Patty Duke, Oscar-Winning Actress and TV Star, Dies at 69

Patty Duke dead
Stewart Cook/REX/Shutterstock

Patty Duke, who won a supporting actress Oscar playing Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker,” starred in 1960s sitcom “The Patty Duke Show” and served as president of SAG, died Tuesday. She was 69.

Her manager, Mitchell Stubbs, confirmed that she died early Tuesday of sepsis from a ruptured intestine. “She was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a mental health advocate and a cultural icon. She will be greatly missed,” Stubbs said.

Her life took dramatic turns: As a child actress, she was exploited by her managers and became  a young Oscar winner and then a wholesome TV star, followed by struggles with drug addiction and mental illness and eventual stability as head of SAG and a mental health advocate. She served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1985 to 1988, succeeding her “Patty Duke Show” co-star William Schallert.

The actress was a popular teen star with her own TV series, “The Patty Duke Show,” which ran from 1963 to 1967 and garnered her an Emmy nomination. In the show she portrayed two cousins with distinctly different personalities (it was not known at the time that she suffered from bipolar disorder).

After “The Patty Duke Show” ended, she surprised fans of her wholesome sitcom by taking a memorably campy role as an alcoholic, drug addict singer in 1967’s “Valley of the Dolls.”

She won an Emmy for 1970 TV movie “My Sweet Charlie” and appeared in several TV shows during the 1970s and ’80s, winning another Emmy for miniseries “Captains and Kings” and a third for a “Miracle Worker” revival.


Patty Duke dead

Hollywood Remembers ‘Legendary Actor’ Patty Duke Who ‘Left a Mark on This World’

Born Anna Duke, she was groomed to be a child actress at an early age when her unstable mother turned over her care to exploitative talent managers John and Ethel Ross. After starring on Broadway as the blind advocacy pioneer Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker” opposite Anne Bancroft, she reprised the role on the big screen. At 16, she was the youngest-ever Oscar winner at the time.

In her memoir, “Call Me Anna,” she wrote that despite being a top TV star, her teenage years were miserable and the Rosses encouraged her to take alcohol and prescription drugs starting when she was 13.

She was married four times  — to director Harry Falk, Michael Tell (their brief marriage was annulled), actor John Astin and Michael Pearce — and had relationships with men including Desi Arnaz Jr. Tell was the biological father of her son, Sean Astin, who has appeared in films including “Goonies” and the “Lord of the Rings” movies.

Duke remained active in TV throughout the 1990s and 2000s. She appeared in a slew of TV movies and toplined several short-lived series including ABC’s 1985 effort “Hail to the Chief,” in which she played the first female president; “Karen’s Song,” an early Fox network series in 1987; and NBC’s “Amazing Grace,” which aired in 1995. Her recent TV appearances included guest shots on “Glee,” “Drop Dead Diva,” “Hawaii 5-0” and “Liv and Maddie.”

Astin tweeted a tribute to his mother later on Tuesday.

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  2. Nanny Mo says:

    Rest in Peace. And my best to your talented son. Life is hard but you hung in there anyway, that says something. See you in the DVD store!

  3. Look. They drummed you right outta Hollywood! So ya come crawlin’ back to Broadway. Well, Broadway doesn’t go for booze and dope. Now you get outta my way, I got a guy waitin’ for me.

    You gotta climb to Mt. Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls. RIP Patty…you were one in a million

  4. Cathy says:

    Patty Duke ( Anna Pearce) was a very good actress and will be greatly missed! I grew up watching The Patty Duke showed and I can remember thinking when I’m older I want to be just like her! My heart goes out to her family at this difficult time! May God give them strength to get through! RIP Patty Duke aka..Anna Pearce😓😓

  5. donette carlson says:

    Patty Duke was a very talented actress. No one has mentioned her role in George Washington. I liked her as Martha. And will never stop smiling as I saw her trying to keep up with Barry Bostwick as George.

  6. M.L. Krangle says:

    Dear Patty rest in peace. I loved you before I was Ed Robbins’ assistant at William Morris in New York.

  7. I grew up watching Patty Duke on TV and in the movies.
    She was wonderful.
    Always will be.

    George Vreeland Hill

  8. goatsandmonkeys says:

    Was her perforated intestine from a colonoscopy?

  9. Ken says:

    Brilliant in THE MIRACLE WORKER. Hilarious in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. RIP Sweet Lady.

  10. She seemed like a lovely lady.


  12. Lorie Pannell says:

    So very sorry for your loss. I loved her movies and the things she was active in. The world has lost a great advocate. RIP MISS PATTY YOU MAY BE GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN.

  13. tyler1861 says:

    Such a lovely and talented actress.. RIP

  14. Diane Ruth says:

    As a boy, she was my first crush. As a man, I admired her as a person and an actor. God bless her and all who love her.

  15. 1favored says:

    News so sad, enough to make me cry. Patty Duke will be missed. May she rest in peace.

  16. Christopher says:

    Such sad news. She gave all sorts of wonderful performances in film, TV and on stage. She was a tireless advocate for mental health issues. Her life really mattered, and she will be dearly missed.

  17. GKN says:

    Loved “The Patty Duke Show” and “The Miracle Worker,” a truly great classic. RIP, Patty.

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