Patty Duke was an actress that rose to fame at an early age thanks to her powerful portrayal of the character Helen Keller in the Broadway play The Miracle Worker, as well as it’s 1963 Hollywood adaptation. Sadly, Patty’s early fame wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Patty began suffering from mood swings early on in life, and these mood swings greatly affected her relationship with her first son, actor Sean Astin. Join Facts Verse as Patty Duke’s son reveals some of the painful truths of her tragic life.
Patty Duke was an American actress that rose to fame while portraying Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. She was later given her own show in the form of The Patty Duke Show, which saw her portray identical twins to great acclaim. Even though Patty experienced great success in the entertainment industry, there was always a dark side to the actress that prevented her from ever truly enjoying the fruits of her labor. Patty experienced numerous childhood traumas and began suffering from mood swings at an early age. These mood swings would ultimately define the actress’s life and she would later be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Amid Patty Duke’s lifelong battle with mental illness, there were several periods where the actress was genuinely happy. One of these periods was during her marriage to fellow television star John Astin, known for his time on The Addams Family. Patty married John in 1972 and became a mother to his three sons from a previous marriage. The two had a couple sons of their own as well: Sean and Mackenzie. Of course, as we all know, Sean Astin went on to become an actor himself, appearing as a child in films such as The Goonies before finding continued success as an adult in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies.
Although Patty’s new family brought her a great deal of happiness, there was still a dark side to the actress that prevented her from being there for her new children. After Mackenzie was born, Patty could be found lying in bed for months at a time due to severe depression that was caused by her mood swings. However, these mood swings also brought about periods of mania where Patty’s children often felt as if their lives were at risk from their mother’s abusive behavior. According to Sean, Patty could be both emotionally and physically abusive to her children during her periods of mania. As well, Sean has shared that she often seemed jealous of any attention the children would get from their father, which caused her to abuse them even more.
While Patty would later be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she initially was unsure of how to deal with her mood swings or what was causing them. To deal with these crippling mood swings, Patty turned to recreational drug use. Sadly, Patty’s self-medication only worsened the problem. Sean recalls that his mother’s drug use got so bad at certain points that he found himself worried for her life at an age when he was arguably too young even to be aware of the concept of mortality. Patty would later get the help she needed, but the damage to her and John’s marriage, as well as to her relationship with the five children they shared, would never truly be mended during her lifetime.
Sean has carried the damage done by his mother’s abuse with him to this day, and his mother brought the guilt of what she had done to her grave. Patty was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982. At the time, the condition was known as “manic depression”, and Patty preferred to continue using the term “manic depression” even after the term “bipolar disorder” was introduced because she felt that “manic depression” was a more fitting term given the way that the condition felt to experience first hand.
In order to combat Patty’s bipolar disorder, she was given a prescription for lithium. The lithium helped the actress a great deal, and most of the issues that she suffered early on in her life vanished soon after her 1982 diagnosis. However, the dark shadow of Patty’s past actions still loomed over the family she shared with John Astin. As well, a paternity test later revealed that John wasn’t actually Sean’s biological father. Instead, the father was a man that Patty had briefly been married to during one of her manic episodes.
After Patty began receiving the treatment she needed for her bipolar disorder, she took it upon herself to become an advocate for other people like her that were suffering from the condition but hadn’t yet been diagnosed. Patty believed that if she spread awareness about bipolar disorder, there would be fewer people out there going through it alone. Patty was often viewed favorably for her work advocating for the increased awareness of bipolar disorder, and was one of the first major public figures to publicly come out with such a diagnosis. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show us a liitle support! And make sure you subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Despite the fact that Patty Duke’s 1982 diagnosis of bipolar disorder had helped her turn her life around and start using her negative experiences for good, her marriage to John Astin still wouldn’t survive the rest of the decade. Even so, the marriage that she shared with John, as well as the five children that the two had together, would remain a defining influence on the actress’s life after their separation.
It was hard for Sean Astin to forgive his mother for what she did to him at an early age, and it was also hard for Patty Duke to forgive herself. Sadly, the demons that had plagued Patty had likely been passed onto her from her parents, who respectively suffered from depression and alcoholism. The poor condition of Patty’s parents wasn’t even the most disturbing trauma that came about from the actress’s childhood, as she was given up by her parents and placed under the care of abusive talent managers when she was only 8. While this opened up the opportunity for Patty to become the famous Hollywood star the world knows and loves, it also opened up the floodgates of childhood traumas that would plague the actress until her dying days.
In 1987, Patty Duke released an autobiographical tell-all memoir titled Call Me Anna. The title of the book was referring to Patty’s birth name. Patty had her first name changed to its more famous variant when she was given over to her new caregivers, and the name of “Patty” ended up becoming viewed by the actress as a symbol of her oppression. The talent managers that Patty Duke was given to by her parents were named John and Ethel Ross. Patty served as both their daughter and their worker. The two were said to have exerted total control over every facet of Patty’s life. Although they found the young girl a great deal of work in the entertainment industry, they charged exuberant fees for their services as her managers.
While Patty Duke’s new manager parents worked the girl to the bone and took all of her money was bad enough, John Ross also allegedly touched Patty inappropriately on several occasions – disgusting incidents that caused the young girl to vomit. Although Patty felt she was stuck with John and Ethel Ross, she would take the first opportunity that she could to get out of their clutches.
Under the orders of John and Ethel Ross, Patty rose to fame at a young age portraying Helen Keller on Broadway in The Miracle Worker. She later reprised her role as the character in that film’s 1963 Hollywood adaptation. Patty’s work as the blind and deaf Helen Keller received massive acclaim from critics and audiences, resulting in Patty winning an Academy Award at the age of only 16. Sadly, Patty’s birth mother was barred from attending the ceremony.
Patty had a hard time enjoying the success she was experiencing in the entertainment industry since her abusive managers were still controlling her. Later, Patty would get away from John and Ethel Ross. However, first she would appear on The Patty Duke Show, which saw the young actress tasked with playing identical twins. The show further raised the young actress’s profile and became a fairly big hit with audiences. Once again, Patty had a hard time enjoying the fruits of her labor due to the abuse she was suffering back at home.
In 1965, Patty finally found a way to break free from John and Ethel Ross. She married a man by the name of Harry Falk, who was an assistant director that she had met on one of her sets. Although the marriage offered Patty liberation from the abusive managers that had raised her since the age of 8, new problems also began arising in the form of Patty’s rapidly evolving mood swings.
Patty has expressed that she had begun experiencing mood swings as early as the age of 6, but they became much worse when she got out of the control of John and Ethel Ross. With her newfound freedom, Patty began turning to drugs such as Valium to combat the emptiness that she felt inside after years of abuse and neglect. Patty’s marriage to Harry Falk only lasted four years, during which time Patty was also said to have become anorexic.
After divorcing Harry Falk after only four years, Patty married John Astin in 1972, and their marriage lasted for well over a decade. After divorcing John, Patty married once more, and that marriage became the happiest of Patty’s life before her death in 2016. That marriage was to a man by the name of Michael Pierce. The two married in 1986 and adopted a son together that they named Kevin. According to Sean, his mother was able to find forgiveness for the abuse that she had been subjected to in the past while raising Kevin.
Even though Patty Duke was essentially forced into acting against her will, she is still celebrated for her many iconic portrayals on the screen throughout her career. Comment down below to share what your favorite role from Patty’s career is, or if you were saddened to learn about the rocky relationship between her and her son, Sean Astin. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!