Sean Astin Honors Late Mother Patty Duke by Carrying on Her Legacy of Mental Health Advocacy
"She was a steely-eyed warrior," her son recalls.
Sean Astin has countless dear memories of his mother, Anna Marie "Patty" Duke, but one of his most cherished occurred while he was filming the 1985 classic Goonies.
Astin, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, recalled watching dailies for the adventure comedy on the Warner Bros. lot when his mother, unbeknownst to him, slipped into the room.
"There was this one shot, the cinematographic quality was reminiscent of [Warren] Beatty or [Robert] Redford, and [on screen] I look and I make this heroic statement like: 'It all starts here.' And I turned and looked at her ... and she just has this look of, not just pride, but mortal gratitude. It was just confluence of a lot of things. She was incredibly proud of me. And she didn't have to say anything, she just hugged me."
Duke died Tuesday at 69. In addition to her husband, Michael Pearce, and Sean, survivors include another son, Mackenzie Astin and three grandchildren. A service for friends and colleagues in the industry will be held in the near future, Astin notes.
An Oscar-winning actress and TV sitcom star, it was Duke's work and advocacy for those afflicted with mental illness which Astin says was most important to her and best exemplified who she was as a person.
"So many people said her work, her books in particular, helped them find peace and helped them seek counsel and try to find a wellness plan and get past the stigma of trying to find treatment," Astin told THR. "My mom came along at a really important development of not just medicine and science but the national understanding of what the mental health arena really was in the country. There were many important voices, and she was one of them."
Now, Astin, best known for his work in Goonies, Rudy and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, among numerous other films, is trying to carry on his mother's legacy of helping others.
Recently, the 45-year-old married father of three started raising funds for the Patty Duke Mental Health Initiative, which is described as "an initiative that will fuel a multi-level approach to achieving results for those suffering with mental illness and their families and communities."
"If I get anywhere near the goal — $250,000 — we'll have enough money to try and put a structure in place, a board, an executive director who's got a lot of experience in actual fundraising and some early staff," Astin tells THR. "I have an extraordinary responsibility on my hands for taking this on because my mother's spirit and my stepfather's righteous physical might will make sure that it's managed in a way that really honors her and captures the thrust of the work she was doing."
Astin also runs a charity, Run3rd, which benefits elementary afterschool running programs in underserved areas.
Duke suffered from manic depression, an illness that, at times, would cause her to snap into uncontrollable rages.
In one instance, she broke her Academy Award, which she won in 1962 at the age of 16 for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker.
"In a manic rage, before she was diagnosed, she broke it," Astin says. "And then later in her life, the Academy wanted to showcase it. She was embarrassed, and they said don't be, we'll fix it. They fixed it. They showcased it for six months or a year or whatever they did, and they sent it back to her, and she was eternally grateful."
For the past 10 years, the gold statue sat "conformably next to the fish tank" in her north Idaho home, there for visitors to see, hold and admire, Astin says,
Duke was not just tough, "she was a steely-eyed warrior," her son says.
"She endured so many challenges throughout her life," he tells THR. "She was in agony a lot, certainly in the last days of her life. It was really just unfair. Hopefully God doesn't give people more than they can handle, but boy, it looked like he got pretty close with my mom."
Space, that is what Duke gave Astin when he was young, he says. He always had her encouragement, but was free to make his own choices. That meant a lot for the then-child actor.
"I was allowed to make my own decisions about what movies I did or didn't do, what schools I went to," Astin says. "She infused my life with a sense of hope and expectation. She set a tone for me about my importance. She made me believe I was important."
However, his mother did once offer a key piece of advice for his flourishing acting career: "Never say anything you don't want to see in print," he recalls, laughing.
"A lot of time the lessons she imparted weren't spoken. You could tell when she approved of something and you could tell when she thought you weren't firing on all cylinders," he adds.
His mother was perhaps his biggest fan and would regularly see his films, "but she didn't like them if they were too violent or too salty."
Still, Astin says it's a moment is his harrowing performance as Samwise Gamgee in the climax of the Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King where he feels he most channeled his mother.
"Samwise is crying on the volcano, saying these words, and I swear the tone and the pitch and the tenor of my voice, if you were to put it into a computer and then have her read it and put it into a computer, and overlapped them, they would be identical," Astin says. "And in that sense, we were part of the same project."
As for the trait passed on which Astin says he most values — his mother's work ethic.
"She was a professional's professional," Astin says proudly. "She was head of the [Screen Actors Guild], and she appreciated the rank and file members. She had lot of problems ... but I dare you to try and find anyone who said she wasn't decent, authentic, kind and extremely hardworking."