Oscar Winner, LGBT Ally Patty Duke Dies At Age 69

From "Valley of the Dolls" to equality advocate, she will be missed.

Actress Patti Duke, who began her career playing identical cousins on The Patty Duke Show and won an Oscar for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, died this morning at age 69.

The official cause of death was reported as sepsis from a ruptured intestine.

The Patty Duke Show
The Patty Duke Show/ABC

In addition to her long career in television and film, Duke was a former president of the Screen Actor’s Guild and, having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a staunch advocate for mental health. (She played herself in the 1990 TV biopic My Name is Anna.)

Duke was also an ally to the LGBT community. Her role as the Judy Garland-ish Neely O’Hara in 1967’s Valley of the Dolls earned critical jeers, but the gay community embraced the film as both a camp classic and a metaphor for addiction, fame and peer pressure.

valley of the dolls

“I’ve come to enjoy that movie—not that it’s not still embarrassing,” she told Hollywood News in 2010. “But thanks to the gay community, I can see it in a different way and have a good time with it.”

In 2013, Duke and Meredith Baxter played a lesbian couple on Glee who took Blaine and Curt under their wing.


“Her mother instincts come out with Blaine and she and Liz want to give these boys some of the first-hand history of what it was like to be gay in the ’60s and ’70s,” Duke told The Hollywood Reporter at the time. “No matter what they’ve been called, they’ve stayed together through it all.

patty duke

A year later, Duke—mother to actors Sean and Mackenzie Astin—became ordained in the Universal Life Church and began marrying same-sex couples.

“[A]s an ordained minister, I want to marry all the gay couples in our beloved country,” she announced in a tweet.

“[Patti] was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a mental health advocate and a cultural icon,” said rep Mitchell Stubbs. “She will be greatly missed.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.