Academy Award winner Patty Duke passed away early on the morning of Tuesday, March 29, 2016. She won an Oscar for her performance as Helen Keller in the 1962 film, The Miracle Worker. Her life was filled with constant trials, yet she lived an abundant life. She died at the age of 69. In a statement made by Mitchell Stubbs, one of the actress’ representatives, he stated, “Anna ‘Patty Duke’ Pearce passed away this morning. Her cause of death was sepsis from a ruptured intestine.”
The actress was born on Dec. 14, 1949, in Elmhurst, New York. Her name was Anna Marie Duke. Life was rough in the Duke household. Anna and her siblings were raised by an alcoholic father and a manic-depressive mother. According to an interview with People, her father abandoned the family when she was 7. At an early age, she was exposed to some of the demons that would haunt her later in life.
She was introduced to acting by John and Ethel Ross, and soon her talent would take her to the top. Starting out with small, bit parts, she was offered her first major role in 1959. She was cast as Helen Keller in the Broadway production, The Miracle Worker. The production was a success and it was adapted into a film in 1962, where she continued to play Helen Keller. For her performance, she won an Oscar, making her the youngest recipient at the time.
From that moment, a mixture of fame, wealth, and poor upbringing started to take an effect on the young starlet’s life. She received her own program, The Patty Duke Show, but inside, it was tearing her apart. She wrote, “I hated being less intelligent that I was, I hated pretending I was younger than I was, I hated not being consulted about anything, having no choice in how I looked or what I wore, I hated being trapped.”
She was ‘adopted’ by the Rosses, who removed Duke from the care of her mother. According to The New York Times, the Rosses recognized the young actress’ monetary potential and used it to their benefit.
The seeds of mental instability were planted early in her childhood, but those seeds were watered and tended under the Rosses. The actress claimed that the Rosses gave her uppers, alcohol, and molested her occasionally. Right as the trials of growing up seemed over, the young actress’ life kept her down.
When she finally broke free from the malevolent Rosses, she began a string of failed marriages. She married Harry Falk, an assistant director on her show. Soon, she divorced him and, according to an interview with People, married a stranger who had just recently come to sublet her apartment. In 1972, she married her previous lover, John Astin, which lasted 13 years.
Her acting career continued with several important roles. She won her first Emmy for her role in the 1970 TV movie, My Sweet Charlie. In 1967, she played Neely O’Hara in Valley of the Dolls.
Despite all of her success on-screen, she slowly suffered inside. Drugs and drinking had become a constant, and she had already tried taking her own life multiple times. It was not until 1982 that the actress was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
In spite of the abuse, neglect, exploitation, and depression, Duke lived a powerfully influential life. She raised and remained close to her five children. Her activism stretched far as she advocated for mental health and nuclear disarmament while helping to benefit AIDS research. She was also elected President of the Screen Actors Guild, serving from 1985 to 1988. She did all of this while battling her inner demons–and those forced upon her.
She is survived by Michael Pearce (her fourth husband), her sons, Sean and Mackenzie Astin, stepdaughter Charlene Gibson and son Kevin (Pearce’s children), and six grandchildren.
Those in her professional life will miss her as well. People who worked with her or knew her sons poured out their love over Twitter.
William Shatner tweeted, “Very saddened on the passing of Patty Duke. She was a wonderful friend. Condolences to her family.”
Alyssa Milano posted, “Rest with the Angels, Patty Duke. Thoughts and prayers are with all that love her.”
Patty Duke and the trials she faced were debilitating, and yet, she touched many around her. Her powerful characters propelled her to success and crippling demons almost brought her to destruction. She endured all that life handed her and transcended it to be a shining light onto the world around her. Good night and rest in peace, Patty Duke.
Opinion by Harrison Baker
Edited by Leigh Haugh
Biography: Patty Duke
IMDb: Patty Duke
People: From the PEOPLE Archive: Inside Patty Duke’s Life and ‘Heartbreaking’ Youth as a Child Star
The New York Times: Patty Duke, Child Star and Oscar Winner, Dies at 69
USA Today: Stars remember Patty Duke on Twitter
Image Courtesy of psemkl3’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License