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How Patty Duke’s Son Sean Astin Found Out Who His Real Father Was

Steve Palace
Actor Sean Astin puts his arm around his mother, Patty Duke, at the Creative Coalition's 2004 Capitol Hill Spotlight Awards ceremony March 30, 2004 in Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: David S. Holloway/Getty Images)

The Lord Of The Rings star Sean Astin didn’t find out who his father was until he was 26 years old. Not that he lacked a fatherly influence. Astin was raised by mother Patty Duke with actor John Astin.

For years, the young man believed Astin was his biological father. However, things were about to get complicated.

Samwise Gamgee and Gomez Addams

John Astin and Sean Astin during “The Frighteners” World Premiere at Cineplex Odeon Theater in Universal City, California, United States. (Photo Credit: Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

John Astin and Sean Astin during “The Frighteners” World Premiere at Cineplex Odeon Theater in Universal City, California, United States. (Photo Credit: Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Sean Astin was born on February 25th, 1971. Patty Duke had met John Astin the previous year. She’d formerly been married to director Harry Falk.

Duke and Astin’s relationship initially began as an affair – he was married to Suzanne Hahn till 1972. The middle-aged star was best known for playing Gomez Addams in The Addams Family TV show. When Sean entered the world, Astin appeared to be his father.

Turns out it wasn’t the case. Past Factory notes that Sean’s birth found Duke “between relationships” and “making her best guess” about the situation.

Patty Duke and the I Love Lucy connection

Patty Duke during The 40th Annual Academy Awards and Desi Arnaz Jr. during 29th Annual Golden Globe Awards (Both Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Patty Duke during The 40th Annual Academy Awards and Desi Arnaz Jr. during 29th Annual Golden Globe Awards (Both Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Duke had a bombshell for Sean down the road. When he was 14, she revealed the true identity of his father… Desi Arnaz Jr., son of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. The relationship was an interesting one, with an age gap. Duke was 23 and Arnaz Jr. was just 17.

That union lasted only a matter of months. Lucille Ball did not approve and the pressure mounted. Young Sean was thrown a curveball, yet the situation had a happy ending. He grew close to Arnaz Jr, while maintaining a connection to adopted father John Astin. All seemed to be settled.

Or was it…?

Tell me your secrets

Patty Duke, smiling as she turns her head toward the camera for a portrait, while sitting in a chair with a denim jacket on the backrest, circa 1970. (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Patty Duke, smiling as she turns her head toward the camera for a portrait, while sitting in a chair with a denim jacket on the backrest, circa 1970. (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

There was another individual in the mix – Michael Tell, a rock promoter. He and Duke were wed for a short space of time (13 days in 1970).

This marriage was reportedly one of convenience. You see, Duke suffered in the spotlight. The idea was to take the heat off by setting up a fake relationship with Tell… her tenant, who suggested the scheme in the first place!

It looked as if the deal was platonic. However, Sean Astin was about to learn that wasn’t quite the case! A relative of Tell’s reached out to inform him he might have another candidate as the biological father.

A happy family

Actor John Astin and sons Mackenzie Astin and Sean Astin attend the 40th Annual “Hollywood Stars Night” Celebrity Baseball Game on August 8, 1998 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Actor John Astin and sons Mackenzie Astin and Sean Astin attend the 40th Annual “Hollywood Stars Night” Celebrity Baseball Game on August 8, 1998 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

This must have been a shock for Sean Astin, who ordered a paternity test in the late 1990s. John Astin, Desi Arnaz Jr., and Michael Tell took part. Finally, the results were in. Michael Tell was Sean Astin’s Dad.

Not that Astin was going to forget about those who played a significant role in his life. “John Astin is my father, Michael Tell is my biological father” he commented to People in 2001. Astin maintains a relationship with all of them to this day.

Sean Astin, star of The Goonies, The Lord Of The Rings, and Stranger Things

Christine Astin and Sean Astin during “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone” Los Angeles Premiere (Photo Credit: Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Christine Astin and Sean Astin during “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone” Los Angeles Premiere (Photo Credit: Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Sean Astin married Christine Harrell in 1992. They have three children together. He also has a brother from Patty Duke and John Astin’s relationship, actor Mackenzie Astin.

He’s had a busy career of his own for decades. As a teenager, he starred in The Goonies (1985). To many fans, he’s Samwise Gamgee in Peter Jackson’s Tolkien-fuelled trilogy (2001-2003).

He also capitalized on his 1980s kudos by starring in Stranger Things‘ second season.

How did Duke feel about Michael Tell as Sean’s father? She reportedly took issue with the revelation. People quoted her from 2001, where she said she “can support his truth as long as my truth, if not supported, is respected.”

Patty Duke, award-winning actress and campaigner

Patty Duke and Ed Begley (1901-1970) in the 35th Academy Awards press room, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California, 8th April 1963.  (Photo Credit: Archive Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Patty Duke and Ed Begley (1901-1970) in the 35th Academy Awards press room, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California, 8th April 1963.  (Photo Credit: Archive Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Duke passed away in 2016, aged 69. An in-demand talent, she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the movie The Miracle Worker (1963) early in her career.

She went on to feature in Valley Of The Dolls (1967) and Me, Natalie (1969) for which she won a Golden Globe.

Duke’s friend William Jankowski spoke to Woman’s World in 2018, revealing what happened during her brief marriage to Tell. It was her co-star from The Miracle Worker, Anne Bancroft, who helped her through this difficult time.

Patty Duke Honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Her Achievements in Film at 7000 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo Credit: Jesse Grant/WireImage)

Patty Duke Honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Her Achievements in Film at 7000 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo Credit: Jesse Grant/WireImage)

“Anne got her on a plane back to LA and into a psychiatric hospital,” Jankowski said. Clearly, there were mental health issues. Twelve years after the unwise union, Patty Duke was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She’d married Tell during a “manic episode,” according to Woman’s World.

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Duke became a respected mental health advocate. Between 1985-88 she was president of the Screen Actors Guild. Sean himself was elected to the SAG this year.

In a statement following her death, Astin praised his mother as: “our beloved wife, mother, grandmother, matriarch and the exquisite artist, humanitarian, and champion for mental health.”