thumbelina. She has recorded a string of six LP’s in her musical career.

In 1987, Duke revealed in her autobiography that she was diagnosed with manic depression (now called bipolar disorder) in 1982. Her treatment, which included lithium as a medication and therapy, stabilized Duke’s life and put her on the road to recovery. She became the first celebrity to go public with her bipolar disorder diagnosis, and has contributed to de-stigmatizing bipolar disorder. Duke then became an activist for numerous mental health causes. She has lobbied the United States Congress and joined forces with the National Institute of Mental Health and National Alliance on Mental Illness in order to increase awareness, funding, and research for people with mental illness.

Patty Duke’s character in the 2011 series The Protector is shown struggling with accepting her bipolar disorder, mimicking her real-life condition.

As of early 2011, Duke appeared in PSAs promoting the Social Security Website. In several, she appears as Patty & Cathy using split-screen effects. In others, she appears with George Takei wearing a Star Trek-like costume.

On December 14, 2007, Duke was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters degree from the University of North Florida for her work in advancing awareness of mental health issues.

On March 6, 2010, Duke was awarded the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

In 1965, Duke married director Harry Falk, who was 13 years her senior. During their marriage, she had repeated mood swings, a symptom of bipolar disorder, and like many bipolar sufferers, she self-medicated; she drank heavily, became anorexic, and overdosed on pills a number of times. The couple separated in 1969 and were divorced on March 3, 1970.

In early 1970, at the age of 23, Duke had an affair with then-Here’s Lucy star, 17-year-old Desi Arnaz, Jr.. The couple’s relationship became tabloid fodder, due in part to the vocal and public opposition of Arnaz’s mother, actress Lucille Ball. By late spring, Duke and Arnaz had broken off their relationship and she began dating actor John Astin, who was 16 years her senior.

Patty Duke holds son Sean Astin in 1971 Photo: Sean Astin personal collection

Patty Duke holds son Sean Patrick Astin in 1971 Photo: Sean Astin personal collection

Around the same time, Duke developed an intimate relationship with rock promoter Michael Tell. In June 1970, in the midst of a manic phase, Duke learned she was pregnant. Unsure of the paternity of her unborn child, Duke married Michael Tell on June 26, 1970 in order to “give (her child) a name”. Their marriage lasted 13 days before ending in an annulment on July 9, 1970; Duke claimed the marriage was never consummated.

Her son, actor Sean Astin, was born on February 25, 1971. Though Duke said in her 1987 autobiography that John Astin was Sean’s biological father, she later stated that she had always believed that Desi Arnaz, Jr. was Sean’s actual biological father. It turned out that neither statement was correct; in 1994, Sean Astin underwent biological testing to determine his paternity, and the results showed that Astin’s father is actually Michael Tell.

Duke and Astin were married in August 1972. Astin adopted Sean and the couple had another son, actor Mackenzie, in 1973. Duke and Astin worked together extensively during their marriage, and she took his name professionally, becoming “Patty Duke Astin.” The couple divorced in 1985.

Duke married her fourth husband, drill sergeant Michael Pearce, in 1986. Duke and Pearce had met during the production of A Time to Triumph, for which Pearce served as a consultant. The couple moved to Hayden, Idaho and adopted a son, Kevin, who was born in 1988. Pearce became a firefighter. From her marriage to Pearce to her death, Duke occasionally used the name “Anna Duke-Pearce” in her writings and other professional work.

Duke had three granddaughters by her eldest son Sean: Actress Alexandra “Ali” Astin, and her sisters Elizabeth and Isabella.

Duke died on the morning of March 29, 2016 at the age of 69, from sepsis from a ruptured intestine.

Duke is survived by her husband, Michael Pearce, and her three kids.

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