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Patty Duke, Oscar Winner, Sitcom Star & Singer, Dies at 69

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Patty Duke performs on The Ed Sullivan Show on April 28, 1968. 

She received an Academy Award at 16 for playing Helen Keller in 'The Miracle Worker.'

Patty Duke, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for her performance as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and starred as two cousins on her own sitcom, has died, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. She was 69.

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

She won her Oscar age 16, then the youngest ever to win in a competitive category. Additionally, Duke was a successful singer: She scored two top 40 hits in 1965 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Don't Just Stand There" (No. 8 peak) and "Say Something Funny" (No. 22).

Although she performed in films, theater and TV, Duke was most successful in television. Overall, she won three Emmy Awards among 10 nominations.

Also at that age, Duke was the youngest at that time to have a TV series bearing her name. The Patty Duke Show ran for three seasons beginning in 1963 on ABC, and she was nominated for an Emmy in 1964.

The series was based on a Sidney Sheldon pilot about two identical-looking cousins, one American and one English. Duke played both parts: the perky cousin and the studious cousin. William Schallert and Jean Byron played the heads of the household. As the theme song said, they were "one pair of matching bookends, different as night and day." 

Her film career was sporadic, peaking with her first production, The Miracle Worker, and reaching the most attention with Valley of the Dolls (1967) where, countering her squeaky-clean image, she played a pill-popping alcoholic. Her other films included Happy Anniversary (1959), By Design (1981), Willy/Milly (1986), The Hitch-Hikers (1989), Prelude to a Kiss (1992) and Bigger Than the Sky (2005) and Amazing Love (2012), appearing opposite her son, Sean Astin.

In addition to Sean, survivors include another son, Mackenzie Astin (Andy on the 1980s sitcom The Facts of Life and a broadcast journalist on Scandal).

Duke was married from 1972-85 to Addams Family star John Astin. He adopted Sean, and they had Mackenzie together.

Anna Marie Duke was born Dec. 14, 1946, in Elmhurst, N.Y. She got her first part as a film extra in 1955 and made her first television appearance as a dancer on the The Voice of Firestone. She earned her first TV credits on Kraft Theatre in 1957. During this “golden age” of television, Duke worked steadily in the new medium. She played the title role in the movie The Goddess (1958). 

Her manager, John Ross, primed her for The Miracle Worker, intensively training her to do things without sight. She practiced with a blindfold for roughly a year. The regimen paid off: She was tapped by producers Arthur Penn and Fred Coe to play Keller, starring opposite Anne Bancroft.

The Miracle Worker opened on Broadway in 1959. Duke won praise from critics for her work as the deaf-blind-mute woman. At the age of thirteen, her name was raised above the title of the play, the first to be done so at such an early age. Duke was voted the Theater World Award as “Most Promising Newcomer.” At the time, her managers, John and Ethel Ross, had her name changed from Anna to “Patty Duke.”

This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.


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