Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke dead at 69

Patty Duke, who won a supporting actress Oscar playing Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker," starred in 1960s sitcom "The Patty Duke Show" and was an advocate for awareness of mental illness, died Tuesday. She was 69.

Patty Duke and Richard Hansen
Patty Duke looks on in May 2014 as Richard Hansen, founder and director of the Duluth Superior Film Festival, describes the upcoming festival which will feature Duke's "You'll Like My Mother," filmed in part at Glensheen Mansion. (DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO)

Patty Duke, who won a supporting actress Oscar playing Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker," starred in 1960s sitcom "The Patty Duke Show" and was an advocate for awareness of mental illness, 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.

The actress was a popular young star with her own TV show "The Patty Duke Show," which ran from 1963 to 1967. The show portrayed a young woman with two distinct sides to her personality, though it was not known at the time that she suffered from bipolar disorder. She later struggled with drug abuse and then became an advocate for mental health.

She served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1985 to 1988, succeeding her "Patty Duke Show" co-star William Schallert.


Born Anna Pearce, she was groomed to be a child actress at an early age when her unstable mother turned over her care to exploitive talent managers. After starring on Broadway as the blind advocacy pioneer Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker" opposite Anne Bancroft, she reprised the role on the bigscreen. At 16, she was the youngest-ever Oscar winner at the time.

In early 1972, Duke spent more than a month in Duluth to film "You'll Like My Mother," a thriller in which Duke plays a pregnant widow who travels to visit her late husband's mother at an isolated mansion in northern Minnesota. Glensheen served as the mansion set for the movie. 

In the film, Duke's character receives a cold welcome, encounters troubled individuals on the estate, gets locked in a bedroom and is stranded in the mansion amid a snowstorm.

The movie had a premiere in Duluth in November 1972. It was screened at Glensheen in August 2012, and was featured as part of the Duluth Superior Film Festival in 2014.

During that 2014 visit, Duke appeared at an event on behalf of the Miller-Dwan Foundation's Amberwing, a center for youth and family well-being in Duluth that Duke toured and came away from duly impressed.

"Sometimes, I don't think we're making progress," Duke said at the time. "But after that tour I know we are definitely making progress."

Duke spoke to the Duluth audience about her bipolar disorder and the resulting long road to recovery.

Her bipolar disorder, dormant for much of her youth, gripped her at 19, with the ending of "The Patty Duke Show" in 1966. The loss of the show triggered manic episodes in which she knew no consequence for anything she did, followed by months of bedridden depression. She would cry like a faucet left on for the day. She resisted treatment and was determined it was those around her who had all the problems.


Her battle went on for years until she finally accepted treatment. Just a few weeks into her first course of antidepressant medications, she noticed the absence of the storms in her head and her stomach.

She described it as if God was touching her with the gift of relief.

She later wrote books on the topic of mental illness and become one of its strongest advocates. She described herself as the first from Hollywood to tackle the topic, and didn't back down from the fight at any turn.

It was time, she said during her 2014 visit to Duluth, "to spit in the eye of stigma."

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