As you probably know, actress Patty Duke died on March 29, 2016. Of course, her talent as an actress can’t be denied, but her mental health advocacy was equally important. This advocacy is what puts her in my personal Hall of Fame.
First diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982, Patty Duke was one of the biggest spokespersons for people with the disorder. She made it a lifelong mission to dispel the stigma of the disease. She spoke openly about her illness in two books: Call Me Anna and A Brilliant Madness. Call Me Anna was published in 1987, almost 30 years ago. Patty Duke was completely out of the closet about her mental illness in the 1980s. That is a big deal.
As a person with bipolar disorder, I owe a lot to Patty Duke. I was diagnosed in 1991 and have struggled with the disease for my whole adult life. I know what Patty Duke went through. In fact, I believe Patty Duke deserves a big “thank you” from bipolar people and from all people with mental illness for the way that she spoke openly and rationally about her malady and her whole wonderful life. Her son, Sean Astin, has invited the public to contribute to a mental health foundation in his mother’s name — The Patty Duke Mental Health Initiative.
Anna Marie Duke, better known as Patty Duke, was born on December 14, 1946, in Elmhurst, Queens, New York. Patty made it her career to entertain and enlighten people. She was an actress, one of the greatest American actresses of all time.
I remember watching her when I was a child when she was on “The Patty Duke Show.” Sidney Sheldon, the creator of “The Patty Duke Show,” had noticed early on that Patty had two distinct sides to her personality. He then developed the idea of the two contrasting personalities of identical cousins. In this sitcom, Patty played herself and her cousin. These “two” characters, identical cousins, were always getting into zany predicaments, often by impersonating each other. Patty was a rough-and-tumble, down-to-earth, middle-class American teenager, and her cousin, Cathy, was a highbrow, well-traveled Scottish sophisticate. The well-written comedy always fascinated me and made me laugh. Patty was very good at delineating the two very different personalities with two very different accents.
But Patty had graced the stage before this. Her first major role was that of Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.” This was a Broadway production, and she was 12 years old. For the later film version of this role, she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Patty Duke was most known for her acting roles as a teenager, but later in life, she did receive three Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards. She was a lifelong actress. From 1985-1988, she was the President of the Screen Actors Guild.