Sunday, September 25, 2005

Oscar winner Patty Duke speaks at Austin fundraiser

Reprinted with permission and courtesy of KVUE, Austin, Texas. (Link above requires subscription, full story posted below.)

Oscar winner Patty Duke stopped in Austin Sunday for a benefit for the New Milestones Foundation. The organization supports the Austin Travis County MHMR Center, which helps people with mental illness, substance abuse issues or developmental disabilities. The center aims to end the stigma associated with mental illness while providing services ranging from counseling and medication to vocational assistance and housing. As the event's keynote speaker, the actress relayed her own battle with bipolar disorder or manic depression.


By Emily Hummel,

It has been more than 20 years since Patty Duke was diagnosed. She had spent decades enduring the euphoric, chaotic highs and suicide-inspiring lows of the disease. Since her diagnosis and daily Lithium treatments, the actress had enjoyed a new life, free from the trauma and drama, without major side effects.

The actress first spoke of her problems in her 1987 autobiography “Call Me Anna,” which was followed by a more detailed account of mental illness in her second book, “A Brilliant Madness.” She continues to travel the country as an advocate for mental health.

“I was being given an opportunity to reach out, to demonstrate if I can, that there is successful treatment for mental illness,” Duke says. “Spreading the word about successful treatment has become my thing to…make me feel like I’m making a successful contribution.”

She combined efforts with her husband, former Army drill sergeant Michael Pearce, son Kevin Pearce and nephew Mike Kennedy to launch the Patty Duke Online Center for Mental Wellness. Still in the beginning stages, the grassroots site connects people with resources and sends a message that they are not alone.

“The main thrust of the Web site is to give people information and for them to talk to someone who’s walking in their shoes,” adds Duke. “What people are willing to reveal on the Net -- that they are not willing to reveal in person or on the telephone -- it did not occur to me what a perfect avenue it is for this kind of work.”

Of the stigma often associated with mental illness, the actress says, "The barriers are starting to crumble.” She hopes that those hesitant to voice their problem will find that “just having a conversation with someone about it is extremely helpful.”

Patty Duke is extending that hand of help, over the Internet. In the “Ask Patty” section of, she answers questions about dealing with mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder.

“As she says, she’s not a doctor. She doesn’t tell you to go do this, go do that. She’s an expert patient and can help people that way, from her perspective and her side of it. With all the links on the site and her information that she’s learned over the past 25 years, I think it’s very helpful and gives some insight,” adds Michael Pearce.

The gifted actress has delighted audiences since first taking to the Broadway stage as the young Helen Keller in 1959, followed by the film version of “The Miracle Worker” that won her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She became the youngest person to have a television show with her name in the title when “The Patty Duke Show” hit the airwaves on ABC in 1963. She remained active in film, television and theater through the decades while raising a family. Two sons, Sean and Mackenzie Astin, followed her into show business. Kevin, 17, entertains culinary ambitions while helping with her Web site.

So what’s next for the dynamic actress? A film for the Hallmark Channel titled “Falling in Love with the Girl Next Door” is slated for February 4, 2006. Duke costars with Patrick Duffy, Shelley Long and Bruce Boxleitner.

A new adventure begins Tuesday September 27 when the actress appears on QVC for the first time with the Patty Duke Bear Collection from Boyds Bears. Viewers can expect to hear about Duke’s longtime affinity for collecting the stuffed animals during the program from noon to 1 p.m. (CST.)

Click on the link for more information on the Travis County MHMR Center.

Click on the link to find out more about the Patty Duke Online Center for Mental Wellness.