Former SAG President Anna Patty Duke Pearce Dies at 69

Anna Patty Duke Pearce, former President of the Screen Actors Guild and an Emmy and Oscar-winning actress, died March 29 at age 69, SAG confirmed Tuesday.

“It is a difficult time for the union, and Anna’s death is another devastating loss to our union family. She was a committed unionist and a champion for her fellow members,” said SAG-AFTRA Acting President Gabrielle Carteris in a statement. “I had the honor of working with Anna and she had an amazing energy, resolve and positive spirit. She will be sorely missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to her family.” Her death follows the death last week of SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard.

Pearce, better known as Patty Duke, worked in commercials and soap operas as a child actress before getting her career-changing role as Helen Keller in the Miracle Worker on Broadway. Duke won an Oscar for the role when it was made into a movie.

She then played the dual role of Patty and Cathy Lane in The Patty Duke Show for three years on ABC (1963-66), co-starring with another future SAG President, William Schallert. Her three Emmy wins came for My Sweet Charlie, Captains and the Kings and The Miracle Worker, this time playing the Annie Sullivan role with Melissa Gilbert (yet another future SAG President).

She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982 and went on to be an advocate for mental health issues.

Duke was elected president of SAG in 1985, overseeing the creation of the SAG Foundation, the move of the guild's headquarters, and leading a six-week animation strike (pictured) and a three-week commercial contract strike.

She resigned in 1988 to produce a TV movie of her autobiography, "Call Me Anna," starring as herself.

Survivors include her husband Michael Pearce; sons Sean and Mackenzie Astin (both actors) and Kevin Pearce.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.