Patty Duke, the teen who won an Oscar for The Miracle Worker and later played “identical cousins” in her own TV sitcom, has died. She was 69.
The news was confirmed Tuesday by one of her representatives, Mitchell Stubbs.
“Anna ‘Patty Duke’ Pearce passed away this morning March 29, 2016 at 1:20 am,” his statement read. “Her cause of death was 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 missed.”
Duke’s last tweets, earlier this month, alluded to being “absent” recently.
Hi tweethearts and FB friends. I have been absent, but not far, believe me. I love and miss you all. Hopefully back more soon and often
— Patty Duke (@pattyduke_id) March 1, 2016
She also tweeted on her wedding anniversary.
30 years ago today, Mike and I married. We having a very happy and quiet day. Love and hugs to all
— Patty Duke (@pattyduke_id) March 15, 2016
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.
Duke won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Miracle Worker, becoming the then-youngest person to win an Oscar and thus one of the most famous American teenagers ever. She earned it playing the blind-and-deaf American icon Helen Keller, first on stage and later in the 1962 film, both of which told the story of how Keller learned to communicate as a child through her tutor Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft).
But Duke really charmed her way into American pop culture in 1963, when she was given her own series, The Patty Duke Show, created especially for her. At the time, no one knew, not even Duke, that she had bipolar disorder.
But producer Sidney Sheldon had noticed that she had two distinct sides to her personality and the two came up with the idea of a show about “identical cousins” with contrasting personalities, and even different accents.
The show, which ran from 1963-1966, was hard work: She played both characters, Patricia “Patty” Lane, a “typical” rock ‘n roll American teenager who occasionally got into minor trouble at school and home, and Catherine “Cathy” Lane, her more well-behaved cousin from Scotland who adores “a minuet, The Ballet Russes and crepe suzette.”
… Patty likes to rock and roll a hot dog makes her lose control … RIP Patty Duke
— Nancy Lee Grahn (@NancyLeeGrahn) March 29, 2016
Besides appearing on stage and screen, Duke even had success as a singer, with two Top 40 hits in 1965, Don’t Just Stand There and Say Something Funny.
She also wrote two books, Call Me Anna, and Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness.
Duke’s life and career were tumultuous, and not just because of her bipolar disorder or the fact she worked so much (her Internet Movie Database page shows she has a movie, Power of the Air, coming out in 2017), but because of her personal life.
She was married four times and had multiple affairs, which led to some confusion over the father of one of her three children, Lord of the Rings actor Sean Astin (his biological dad turned out to be one of her lovers-turned-short-lived husbands).
Brave, outspoken & humanitarian who played Helen Keller in “Miracle Worker,” Oscar winner Patty Duke passed. I will miss her. RIP.
— Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin) March 29, 2016
Very saddened on the passing of Patty Duke. She was a wonderful friend on Twitter. Condolences to her family.
— William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) March 29, 2016
— Martha Quinn (@MarthaQuinn) March 29, 2016
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) March 29, 2016