She was a former child star, an Oscar winner, a TV icon, and a mental health advocate. No doubt about it, Patty Duke was one of the most beloved and versatile actresses of her generation. But behind her dazzling career and turbulent personal life, there was a secret that haunted her for decades: the identity of Patty Duke’s Son’s Dad.
Patty Duke had three children from different relationships – Sean Astin, Mackenzie Astin, and Kevin Pearce. Sean, who followed his mother’s footsteps into acting and starred in movies like The Lord of the Rings and Rudy, eventually put two and two together and concluded that his father was not John Astin, Patty’s third husband, and Mackenzie’s dad. Patty marries a man, Michael Tell, a rock promoter and writer, in 1970 when she is pregnant with Sean, but their marriage annuls after 13 days. Patty later claimed that Tell was not Sean’s father either, but she never revealed who he really was.
Who Is The Real Patty Duke’s Son’s Father?
For years, Sean wondered about his paternity and tried to find clues in his mother’s past. He knew that she had dated several famous men in the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as Desi Arnaz Jr., Adam West, and possibly even Frank Sinatra. Could one of them be his real dad? Or was it someone else entirely?
The mystery finally came to an end when Sean decided to take a DNA test in the late 90s. The results were nothing short of shocking and surprising.
Who was this mystery man? How did he meet Patty Duke? And what did he think when he learned that he had a son with one of Hollywood’s biggest stars?
Watch on as FactsVerse Presents: Patty Duke’s Son Finally Knows His Dad After DNA Testing
A Giant Question Mark
On a cold winter’s day in February 1971, Sean Astin came into the world as the son of Patty Duke, a young actress who had just recently won an Oscar for playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. But right out of the gate, one perplexing question lingered in the air: who was Sean’s biological father?
To most people, the question of paternity is easily answerable, but Patty Duke had a complicated love life, and she wasn’t sure herself. Around the time that she gave birth to Sean, she had recently divorced Harry Falk, a director who was much older than her. She had also fallen for John Astin, a TV star who charmed audiences as Gomez Addams in The Addams Family.
Duke experiences a strong magnetic connection towards Astin when they first meet, but there is just one little problem: John Astin marries another woman, Suzanne Hahn. Patty Duke and John Astin had started their romance as a secret affair, but they decided to finally go public after Sean’s birth. After Astin secures a divorce from Hahn, he and Duke marry on August 5, 1972.
Patty Duke claimed that John Astin was Sean’s father, and he adopted him as his own. But the truth was more surprising than any fiction.
The I Love Lucy Connection
Patty Duke and John Astin’s marriage wasn’t a very stable one. And really, that’s putting it lightly. Duke suffered from bipolar disorder and substance abuse issues, while Astin had affairs with several other women. The two worked together professionally on several projects including the The Patty Duke Show, The Family Nobody Wanted, and The Love Boat. But after thirteen years of marriage, Duke and Astin divorced in 1985.
Patty Duke’s life always seemed to be in a constant state of flux. However, Sean’s life was about to change when he reached his teens. Around that time, his famous mother had a shocking confession to make: his father was not John Astin as he long believed, but rather she was fairly certain his real dad was Desi Arnaz Jr., the son of TV legends Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball.
Patty Duke had a brief and scandalous affair with Desi Arnaz Jr. when she was 23 and he was only 17. Their romance crashes, however, by Lucille Ball’s disapproval and the ensuing media frenzy.
Can you imagine what it must be like to long assume that your father is one man only to tell one day seemingly out of the blue that just might not actually be the case? Sean had to adjust to this strange new reality, but he also found a silver lining of sorts in his situation. As strange as it may sound, he developed a strong bond with Desi Arnaz Jr., who became a godfather to him. He also maintained his close relationship with John Astin, who clearly loved him as his own son. It seems like everything settle.
But there was more to the story…
Tell It To Me Straight, Who’s The Patty Duke’s Son’s Father
As it will expose, there is a third man in the picture – Michael Tell, a rock promoter and writer. He and Duke had a brief and bizarre marriage that lasted only 13 days in 1970.
This marriage was supposedly a sham, but that didn’t mean it didn’t have profound implications for the lives and realities of everyone involved. When Duke and tell met, she was struggling with public scrutiny over her cringey relationship with Arnaz Jr and needed a good cover story to get the media off her back. So, she agreed to marry Tell, who was renting her apartment at the time and was in fact the one who came up with the idea in first place.
From the outside looking in, it appeared as if they never consummated their union. Going on that, Sean had little reason to suspect that Tell might be his father. But Sean Astin was about to discover that things were not so simple as a relative of Tell’s contacted him and claimed that he might actually be his real father.
The Truth In 2001
Sean had briefly met said relative when he was in his early 20s. The relative noted an uncanny similarity between Tell and Astin and was quick to suggest that the two just might be related.
This is a mind-blowing revelation for Sean Astin, but he worries that lead too will turn out to be a dud. He knew that if Tell wasn’t his father, then once again he would be no closer to solving the mystery than when he first posed the question in the first place. Still, he determines to not let himself become discouraged.
After living in darkness for years, Sean eventually decided to take a paternity test in the late 1990s in order to put the issue to rest once and for all. Fortunately, John Astin, Desi Arnaz Jr., and Michael Tell all agreed to participate voluntarily. And at long last, the truth came out. Despite the fact that Patty and him were only married for less than two weeks, Michael Tell turned out to be Sean Astin’s biological dad after all.
But that didn’t mean Astin was going to ignore those who had a big impact on his life. “John Astin is my father, and Michael Tell is my biological father” he told People in 2001.
Sean’s Happily Ever After
Sean Astin, in time, found love and happiness with Christine Harrell, whom he married in 1992. The couple went on to welcome three beautiful daughters into their family: Alexandra, Elizabeth, and Isabelle. Fortunately for those girl’s sake, they’ve always known who their father was. The last thing Sean wanted was to put his kids through the same confusing scenario that he had to deal with for all those years. In addition to his closeness with his wife and daughters, Sean also shares a close bond with his brother Mackenzie Astin, another talented actor who was the son of Patty Duke and John Astin. At the end of the day, family is the most important thing in Sean’s life – and who can blame him?
Professionally, Sean Astin has carved out a remarkable career for himself as an actor, spanning several decades and genres. He made his mark as a young adventurer in 1985s The Goonies, a cult classic that captured the imagination of millions. He then achieved worldwide fame as Samwise Gamgee, the loyal and brave hobbit in The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films that were based on the epic fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. More recently, he has revisited his 1980s roots by playing Bob Newby, a lovable nerd who gets caught up in supernatural events in Stranger Things’ second season.
Michael Tell Is The Patty Duke’s Son’s Father
When it was finally determined by that DNA test that revealed Michael Tell was his dad, Sean’s mother, was evidently not pleased by this outcome. She reportedly said in 2001 that she “can support his truth as long as my truth, if not supported, is respected.” She never fully accepted Michael Tell as Sean’s father, but she always loved her son unconditionally.
Patty Duke sadly died on March 29, 2016, at the age of 69, from sepsis caused by a ruptured intestine. She was surrounded by her family at a hospital in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Her death was mourned by many fans and celebrities who admired her talent and courage. She left behind a legacy of inspiring performances, groundbreaking roles, humanitarian work, and unconditional love.
Sean remains active in the entertainment industry. In 2023, he portrayed Sunny Gryce on the second season of the Perry Mason reboot. He’s also expected to appear in the upcoming film Cash Out which is currently sitting in post-production but has yet to receive a release date.
Although he now knows who his real father is, he has done his best to remain close to all three men who, at one point, were contenders to be his biological father.
On that positive note, we’re going to go ahead and wrap this video up, but before you go, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this fascinating story. Did you know that Patty Duke’s son, Sean Astin, didn’t know who his real father was for decades and that even when he found out who his actual father was his mother refused to fully accept it? Let us know in the comments, and as always, thanks for watching.