The death toll for celebrities of my generation keeps rising. The latest is Patty Duke, who died at age 69 of sepsis caused by a ruptured intestine.
Duke, one of the biggest child stars of the 1960s, suffered horrible abuse, like other young actors thrust into sudden fame. She's one of the most prominent examples of how unscrupulous managers and Holllywood exploit and spit out talented kids.
Afflicted with bipolarism, Duke built a successful adult life as a mental health advocate and actress. Nothing matched the fame she achieved before age 20.
She won an Academy Award at age 16 for her film performance as Helen Keller, following her playing the same role on Broadway, beginning at 12 years old. Later, she played the absurd dual role of identical cousins on the insipid ABC comedy, "The Patty Duke Show." Despite the ridiculous premise and cornball scripts, the show became one of the few hits in the early 1960s for the then third-place network. The show never lost popularity; it ended when Duke reached adulthood and walked away.
I don't think I ever sat through an entire episode of the show, but recall seeing Duke's split image, an eerie reflection of her mental disorder. The show's image of a simplistic, "wholesome" adolescence filled me with unease. For many, Duke's All-American girl next door and more sophisticated British cousin were enduring images of Camelot's innocent, optimistic facade, so soon shattered.
Patty Duke led a brave, admirable life. Yet, she's another sad example of unfulfilled talent, ruined by early American fame.