Photo via Twitter
Photo via Twitter

Patty Duke, who won an Oscar at the age of 16 for her portrayal of Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker” and went on to star in her own sitcom, lead the Screen Actors Guild and become a mental health advocate, died Tuesday.

A family statement posted on the Facebook page of her son, actor Sean Astin, says the actress, whose friends and family called her by her birth name Anna, died early Tuesday of sepsis from a ruptured intestine. She was 69.

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

Actress Melissa Gilbert, who played Keller in “The Miracle Worker” 1979 television movie opposite Duke as the blind and deaf girl’s teacher Annie Sullivan, a role that earned her an Emmy Award — took to Twitter to remember her longtime friend and colleague.

“Today, my heart aches for Anna’s big beautiful family, but I know she’s in a better place,” Gilbert said.

Duke’s career began with some commercials and small film parts before she was chosen to portray Keller in the Broadway version of “The Miracle Worker,” which opened in October 1959. She was the youngest actress at the time, at age 12, to have her name above the marquee title on Broadway, starring in the play for about a year and a half before reprising her role in the film version.

Her best supporting actress win made her the youngest person ever to receive an Academy Award in a competitive category at that time.

Duke also became the youngest ever actress to have a TV series bearing her name when, at 16, she landed her own sitcom, “The Patty Duke Show,” which ran for three seasons. She played two identical cousins on the series, for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1965.

That same year, she starred in “Billie,” the first movie ever sold to a television network. Her other roles included Emmy Award-winning performances in “Captains and the Kings” and “My Sweet Charlie, and a “Golden Globe- winning turn in the film “Me, Natalie.”

In addition to her acting awards, Duke had a gold record, 1965’s “Please, Just Don’t Stand There,” and early in her career won the top prize on “The $64,000 Question” game show.

Duke’s 1982 diagnosis with manic-depressive illness led her to become a major voice in the mental health arena and co-author of a book about the disorder, “A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness.”

Her work in the field earned her the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services’ Erasing the Stigma Leadership Award in 2003.

“Through her book and her public speaking, she helped erase the stigma of mental illness and encouraged people to reach out for help,” said Dr. Kita S. Curry, president/CEO of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services. “Because of her stature and openness, man people sought her out privately and she was tremendously generous in providing comfort and hope.”

Duke also penned an autobiography, “Call Me Anna,” that was turned into a 1990 TV movie in which the mother of three played herself.

Duke led the Screen Actors Guild from 1985 to 1988 and was a political advocate for such issues as the Equal Rights Amendment, AIDS and nuclear disarmament.

“She was a committed unionist and a champion for her fellow members,” SAG-AFTRA acting President Gabrielle Carteris said. “I had the honor of working with Anna and she had an amazing energy, resolve and positive spirit. She will be sorely missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to her family.”

She met fourth husband Michael Pearce, a drill sergeant whom she married in 1986, while preparing for a role in the TV movie “A Time to Triumph.” They moved to Idaho and adopted a son, Kevin.

Duke is also survived by her two other children, Sean Astin and Mackenzie Astin, and several grandchildren.

Around midday, flowers were placed on Duke’s Walk of Fame star in front of the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd.

—City News Service

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *