Oscar Winner Patty Duke Dies at 69

Illustration for article titled Oscar Winner Patty Duke Dies at 69

Patty Duke, an Oscar winner for her memorable turn as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, died Tuesday at the age of 69.


The cause of death was reportedly sepsis after Duke’s intestine ruptured. Duke became famous as a young woman, first for starring in The Miracle Worker on Broadway alongside Anne Bancroft, and later for the 1962 film adaptation. Her Best Supporting Actress win at the age of 16 made her one of the youngest Oscar winners in history.

Following her success, Duke became the star of The Patty Duke Show, a beloved teen-centered comedy in which she played two identical cousins. The show, which ran for three seasons, garnered Duke an Emmy nomination and cemented her place in the cultural memory of Baby Boomers. Duke would later try to shed her image as an all-American girl when she memorably appeared in Valley of the Dolls (1967) as a pill-addicted, alcoholic singer. While audiences at the time struggled with Duke’s new persona, the film itself is undoubtedly an icon of camp.

Though the remainder of Duke’s career was sporadic, she earned three Emmy awards, including one for a TV adaptation of The Miracle Worker in which she took on the adult role of Annie Sullivan.

Later in life, Duke was also forthcoming with her bipolar diagnosis and a mental health advocate. USA Today reports that Sidney Sheldon, Patty Duke show creator and producer, created the role specifically for Duke in response to her “distinct personalities.” Duke, too, was mishandled and abused by her managers Joel and Ethel Ross, who had virtually complete control over her during her childhood. In her memoir, Call Me Anna (Anna, a reference to her birth name, the Rosses renamed her Patty), Duke recounting the Rosses’ abuse and revealed that they spent nearly all of her childhood earnings.

In a statement issued by Duke’s family, they celebrated the life of their “matriarch”:

“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. We celebrate the infinite love and compassion she shared through her work and throughout her life.”


Duke is survived by her husband, Michael Pearce, and her three sons: actors Sean Astin and Mackenzie Astin, and youngest son Kevin Pearce.

Image via AP.



Anna wasn't just her birth name, it's what she preferred to be called. I worked with her in the early 2000s and she was a lovely, beautiful person who brought so much light with her to work every day. I'm so sad to hear she's passed so young, but glad for her that her years of pain are over (she's had a lot of serious health problems).