Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Obituary: Patty Duke

Actress Patty Duke, 69, who as a young girl won an Oscar for her excellent performance as the young Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, died early this morning. The cause of death, sepsis from a ruptured intestine, sounds particularly painful.

Duke was an immensely talented performer. After she won the Oscar, she starred in the popular mid-1960s sitcom The Patty Duke Show. It was one of those "gimmick" shows that was popular at the time. She played a dual role as identical cousins--a genetic impossibility--one from Britain who was proper, and the other one American who was a typical teenager at the time.

She had also battled mental illness for many years and wrote about her experiences in her autobiography/memoir, Call Me Anna.

Duke had a relationship with Desi Arnaz, Jr., back in the 1970s which didn't go anywhere. For a time she was married to actor John Astin, who in his later years became a drama instructor at his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University. Eventually she married a guy nobody had ever heard of named Michael Pearce. She was married to him some 30 years until she died and they lived in Idaho. She had three children from this marriage and her marriage to John Astin.

Duke didn't always have great performances; in fact, she gave arguably the worst performance in the history of motion pictures, at least for an actress, with her wretched performance as "Neely O'Hara" in the unforgettable 1967 turkey, Valley of the Dolls.

This was the "highlight" of a movie full of dubious highlights:

Duke was actually around 21 at the time the film was made, but she looked to be around 12 or 13 running around in a training bra.

Duke knew it was a critical failure, but she accepted the fact this movie had a cult following and would often talk about it. As well she should because it was so bad it was good.


Acclaimed for her acting (her career dates back to the late 1950s), Duke became best known in later life as an advocate for mental health issues, after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982 and wrote about it in her 1987 autobiography.

Experts on brain disorders hailed her courage in being one of the first celebrities to speak out about her disorder, depression and substance abuse.

"By bravely sharing her personal story —so at odds with her professional image — with the public, she became an inspiration and role model for people and their loved ones who are dealing with mental illness, and worked toward eliminating the stigma that prevents so many people from seeking help. She will be missed," said Jeffrey Borenstein, president and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, who interviewed Duke for his PBS show Healthy Minds.

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