Patty Duke, Oscar Winner and Sitcom Star, Dies at 69

Patty Duke (right) as Helen Keller with Anne Bancroft in 'The Miracle Worker' (1962).
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She received an Academy Award at 16 for playing Helen Keller in 'The Miracle Worker' and starred as two cousins on 'The Patty Duke Show.'

Patty Duke, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for her performance as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and starred as two cousins on her own sitcom, died Tuesday, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. She was 69.

"This morning, our beloved wife, mother, matriarch and the exquisite artist, humanitarian and champion of mental health, Anna Patty Duke, closed her eyes, quieted her pain and ascended to a beautiful place," read a family statement. "We celebrate the infinite love and compassion she shared through her work and throughout her life."

Her husband, Michael Pearce, told The New York Times that she had died at a hospital near her home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, from complications of a ruptured intestine that she had suffered Thursday.

Duke received her Oscar in 1963 at age 16, then the youngest ever to win in a competitive category. She also collected three Emmy Awards among 10 nominations during her career.

Also at 16, Duke became the youngest at that time to have a TV series bearing her name. The Patty Duke Show ran for three seasons on ABC, and she was nominated for an Emmy in 1964.

The series was based on a Sidney Sheldon pilot about two identical-looking cousins, one American (Patty Lane) and one English (Cathy Lane). Duke played both parts: the perky one and the studious one. William Schallert (whose character had an identical twin to make the whole plot work) and Jean Byron were the heads of the Brooklyn Heights household.

As the theme song said, the kids were "one pair of matching bookends, different as night and day." 

Duke's film career was sporadic, peaking with her first major production, The Miracle Worker (1962), and reaching the most attention with Valley of the Dolls (1967), where, countering her squeaky-clean image, she played a pill-popping alcoholic.

Her other films included Happy Anniversary (1959), By Design (1981), Willy/Milly (1986), The Hitch-Hikers (1989), Prelude to a Kiss (1992), Bigger Than the Sky (2005) and Amazing Love (2012), in which she appeared opposite her son, Sean Astin of Lord of the Rings and Rudy fame.

In addition to her husband and Sean, survivors include another son, Mackenzie Astin (Andy on the 1980s sitcom The Facts of Life and a broadcast journalist on Scandal).

Duke was married from 1972 to 1985 to Addams Family star John Astin. He adopted Sean, and he and Patty had Mackenzie together.

 

Anna Marie Duke was born Dec. 14, 1946, and raised in Elmhurst, N.Y. She made her first television appearance in 1955 in an episode of The Brighter Day and played the title role in the movie The Goddess (1958) as a younger version of Kim Stanley's character. 

Her manager, John Ross, primed her for the Broadway version of The Miracle Worker, which was based on Keller's 1903 autobiography The Story of My Life. Duke intensively trained herself to do things without sight and practiced with a blindfold for roughly a year. The regimen paid off: She was tapped by producer Fred Coe to play Keller, starring opposite Anne Bancroft as teacher Annie Sullivan, in the production directed by Arthur Penn that opened in October 1959.

Duke won praise from critics for her performance as the deaf-blind-mute girl. At 13, her name was raised above the title of the play (she is believed to be the first to have her name above the title at such an early age), and she won the Theater World Award for most promising newcomer. 

She starred in another Broadway play, 1962's Isle of Children, in which she played a dying girl. It was not a success, and Duke segued to the United Artists version of The Miracle Worker, with Penn and Bancroft also making the move to the big screen. Bancroft won the Oscar for best actress.

After Duke accepted her Oscar from presenter George Chakiris, her acceptance speech consisted of two words: "Thank you."

In 1980, she won an Emmy for playing Sullivan (Melissa Gilbert portrayed Keller) in an NBC adaptation of The Miracle Worker.

In 1985, Duke starred as the first female president of the U.S in the short-lived Susan Harris sitcom Hail to the Chief and began a three-year stint as president of the Screen Actors Guild.

She also played a drug-addled mother who becomes a minister in the 1995 series Amazing Grace.

Duke penned an emotional 1989 autobiography, Call Me Anna, in which she revealed that she had suffered for years with manic depression, careening between extreme euphoria and debilitating depression and prone to delusions, panic attacks and thoughts of suicide.

She adapted it the following year for an ABC telefilm that she also produced and starred in.

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