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The One and Only Patty Duke

Her famous TV role as identical cousins may have been inspired by her bipolar behavior, but she pulled herself together with the right help-and she knows you can, too

By Elizabeth Zavala BP Magazine: Summer 2011 Issue

Ask Patty Duke a question-any question-and she'll answer it with candor and charm. She proclaims herself "an open book ... a professional confessor" when it comes to telling her story about living with bipolar disorder.

bp caught up with Duke at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance's (DBSA) national conference in Houston recently. Relaxing after delivering an inspiring keynote speech, the petite actress says her speaking engagements "are very therapeutic for me. I may moan and groan about the travel, each time is going to be the last time, but the last time never comes."

In fact, the woman who once heard voices proclaiming religious messages in her head now spreads the word about bipolar with a passion she says is almost spiritual. Her message: "It's fixable. People need to know that there is forgiveness for the bad things, and the illness does not own you."

Duke's own life is her best argument. Before she was finally diagnosed with bipolar at age 35, the actress earned a reputation in Hollywood for her erratic behavior, temper tantrums, spending sprees and heavy drinking. Her first marriage didn't survive her extreme moods and hospitalizations, her second was an impulsive mistake that lasted only 13 days, and her third became an exhausting battlefield as she put her children through emotional and even physical abuse.

Getting the right medication turned her life around, allowing her to repair matters with her children and build a solid 25-year marriage with her fourth husband. Now 64, she's an enduring beacon of health, happiness and hope.

Duke's decades-long stage and screen career has slowed as she nears retirement age, but opportunities still come her way. In early 2010, she finished a 10-month run as Madame Morrible in the San Francisco production of Wicked. This May, she made her directing debut in Spokane, Washington, with a stage production of The Miracle Worker-the play that launched her to acclaim at age 12 when she played Helen Keller on Broadway.

The devoted grandmother also has a gig as a Social Security spokeswoman, explaining in public service announcements how to sign up online for Medicare.

"Oddly enough, I'm thinking that being over 60 is more of a problem than being bipolar in my business," she says with a laugh. [end of excerpt]

Click here to read why Patty never skips her medication.