SPOKANE, Wash. - The impact of Robin Williams' death can be felt around the world, as fans mourn the loss of one of our nation's favorite entertainers. In North Idaho, the actress who rose to fame as Patty Duke can relate to Williams and his battle with mental illness in the spotlight.
"It's a gray day, in more ways than one," says Anna Pearce, which is Patty Duke's legal name. Visiting her home in Hayden is like visiting your favorite aunt. She makes you smile and feel at ease and you almost forget you're in the company of Hollywood royalty.
Looking back at clips from her incredible career, you see the smile and success. She won an Academy Award at 16 and played the two starring roles in the Patty Duke Show. But, the actress was hiding the demons inside.
"You saw Patty Duke, fully put together," she remembers. "[She] goes to her job, knows every word, is wonderful with people on the set. Then, get in the car to go home and it starts. The minute I walk through the door, if there was a kid around, he'd get smacked. People don't think Patty Duke could have done that. But, she did."
In her manic state, she was higher than high. She once bought three Mercedes vehicles in one day. On her lowest days, she was void of hope and understands what drives people to suicide.
"[I felt] that kind of sensation that says there is nothing left. I am only a burden to the people I love."
Her suicide attempts, she says, were more cries for help. In 1982, she was diagnosed as manic depressive, now commonly referred to as bi-polar. She was the first major celebrity to admit such a diagnosis.
"I had no idea what that was going to do to my career," she said. "But, I really was at a point where I didn't care."
Pearce met Robin Williams just once, but the two shared several things in common: a legion of adoring fans, an Academy Award and mental illness. While most people felt sad upon hearing the news of Williams' death, Pearce was angry.
"The first thing I did was scream No! No! No!" she said. "When I heard it was suicide, the rage came out."
Her rage comes from her belief that more should be done to help people like Williams find hope. For years, Pearce has traveled the country, bringing hope to those with mental illness. Now, she's adding another dimension to that mission.
"I am going to enlist every citizen I can to reach out to their representative in Congress and say, 'we're not kidding anymore.'" Pearce spoke to lawmakers decades ago about funding for Schizophrenia research. She says she'd love to do that again.
Pearce hopes more funding will lead to more psychiatrists, more research and an end to the stigma. She hopes more people choose medication as a way out, not suicide.
"Even in his death, he's making a mark," she said of Robin Williams. "He's inspiring us to do more. I wish it would have worked for him."
You can find more on Anna's struggle and her story about overcoming mental illness on her website.
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