With Patty Duke as his mom, actor Sean Astin grew up in the spotlight in Los Angeles. Although he had a successful career, and his famous mother took good care of him, there was still something missing from Sean’s life. He didn’t know who his biological father was. It wasn’t until his mid-twenties that all three of his potential fathers took a DNA test. This is the unbelievable story of how the Lord of the Rings and Goonies star, along with his mother, finally learned the truth.
He Heard Rumors About His Father While Growing Up
Since he was a kid, Sean Astin was well-recognized. The first child of famous actress Patty Duke, Sean received plenty of attention but was also at the center of plenty of rumors. His mother had a few different romantic relationships around the time Sean was born, making it uncertain who exactly his father is.
Sean couldn’t ignore the rumors — he was curious himself. But throughout his entire childhood, his biological father was never confirmed.
He’s Been Famous His Entire Life
When Sean Astin was born on February 25, 1971, he was given his mother’s last name. But it wasn’t because she was famous, it was because she didn’t know for certain who the father of her son was.
An Academy Award-winning actress, Patty Duke was between relationships when she learned that she was pregnant with Sean. This made it unclear who the father was, with Patty making her best guess as to what day she became pregnant.
Patty’s Parents Were Worried About Her Love Life
As she was a teenage celebrity, Patty’s parents worried about her well-being. They wanted to make sure that she was protected and didn’t end up hanging out with the wrong crowd. She soon met Desi Arnaz Jr., son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz of I Love Lucy.
Reportedly, Patty’s parents didn’t approve of their relationship, as Patty was 23 years old and Desi Jr. was 17 at the time — six years younger than Patty. She was also tying up loose ends, ending her first marriage to Henry Falk, who was 13 years older than her. It was around this time that she became pregnant with Sean.
The Flame Went Out
Just as quickly as Patty and Desi Jr. caught each other’s interest, their fling fell apart. She was already famous and dating another celebrity proved to be too much attention and pressure for the young actress.
Patty didn’t want her love life to make the news and wondered how she could keep her private life out of the spotlight. Michael Tell, a rock music promoter and newspaper publisher, had been subleasing Patty’s apartment. He had an interesting solution.
Patty Marries Michael
Although they were nearly strangers, her tenant Michael Tell suggested that they pretend to be in a relationship in order to distract the press. He told Patty that if they acted like a couple, reporters would leave her alone, so she could date whoever she wanted.
Not only did he suggest that they pretend to be in a relationship, but Michael also convinced Patty to marry him to make it appear to be the real deal. For better or worse, she went along with it. The two were married for just 13 days in 1970 before deciding to get an annulment.
Patty Began Dating John Astin
Although her first relationship with a celebrity didn’t work out, Patty Duke ended up dating another actor. After her short publicity stunt marriage with Michael Tell, Patty began dating John Astin, and actor known for his role on The Addams Family.
At the time, John was still legally married to his first wife, Suzanne Hahn. This caused some problems when Patty found out she was pregnant. The couple welcomed baby Sean in February 1971, certain that John was the father. Two years later, Patty and John were married.
Sean Called John “Daddy!” During the Ceremony
Sean was 18-months-old at the time of Patty and John Astin’s wedding. John already had three sons from his first marriage, and was happy to raise Sean as his fourth son. While the couple had never confirmed that Sean was his biological son, they believed it to be true.
During Patty and John’s wedding ceremony, Sean looked up at John and exclaimed, “Daddy!” After their wedding, John legally adopted Sean as his son, giving him his last name. Now Patty was officially married with a family. She could finally relax and be free of any drama the press would create… right?
Patty Duke and John Astin Get a Divorce
After 13 years, Patty Duke and John Astin’s marriage began to fall apart, and in 1985, they decided to get a divorce. This meant that Patty had to figure out where she would live, as well as take child custody of her son Sean. Since their lives were already changing, Patty decided it would be a good time to confess something to her son.
Sean was a teenager when his parents divorced, and Patty dropped a bombshell: she didn’t know for certain who his father was.
Sean Believed Desi Arnaz Jr. Was His Biological Father
Upon hearing that a man named Desi Arnaz Jr. might be his father, Sean knew he wanted to meet him. Sean reached out to Desi and told him that Patty believed he might be Sean’s dad. Desi agreed to meet up with him, and the two hit it off.
“Desi Arnaz Jr. loves me, and I love him,” Sean said in an interview. “We are so close.” Sean went on to describe Desi as his “second dad” after John Astin, who raised him. It seemed that Sean had found the missing link in his life.
Someone Claiming To Be Sean’s Relative Reaches Out
By the time you’re 26 years old, it’s safe to assume that you probably know who your relatives are. It’s rare to find out in your mid-twenties that you have family you never knew about, so when a man reached out to Sean claiming he was related, Sean was genuinely confused.
This man told Sean that they’re related, and that he believes Michael Tell, who Patty Duke married for 13 days before Sean was born, is, in fact, his father. At first, Sean didn’t believe him, but the man was so adamant about his hunch that Sean decided to take a closer look.
No One Really Knew… Right?
Sean was never certain who his biological father was, as his mother failed to provide him with any concrete information. It only made things worse for him as tabloids picked up the story and published his personal life for all to see.
But after meeting this man who claimed he was a relative through Michael Tell, Sean decided it was time to find out the truth once and for all. If neither John Astin nor Desi Arnaz Jr. were his biological father, maybe Michael Tell was.
His Life Was Great, Should He Really Risk Changing Things?
Sean Astin may have grown up not knowing who his biological father was, but that didn’t put a damper on his life. His acting career continued to grow, he was happily married to his wife, Christine Harrell since 1992, and although he didn’t know who was his birth dad, he had grown up with a father figure in both John Astin and Desi Arnaz Jr.
Should he really keep pushing to figure out who his biological father was, or just leave it alone?
Sean Decides To Take A Paternity Test
Sean Astin decided that was enough was enough. He wanted to take a paternity test and have his question answered by hard facts. Thankfully, all three of Sean’s possible fathers agreed to submit a DNA test so he could figure out the truth.
John Astin, Arnaz Jr., and Michael Tell all took the paternity test to find out which of them was Sean’s biological son, 25 years later. Sean was ready to learn the truth.
Michael Tell Is Sean Astin’s Father
After all of these years, a DNA test concluded that Michael Tell, a complete stranger to Sean, was his father. Everyone was stunned, including Sean’s mom, Patty Duke. The couple had only married as a publicity stunt and didn’t keep in contact, but Michael was in fact, Sean’s father!
Seeing Sean and Michael side-by-side, the resemblance between the two is clear. While it took 25 years to find out the truth, Sean was finally content knowing who his biological father was and looking forward to getting to know him.
Finally, Patty Had The Answer, Too
Not only was it important for Sean Astin to know who his biological father is, but it was something that had been haunting Patty Duke for 26 years, too. It’s hard to fathom carrying on with life without knowing the truth about such an important matter.
The actress had a lot on her plate already. Since the late ’80s, Patty had also been open about her bipolar diagnosis. She became an advocate for increased research and funding for mental health.
Patty Doesn’t Fully Believe In The DNA Test
Patty Duke stated that she has her own beliefs as to who the father of Sean is, no matter what the DNA test says. While she supported Sean looking for answers for his own needs, she never believed that a DNA test would give them the closure they were looking for.
Patty said, “I don’t buy that test. I can support his truth as long as my truth, if not supported, is respected. I have told him I know what I know to be true.”
Sean Was Okay With Having Multiple Dads
While it was a confusing time for Sean growing up, not knowing who his biological father was and having different men step up to take on the role, but he took it in stride. Sean always kept a positive attitude and made an effort to have a respectful relationship with each of the men who could have possibly been his birth dad.
Sean describes Arnaz Jr. as his godfather with whom he has a “powerful love bond.” After finding out that Michael Tell was his biological father, Sean says that he’s happy with the news and says that although he didn’t know him growing up, Tell “turned out to be a great guy.”
Sean Created His Own Family
Some people might wait their entire life to have the answers about their family revealed to them, things that relatives aren’t ready to divulge. But Sean recognized the importance of identifying his biological father, and never stopped digging for the answer.
Throughout the process, his maturity and respectful manner are what gained him not one, but three father figures to look up to and bond with over his lifetime. He brought people together and created a pretty incredible extended family.
Sean’s Daughter Had A Brief Cameo In Return Of The King
Since Sean Astin started acting at a very young age, it looks like he wanted to keep the tradition going with his own kid. In the epic trilogy Lord of the Rings, Astin plays one of the main characters of the ensemble cast, Sam.
At the end of Return of the King, the cute little girl, Elanor Gardner, who runs into Sam’s arms when he returns home after dropping Frodo off at the ship, is actually not a stranger to Astin. That little girl happens to be his real-life daughter Alexandra!
Sean’s First Job Was Opposite His Mom
Sean Astin grew up in the spotlight, having his first acting job at the age of nine. His first job was also opposite his very famous mom, Patty Duke. The 1981 tv-movie Don’t Hit Me, Mom was about a babysitter who realizes the little boy she watches is being physically abused.
Ironically, the mother and son duo in question happens to be Astin and Duke who have a very loving familial relationship. It’s not exactly Astin’s finest work, but as the future tells us, his acting gets much better!
Sean’s Acting Career Keeps Growing
Through his parents’ divorce, and finding out that his biological dad might actually be Desi Arnaz, Jr., Sean’s acting career kept going. That same year, in 1985, he earned his breakthrough role as Mikey Walsh in The Goonies.
It was Sean’s film debut at 13 years old and he was a natural in the part. He won a Young Artist Award for Best Starring Performance by a Young Actor – Motion Picture.
Sean Was Cast As Rudy
In 1993, Sean Astin secured one of his most memorable roles, playing the lead role of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger in the film Rudy. The film followed a young man who aspires to become a famous football player and follows his dreams to play football for Notre Dame.
Sean was a shoo-in for the role, as his personality perfectly fit that of the real-life Rudy, whom he worked with to make the film authentic.
He’s The Typical “Good Guy”
Sean’s kind personality made him a natural for several roles. In 2001 he was cast in the role of Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings franchise. Sean played the loyal friend who set out on a dangerous journey through Middle Earth. Sean and the rest of the cast won numerous awards for the hit films.
Seemingly typecast as the “good guy” Sean also played the part of Bob Newby for 10 episodes in Stranger Things.
Sean Astin Graduated Cum Laude
Even though he grew up in the spotlight, Sean Astin made sure he got an education in between auditions and filming. The actor attended Crossroads High School for the Arts in Los Angeles, California while taking master classes at the Stella Adler Conservatory.
Once he graduated, Astin was off to the University of California Los Angeles where he studied both English and History. Graduating from a great school as a double major and cum laude is no small task, especially while keeping an acting career!
Astin Shares A Tattoo With Seven Of His Castmates
Lord of the Rings is arguably one of the largest films in Sea Astin’s resume. The last film, Return of the King, grossed $1.142 billion in the box office and is considered to be one of the most influential movies ever made.
Well, at the end of that very powerful epic, Astin, along with seven out of the main eight of his castmates, decided to get matching tattoos! The tattoo is of the number nine, the number of the original fellowship, written in Tengwar script, the intricate script created by J.R.R. Tolkein. Astin’s ink is located on his ankle.
Astin’s Guest-Starred In Many TV Shows
After international stardom with Lord of the Rings, Sean Astin switched gears, focusing more on television shows than film. That’s not to say he wasn’t in any movies, he was, but his TV resume gets quite full post-LOTR.
Since his time as Sam, Astin appeared as a season regular in the fifth season of 24 and the second season of Jerimiah. Then he went on to appear in the critically acclaimed series My Name is Earl, Monk, The Strain, and Las Vegas.
Voice-Over Roles Were Being Added To Astin’s Resume
Sean Astin had already made a name for himself in the world of real-life film and television, so there was one more avenue he had to explore: voice-overs. His first voice-over role came in the form of an Animal Planet series called Meerkat Manor, where he narrates the episode.
After this initial break, the voice-over work started rolling in. On a Disney Channel series, Astin voices the title character in Special Agent Oso, the teenage husky Kodi in Balto III: The Wings of Change, and Raphael, one of the main Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the Nickelodeon animated series.
Astin’s Short Film Was Nominated For An Oscar
After a childhood and teenage years behind the camera, in 1994, Sean Astin took his turn behind the camera as the director and co-producer of a short film called Kangaroo Court. He made the film with his wife, Christine, and revolves around the story of an African-American attorney defending a white cop who was being held hostage by a gang.
The kicker is that the gang is only trying to avenge the wrongful murder of a young boy. The 29-minute long film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Film.
He Was The “Other Guy” In Click
Sean Astin knows something about having two dads, so we wonder if it was easy for him to play Bill in the Adam Sandler-led comedy-drama Click. In the film, Astin plays Bill, the second husband to Donna, after Sandler’s character Michael becomes obese and obsessed with work.
Of course, many people now can’t unsee Astin wearing a bright-red Speedo, but at least he was there for the kids when their biological father wasn’t. That sounds a bit like his real life, doesn’t it?
50 First Dates Showed Off Astin’s Comedic Side
Up until 2004, people were accustomed to seeing Sean Astin in dramas, epics, and fantasy films. There wasn’t really a comedy in his resume until the release of 50 First Dates, an Adam Sandler-led movie. In the film, Astin plays Doug, Drew Barrymore’s character Lucy’s brother.
Of course, this isn’t any ordinary brother; Doug is a mesh crop top-wearing, performance-enhancer popping, and lisping brother. And while that all sounds bad, he’s actually a very good brother who wants nothing more than to make sure his amnesia-ridden sister has a comfortable life.
Sean Astin And Winona Ryder Had Worked Together Before
It’s clear to a lot of people that the role of Bob Newby in Stranger Things was pretty much tailor-made for the good guy persona of Sean Astin. But the chemistry on-screen between Astin and Winona Ryder was ground in the fact that the two grew up in the industry together.
During an interview, Astin said, “Winona and I knew each other, sort of grew up alongside each other in the industry. Then we did a little movie together like a decade ago. Whenever we’re on set together, there was just this warm, good, positive just enjoyment of being around each other. And I think it comes through on-screen too.”
Patty Duke Once Played Helen Keller On Broadway
Something you might not know about actress Patty Duke is that she was once a big stage presence, as well as film and TV. From 1959-1961, the child actor played Helen Keller on the Broadway stage, in the play The Miracle Worker.
Interestingly, it wasn’t the last time Duke played the role of the young blind, deaf, and mute girl, Helen. In 1962, she reprised her role for the silver screen, playing Helen in the Arthur Penn-directed movie The Miracle Worker. Duke was honored with an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Keller.
Duke Returned To The Miracle Worker As Anne Sullivan
Patty Duke wasn’t finished with The Miracle Worker after winning her Academy Award for Best Actress. In 1979, she returned to the story, but this time, she didn’t portray Helen Keller. Instead, Duke took up the role of Anne Sullivan, Keller’s teacher, who changed her life.
A year after the made-for-television film was released, Duke won an Emmy for her performance as the miracle worker. Then, in 2011, she directed a production of the play.
Patty Duke And The Flintstones Have A Strange Connection
If you’ve ever watched The Patty Duke Show, then you might recognize the opening theme as something similar to The Flintstones. That’s because both themes were produced by the same vocal group, the Skip-Jacks. They might not be a household name, but mostly everyone can hum along to “Flintstones, meet the Flinstones…”
Ironically, The Patty Duke Show opens in a very similar manner, with “Meet Cathy…” It seems as though the Skip-Jacks had a theme song formula, and they didn’t want to stray too far from it!
Patty Duke Was A Jack Of Many Trades
Patty Duke was a very well-known child actor, becoming the youngest actress to have her own show. But acting isn’t the only talent the young girl brought to the table. In 1965, Patty Duke reached number eight on the charts with her single “Don’t Just Stand There.”
It was a dramatic teen pop song that meshed perfectly with Duke’s target audience. We’re actually surprised ABC didn’t utilize her talent for The Patty Duke Show theme, instead opting for Skip-Jack.
Patty Duke Plays More Than Two Characters In The Show
While it’s common knowledge that Patty Duke plays two identical cousins in The Patty Duke Show, people tend to forget that a third cousin pops into the picture in one episode. In “The Perfect Hostess,” Patty and Cathy’s cousin Betsy visits from Tennessee. In the episode, Duke is even credited as a “guest star” for the role!
But it begs the question, how are three cousins identical? Well, it’s because they each had a father who was an identical triplet, Martin, Kenneth, and Jed Lane! Each of the men is played by William Schallert.
Patty Duke Won $32,000 On A Game Show
At the age of 12, Patty Duke won $32,000 on the game show The $64,000 Challenge. Unfortunately for Duke, the 1950s was the time of the Quiz Show Scandals, and she was stuck in the middle. Duke was accused of being coached, and she had to testify in front of the U.S. Senate.
Host Sonny Fox later told PBS in a documentary about the scandal, saying, “They coached her. That’s when she was about twelve. Three years later, she’s about fifteen, she was summoned down to the Senate to testify…and she was coached how to lie to the U.S. Senate.” Duke eventually spilled the beans in court.
The Patty Duke Show Wrongly Credited A Comedian
In The Patty Duke Show episode “Patty Pits Wits, Two Brits Hits,” a modern-day comedian and podcaster is wrongly credited as a guest star on the show. Marc Maron, the host of the popular podcast WTF, was actually born the year of the show’s debut, so it would have been kind of impossible for him to play the teenager Walter.
According to Maron, the Internet Movie Database incorrectly credits him as being part of the episode. Well, at least the incorrect credit makes for good material for his podcast and comedy sketches!
Patty Wasn’t Raised By Her Biological Parents
When Patty Duke was growing up, she was estranged from her biological parents. Her father was absent and her mother struggled with mental issues. As a result, her talent agents were made her legal guardians.
Not even this arrangement really worked though. John and Ethel Ross also managed her brother, and treated neither with the support a growing child needs. Instead, they used her for their own profit, exploiting the child while taking unreasonably high fees from her earnings.
Duke Released Six Albums
In a three-year span from 1965 until 1968 Patty Duke released six albums: Don’t Just Stand There, Patty, Patty Duke’s Greatest Hits, TV’s Teen Star, Songs from Valley of the Dolls and Other Selections, and Patty Duke Sings Folk Songs: Time To Move On
Two of her singles were top 30 hits on the Billboard singles charts. At the peak of her musical endeavors, Duke was given a performance slot on The Ed Sullivan Show.
She Won An Oscar And Two Golden Globes At A Young Age
Patty Duke won many, many awards throughout her illustrious career. By the time she was just 24-years-old, she already had an Oscar and two Emmy awards to her name. The Oscar was for The Miracle Worker, which was released in 1963.
Her first Golden Globe was for Most Promising Newcome – Female for The Miracle Worker. She later won Best Actress – Comedy or Musical, for her role in Me, Natalie.
She Was The Youngest Actress To Ever Win An Oscar
When Patty Duke won her Academy Award for The Miracle Worker, she was the youngest actress to ever win the award. It would be 10 years before a younger actress would unseat her from that honor.
In 1973, Tatum O’Neal won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Paper Moon. O’Neal was 10-years-old at the time and played Addie Loggins in the dramedy that was directed by Peter Bogdanovich.
The Patty Duke Show Was Filmed In New York For A Reason
It would be easy to believe that The Patty Duke Show being filmed in New York is only logical. It does take place in Brooklyn Heights, after all. Not all shows film in geographically accurate locations, but this one did, and there’s a specific reason.
At the time The Patty Duke Show was being made, child labor laws were more relaxed in New York. Since Duke was still underage, this made it easier to shoot the show under its tight television production schedule.
Bette Davis Almost Guest Starred
During its peak, The Patty Duke Show producers came close to convincing Better Davis to make a guest appearance on the show. In 1964, Davis starred in a double role in Dead Ringer, and producers thought having her make a cameo would be a fun tongue-in-cheek gag.
Unfortunately, the guest appearance never materialized. Even though it would have just been a small role, Davis asked for money that producers were willing to pay.
Patty Scored A Top 10 Single In 1965
In 1965, early in her musical pursuits, Patty Duke scored a big hit. Her single, “Don’t Just Stand There,” became a top 10 hit in the United States. The song peaked at number seven, and was on Duke’s first album.
As she continued pursuing music, she would never get another single to chart so high. She did have another top 30 hit, though, with the track “Say Something Funny” off the same album.
The Actor Who Played Her Boyfriend Was Much Older Than Duke
On The Patty Duke Show, Patty’s boyfriend was portrayed on-screen as being the same age as her. In reality, actor Eddie Applegate was eleven years older than Patty Duke.
Aside from The Patty Duke Show, Applegate had roles on Nancy and The Lucy Show. He also starred in one move, A Ticklish Affair, which was released in 1963 and was a critical and commercial failure. Applegate reprised his Patty Duke role in a 1999 reunion special.
Duke’s Show Didn’t Survive The Transition To Color TV
Despite maintaining solid ratings throughout the course of its run, The Patty Duke Show was canceled by ABC after three seasons. The reason for the move was that ABC was joining the color television revolution, and it Duke’s show was shot in black and white.
ABC could have transitioned the program to color, but the network determined it would cost much money. Instead, they focused their development on the next generation of television shows.
Duke Was Close To Her On-Screen Father
Having a rough childhood, it’s not surprising to learn the Patty Duke found a fatherly figure in her television dad. Even though William only played her dad on TV, Duke still gravitated to him in real life.
She told the Los Angeles Times, “He’s the dad I never got to spend time with. The family we created [on] the show was very much a family. That was my safety zone.”