Patty Duke, Oscar-Winning The Miracle Worker Actress and Sitcom Star, Dies at 69
Patty Duke, the acclaimed actress who starred as Helen Keller in the 1962 film The Miracle Worker and went on to headline her own sitcom, has died. She was 69.
In a statement to USA Today, her rep said: “Anna ‘Patty Duke’ Pearce passed away this morning March 29, 2016 at 1:20 a.m. 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 son, actor Sean Astin, released a family statement regarding the death of his mother. The actor posted a photo to his Facebook of Duke holding him as baby, along with a touching tribute on behalf of his family.
“I love you mom,” he began the post. “This morning, our beloved wife, mother, grandmother, matriarch and the exquisite artist, humanitarian, and champion for mental health, Anna PATTY DUKE Pearce, closed her eyes, quieted her pain and ascended to a beautiful place. We celebrate the infinite love and compassion she shared through her work and throughout her life.”
Duke won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1963 for playing Keller opposite Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker.
In a sprawling career that spanned six decades, the prolific star shuttled between motion pictures, TV and stage. After a slew of appearances on several TV series and TV specials in the 1950s, Duke scored widespread praise for her powerful performance as Keller in The Miracle Worker – a role that she originally played in a Broadway production of the material a few years earlier.
She then swiftly shot to fame with The Patty Duke Show, in which she played “identical cousins” with contrasting personalities. The show ran for three seasons, from 1963 to 1966.
Her journey with The Miracle Worker came full circle in 1979 when she starred in a TV adaptation, in which she played the role of Helen Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan.
She also notched guest appearances on The Love Boat, Hawaii Five-O, Amazing Grace and Touched by an Angel. As recently as 2013, she had a cameo on Glee.
Aside from an Oscar, Duke also won three Emmys, as well as two Golden Globes.
Despite her Hollywood success, Duke was exposed to the dark side of fame at a young age.
“Yes, I was successful, but the price I paid was terrible,” she told PEOPLE in 1985.
At the age of 8, she was sent to live with her two managers, John and Ethel Ross. The actress recalled her childhood with them as a form of solitary confinement, admitting that the Rosses dictated every aspect of her life.
“We lived insulated lives,” she said. “I saw no one but the Rosses except on the set. They obsessively controlled my life so that I never had an opinion about anything, including my own personal bathing habits, what I wore or even closing the door to my room. I became a perfect Stepford child.”
She also grappled with challenges over her mental health. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982, and she wrote about the disease in her 1992 autobiography Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness.
She would later become a vocal advocate for mental health care.
Married four times, Duke is survived by her last husband, Michael Pearce, as well as three sons: Kevin Pearce, and actors Sean Astin and Mackenzie Astin.