FOX 11 Exclusive: Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke's son speaks about his mother's life

Legendary actress Anna 'Patty' Duke Pearce has passed away at the age of 69.

Patty Duke, who won an Oscar at the age of 16 for her portrayal of Helen Keller in 'The Miracle Worker' and went on to star in her own sitcom, lead the Screen Actors Guild and become a mental health advocate, died today.

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

Duke's son, actor Sean Astin exclusively spoke with FOX 11 this morning about the life and legacy of his mother.

Duke's career began with some commercials and small film parts before she was chosen to portray Keller in the Broadway version of `The Miracle Worker,' which opened in 1959.

She was the youngest actress at the time, at age 12, to have her name above the marquee title on Broadway, starring in the play for about a year and a half before reprising her role in the film version.

Her best supporting actress win made her the youngest person ever to receive an Academy Award in a competitive category at that time.

Duke also became the youngest ever actress to have a TV series bearing her name when, at 16, she landed her own sitcom, `The Patty Duke Show,' which ran for three seasons. She played two identical cousins on the series, for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1965.

That same year, she starred in `Billie,' the first movie ever sold to a television network. Her other roles included Emmy Award-winning performances in `Captains and the Kings' and `My Sweet Charlie,' and a Golden Globe-winning turn in the film `Me, Natalie.'

In addition to her acting awards, Duke had a gold record, 1965's `Please, Just Don't Stand There,' and early in her career won the top prize on `The $64,000 Question' game show.

Duke's 1982 diagnosis with manic-depressive illness led her to become a major voice in the mental health arena and co-author of a book about the disorder, `A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness.'

Duke also penned an autobiography, `Call Me Anna,' that was turned into a 1990 TV movie in which the mother of three played herself.

Duke led the Screen Actors Guild from 1985 to 1988 and was a political advocate for such issues as the Equal Rights Amendment, AIDS and nuclear disarmament.

She met fourth husband Michael Pearce, a drill sergeant whom she married in 1986, while preparing for a role in the TV movie ``A Time to Triumph.''

They moved to Idaho and adopted a son, Kevin.

Duke is also survived by her two other children, Sean Astin and Mackenzie Astin, and several grandchildren.

Flowers were being readied to be placed on Duke's Walk of Fame star in front of the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel.

From Hal Eisner:

There is so much that can be said about Patty Duke. The movie The Miracle Worker won her an Oscar. She served as President of one of the nation's largest unions. She had her own TV show. And, she had a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Tuesday, Patty Duke died of sepsis from a ruptured intestine. She was at a hospital in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho where she has lived the last 25 years. She was 69.

Duke had a huge impact on the Hollywood scene. Her 60's TV show about identical cousins was a big hit and named after the actress. But, Duck had done commercials and live TV in the years before The Patty Duke Show.

Then, in1959 on stage and 1962 in the movies she played the role of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. The movie nabbed her an Oscar. Later she starred in movies and TV shows that included Billie, Valley of the Dolls, Captains and Kings and Me, Natalie which earned her a Golden Globe.

Paul Sheehan, Executive Editor of says, "People are remembering her today not just as Oscar and Emmy Winner but also as president of the Screen Actors Guild during a very troubled time in its history."

The fame and fortune aside,Patty Duke also had personal demons that included being bi-polar. She tried to help others with mental illness as a result.

Our Steve Edwards says he first met Duke in the 70's. She later became his co-host on the daily TV show AM Los Angeles.

Edwards says. "It was an intense time for her. She had recently been diagnosed with manic depression now known as bi-polar, was president of the Screen Actors Guild. She was doing AM Los Angeles live every day and doing a series called Hail to the Chief and another called Karen."

Steve says she also reached to many charities and one of the very first calls Duke's son Sean Astin made was to Steve Edwards.

He talked of his mom's legacy saying, "I think something happened in her childhood… something fused that if you do this kind of work where you give honest heart and voice to different maladies. It helps people so that type of work became the work of her life."

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