Patty Duke, the Oscar-winning actress who also spent 50 years in front of TV cameras, capturing the heart of an entire generation playing a pair of identical cousins, died Tuesday. She was 69.
Duke’s agent, Mitchell Stubbs, says the actress died of sepsis from a ruptured intestine. She died in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, according to Teri Weigel, the publicist for her son, actor Sean Astin.
“She was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a mental health advocate and a cultural icon,” Stubbs said in a statement. “She will be greatly missed.”
Duke — whose birth name was Anna Marie Duke — was first a child actress. She won her Oscar at age 16, for best supporting actress in “The Miracle Worker,” the 1962 Arthur Penn-directed film in which she co-starred as the young Helen Keller with Anne Bancroft (also an Oscar winner as her teacher, Annie Sullivan). Duke had originated the role on Broadway.
“The Patty Duke Show” — a Sidney Sheldon creation — followed two years later, launching on ABC on Sept. 18, 1963. Duke played Patty Lane, an exuberant teen living in Brooklyn Heights whose cousin Cathy came to live with her. They were identical and — of course — played by the same actress. It was a tour de force for Duke, who often appeared in the same shots playing both characters — Patty, the “typical” American teen, and Cathy, a reserved, studious girl from Scotland who was perplexed and amused by her rambunctious cousin.
The series lasted only three seasons on ABC, an also-ran network in those days. ABC wanted to continue but also wanted to shift production of the series from New York to Hollywood. Duke was in her late teens when the show started but entered adulthood by the end of the third season. As an adult, she was able to work longer hours on a Hollywood production. She declined the move, and the series ended.
While Duke would work almost continuously on TV over the next 40 years — on series such as “Hail to the Chief,” in which she played the first female president of the United States; “Amazing Grace”; “Touched by an Angel”; and, briefly, “Glee” — she never recaptured the glory of “The Patty Duke Show.”
Born in Elmhurst, Queens, she was the youngest of three. Duke had a difficult childhood with abusive parents. By 8 years old she was largely under the control of husband-and-wife talent managers who soon found her work on soap operas and print advertising. They supplied her with alcohol and prescription drugs, which accelerated the effects of her undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
In her 1988 memoir, “Call Me Anna,” Duke wrote of her condition and its diagnosis only six years earlier, and of the treatment that subsequently stabilized her life. The book became a 1990 TV film in which she starred, and she became an activist for mental health causes, helping to destigmatize bipolar disorder.
Duke married “Addams Family” star John Astin in 1972 after her first marriage, to director Harry Falk, ended in divorce in 1969. (She was married for 13 days in 1970 to rock promoter Michael Tell, before ending in an annulment.) Her son Sean Astin (who would star in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), was born in 1971, with Duke later acknowledging that John Astin was his biological father. Astin and Duke (who had a second son, Mackenzie, now also an actor) divorced in 1985, and she married her fourth husband, Michael Pearce, in 1986. They adopted a son, Kevin, born in 1988.