Patty Duke (1946-2016)

Patty Duke was a star at 12 years old, taking Broadway by storm in The Miracle Worker, playing young deafblind Helen Keller.  At age 16, she received an Oscar and a Golden Globe for that same role in the movie adaptation of the play.  Soon after, she starred in her own sitcom as Patty and Cathy, the original “identical cousins,” on The Patty Duke Show.  She made playing the two roles look easy.

And that’s one thing that made her such an amazing talent.  She made it look easy.  As she grew older, Duke took on more dramatic, adult roles, ranging from Neely O’Hara in The Valley of the Dolls to Martha Washington in the television mini-series George Washington.  As her career progressed, she went on to win 3 Emmy awards and another Golden Globe.  One of those Emmys came for the mini-series Captains and the Kings and another for a television remake of The Miracle Worker, only this time Duke portrayed Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher.
But behind the scenes, Duke had a troubled life.  She was born Anna Marie Duke and was given the name Patty by her managers (who she later exposed as being abusive toward her) – but she always preferred the name Anna.  As a young adult, her private life became tabloid fodder.  There were stories of drinking and drugs and, most telling, intense mood swings.  In 1982, Duke was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and began medication.  Her life changed dramatically.  In her autobiography Call Me Anna, Duke gave a brutally honest account of her life and even portrayed herself in a TV-movie version of the book.  And she became a strong advocate for those with mental illness.
Duke never stopped working in front of the camera, on stage, and as an advocate.  Most recently, her work was in TV movies (Love Finds a Home and Unanswered Prayers) and series (Hawaii Five-O and Glee).  Married four times, she was mother to three sons, two of whom – Sean and Mackenzie Astin – are also actors.

Anna Marie Duke’s passing last week came as a shock, especially to those of us who grew up with her.  She was a talent we always welcomed into our homes.