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Patty Duke Tried to End Her Life Twice after Parents Shipped Her to Managers Who Traumatized Her in Childhood

Titi Dokubo
Mar 17, 2022
09:20 P.M.
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Patty Duke became an outspoken mental health advocate after going through traumatic experiences in her life. She was married four times and had multiple affairs.


Later in life, the actress who had an impressive range of talent and was made for Hollywood learned things about herself that affected her life and motherhood.

Here's a look into the tragic yet real-life story of Patty Duke, whose life was filled with difficulty, pain, and frustration.

Patty Duke on "The Patty Duke Show" [left]. Patty Duke as Kathy in "One Red Rose for Christmas" taken on October 30, 1959 [right]. | Source: Getty Images


Patty Duke, born Anna Marie Duke, started acting when she was about seven or eight, but it was never her dream because she wanted to be a performer.

However, the award-winning actress became successful in her career, which spanned over seven decades. When she won the Oscar for "The Miracle Worker," she became the youngest person to get an Oscar at the time.

Many people loved Duke, and when her mental health advocacy took center stage, she became an inspiration to countless others.

Patty Duke holding the Oscar she won as the Best Supporting Actress for her role in "The Miracle Worker" in 1963. | Source: Getty Images


When the news of her death broke, her "Miracle Worker" costar, Melissa Gilbert, said,

"She had a mind-boggling depth of talent [...] and survived being a child actor in the worst of circumstances [...] she was an extraordinary human being."

Patty Duke on the set of "The Wide World of Mystery" in 1974. | Source: Getty Images



Duke grew up in a four-bedroom bedbug-infested apartment where none of the rooms had doors. Amid their poverty, her father was also an alcoholic.

When she was six, his drinking became worse, and her mother asked him to leave. After he left, Duke recalled that she rarely saw him again.

Duke said she 'worshipped' her father, never resented him, and as she grew older, she fondly remembered him. Shortly after her father left, she had to leave her mother.

Patty Duke in the series "Remember Them?" circa 1959. | Source: Getty Images


New York theatrical managers John and Ethel Ross introduced Duke to acting and insisted she stayed with them to become their full-time client.

She revealed that her mother, a cashier with three kids, must have felt relieved. Duke recalled in her memoir, "Call Me Anna," that she had a 'sinking feeling' when she met the Ross duo.

Patty Duke portraying Helen Keller in a scene from "The Miracle Worker," circa 1959. | Source: Getty Images


Duke felt that she should have paid attention to that hunch. Years later, when talking about her parents, she said,

"Of course to me as a child, it was a clear case of abandonment."

Patty Duke at a party in Los Angeles circa 1962. | Source: Getty Images



Once she started living with the Ross couple in Manhattan, they changed her name to Patty while telling her that her birth name was dead. She said,

"It was as if she really did die. When people take away your name, they are taking away your identity."

Her name wasn't the only change they made. They taught her to lie about her statistics and experience and asked her to lose her New York accent while making her dress like Grace Kelly.

Photo of Patty Duke circa 1985. | Source: Getty Images


They programmed and rehearsed every audition interview, fed her prescription drugs and alcohol, made drunken sexual overtures to her once, and ripped her off the bulk of her earnings.

All she did was go for auditions, rehearsals, and performances while the Rosses scrutinized, analyzed, and belittled everything about her.

Promotional photo of Patty Duke for "Hail to the Chief" circa 1985. | Source: Getty Images


In her memoir, the actress, who was not allowed to have an opinion on anything recalled,

"I saw no one but the Rosses except on the set. They obsessively controlled my life."

At the peak of her career, she had her sitcom "The Patty Duke Show," but she knew something was wrong with her even at that young age. However, she thought it was because she was not a good person and didn't try hard enough.

Photo of Patty Duke on July 25, 1987. | Source: Getty Images



When Duke freed herself from the Rosses after they had stolen most of her earnings, she tried to move on. In 1965, Duke at 18 married Harold Falk, an assistant director on her show.

They divorced two years later after she realized that marriage was only an escape and not a cure. A year after getting married, her series ended, and she sank into acute depression.

Patty Duke and Harry Falk at a party in Los Angeles, in 1966. | Source: Getty Images


She started starving herself, became a nuisance on a film set, tried to commit suicide twice, chartered planes on a whim, drank, and ate to excess. Years later, she said,

"I didn't know how to be an adult. I had no preparation."

At 23, she had an affair with Desi Arnaz Jr., the 17-year-old son of Lucille Ball. When Ball publicly opposed the relationship, Duke left for Vegas and married a stranger named Michael Tell.

Patty Duke at the New York screening "Valley of the Dolls." | Source: Getty Images


Her marriage to Tell lasted 13 days. Before she got married, Duke had a secret affair with John Astin, the "Addams Family" TV series star.

Once she discovered that she was pregnant, she deduced that Astin was the father of her son, Sean. After Astin divorced his wife, he and Duke married in 1972 and welcomed a second son, Mackenzie, in 1973.

When Sean turned 14, Duke confessed that Sean's father was Arnaz. However, in his 20s, a relative of Tell's suggested they were related.

Patty Duke and John Astin at the Easter Seals Telethon on April 7, 1973. | Source: Getty Images


Sean decided to carry out a paternal DNA test which proved that his biological father was Tell. He, however, had developed a relationship with all three men and continued to be close to them.

In 1986, Duke married for the fourth time to Michael Pearce. Sean later revealed that Duke's life story lay in the love relationship she had with Pearce for 30 years.

Patty Duke and Michael Pearce at the 43rd Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 24, 1986. | Source: Getty Images



In 1982, they diagnosed Duke with manic depression/bipolar disorder, which she revealed in her 1987 memoir and went on to star in a TV movie based on her autobiography.

With the help of psychotherapy and lithium treatments, Duke stayed on a healthy path, became an outspoken mental health advocate, and released another book, "A Brilliant Madness," in 1992.

Patty Duke at the Social Security reunion of the cast of "The Patty Duke Show" on March 23, 2010. | Source: Getty Images


Duke urged others to seek help and was happy with platforms that allowed her to tell other people that they didn't have to suffer because she had a passion not to keep it a secret.

However, before her treatment, her children experienced her "freakouts." After cleaning his room, Sean recalled that she once destroyed the model airplane he was building because she said he was trying to be too perfect.

Mackenzie Astin, Patty Duke, and Sean Astin when she received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004. | Source: Getty Images


Sean further revealed that she was a different person most of the time. He said:

"This woman is a powerful, strong woman, who wanted us to grow up independent and confident and strong … 99 percent of the time."

Even though Duke was grateful for the close relationship she developed with her sons, she said there were times she had no patience.

Patty Duke at the 2013 Chiller Theatre Expo on April 26, 2013. | Source: Getty Images


In March 2016, Duke passed away at 69. After her death, Sean said

"Above all, the way that I think of my mother, the thing that gives me such joy and reverence for her, is that above all else, she was a warrior."

Duke suffered terribly from sepsis, followed by a ruptured intestine. She died in a hospital in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, surrounded by family.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "help" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or go to


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