Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke died yesterday of sepsis caused by a ruptured intestine. She was 69.
Duke was born Anna Maria Duke on December 14, 1946, in Elmhurst, New York, the youngest of 3 children of an alcoholic father and clinically depressed mother. Her professional career began when she was turned over to the care of talent managers John and Ethel Ross, who, after promoting Patty’s brother, were looking for a girl to add to their stable of child actors.
She later accused them of mental and physical abuse in her memoir, “My Name Is Anna,” not only stating that when given her “new” name the pair told her “Anna Marie is dead; you’re Patty now,” but giving her alcohol and drugs, manipulating her, and squandering her earnings. The accusations were also repeated in an article published by the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1987. At the same time, she acknowledged that she would not have had the career she enjoyed as an actress had they not become part of her life.
Duke became a star as a teenager when she appeared as Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker” on Broadway alongside Anne Bancroft as her teacher Annie Sullivan, roles the pair rerised on screen. The role also won Duke the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1963, and has been synonymous with her every since.
After winning her independence from the Rosses, Patty was given her own series, “The Patty Duke Show,” in which played identical cousins, “Patty” and “Cathy.” The show, which ran from 1963-1966, earned her an Emmy nomination.
After it was canceled, she went on to portray more “adult” characters including, Neely O’Hara in “Valley of the Dolls,” in 1967 and in “Me, Natalie,” in 1969, for which she won a Golden Globe. An Emmy followed the year after, when Duke starred as a pregnant teenager in a made-for-TV movie, “My Sweet Charlie.”
Despite her successes, Duke continued to struggle, suffering from repeated mood swings, for which she “self-medicated by drinking heavily, becoming anorexic and overdosing on pills several times during her 4-year marriage to Harry Fall, and throughout various relationships during the 1970’s, including an affair with Desi Arnaz Jr., as well as an affair with rock promoter Michael Tell, whom she married for 13-days after learning she was pregnant. Her son, Sean, was later adopted by her 3rd husband, actor John Astin (16 years her senior). Their son, actor Mackenzie, was born in 1973. After divorcing Astin in 1985, she married her 4th husband drill sergeant Michael Pearce, in 1986.
Finally, after years of struggling with her mental condition off screen, Duke was officially diagnosed as being bipolar in 1982.
“It’s not a giant thrill to hear someone give you the label manic-depressive, but to me I was so relieved,” Duke told the Inquirer. “What I was suffering from had a name and could be treated.”
Since then she had became a staunch advocate for mental health, while continuing her acting career, working primarily worked in television. Her most recently appearing in shows including “Glee,” “Liv and Maddie” and “Hawaii Five-0.”
Duke is survived by Pearce, as well as her sons Sean, Mackenzie and Kevin Pearce, as well as 3 granddaughers by Sean, : Actress Alexandra “Ali” Astin, and her sisters Elizabeth and Isabella.