Mental Health In Hollywood: The Shelley Duvall Saga

In the summer of 1979, Shelley Duvall was on the set of the ‘The Shining’ in England, working alongside Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson. She was one of the most prominent and successful Hollywood stars of the time. Kubrick was nutritious for his harsh and brutal treatment of Duvall. The legendary Director encouraged the cast and crew to be as distant and un-empathetic with the Thirty year old starlet as possible. It is widely known that this took a huge toll on her mental and physical health, and the 14 months filming ‘The Shining’ sent her into ill health and concluded in long-life psychical and mental ailments for Duvall. There are numerous behind the scenes video clips of Duvall collapsing on set, pulling chunks of hair out of her head and allegedly; taking cocaine. Although Jack Nicholson states Kubrick was a “great director to work with”, he claimed that he was a “different director with Shelley”, forcing her to act out the “baseball bat” scene 127 times (A Guinness World Record for most takes of one scene, which Duvall still holds as of 2017). The bizarrely logical reason for Kubrick’s sadistic treatment towards her was to push Duvall further into character: a loving, caring and devoted wife who had been pushed to the edge of despair by a homicidal husband and taunted by Paranormal entity’s. Duvall stated (about Kubrick): “For a man who was so likeable, indeed loveable, he could do some pretty cruel things when your shooting… I wouldn’t want to go through it again!”. Following the film’s release in 1980, Duvall became even more glorified as an actress and was further heightened in the plethora of Hollywood commodity. At the time, Duvall loved the attention, she stated the only set back was: “It takes a little longer to go grocery shopping”.


In the early 1980’s, Duvall rose to the top to become one of Hollywood’s elite- starring opposite leads like: Robin Williams and becoming a highly successful producer. She stared in, and produced her own children show, named: “Fairy Tale Theatre” throughout the 1980’s. In the late 1990s an early 2000’s, the roles started to dwindle for the actress/ producer and she lost the rights to “Shelley Duvall’s Fairy Tale Theatre, which prompted a change for Duvall.
She moved back to her home town of Blanco, Texas in 2002 and there has been little, to no public knowledge of Duvall since that time. Until now…

On Wednesday 16th November, Dr Phil ran a highly controversial teaser for a new show,  named: ” A Hollywood stars decent into Mental Ilness: Saving Shelley Duvall.” The promo showed an unrecognisable, disoriented and confused Duvall making claims such as: “I loved Robin Williams… I don’t think he’s dead.” Dr Phil McGraw then asked: “Where do you think he is.” She replied: “Shape shifting. (I’ve seen him) yes. He looks real good in some forms, and some forms he doesn’t”. Another incoherent and bizarre claim from Duval consisted of: “The man who threatened me is the Sheriff of Nottingham”.


She then went on to describe how someone had sent a hornet to repeatedly bite her vertebrae until it got stuck in there until she quickly veered off subject, randomly stating: “I’m not calling Bette Midler a whore and I’m not calling the group Chicago a whore.” You  get the gist that this interview had no coherent them or narrative, made no logical sense and that there was no consistency from Shelley for more than 30 seconds at a time. An immensely sad sight, from a once promising young actress. Physically, Shelley looked to have at least doubled in size (weight), her hair was thinning and falling out, her skin appeared inflamed and blotchy- she showed McGraw numerous legions and scars on her arms and legs. When McGraw suggested that she be checked over by Doctors, she replied: “If you so much as attempt to take my moon mole, I’ll fucking kill you”.

Although I have no experience within the field of mental health or diagnosing any form of mental disorders, it is abundantly clear that Shelley seems to be suffering from multiple variations of mental Ilness, whether it be a combination of common mental illnesses, such as; schizophrenia, paranoia, anxiety or psychosis is yet unclear. But what is clear, is that Shelley needed to be put before a Doctor, and not a room full of camera’s.                                My personal opinion is that this is clear exploitation of someone who has a mental illness and no longer hold a grip on the parallels of imagination and reality. It should be considered gross misconduct on the part of the producers, as well as Dr Phil McGraw, that this episode was even able to be aired.

It does however bring to light, the stigma that is etched into the Hollywood conciseness regarding mental illness. We look back at Britney’s famous meltdown, clearly it was widely publicised and remembered, but since her short stint in a Rehabilitation centre, it has not been publicly mentioned nor discussed- further adding to the overwhelming “hush hush” of Mental Illness within Celebrity and those in the public eye.

Did you know that Hollywood elite, such as Justin Bieber, Sarah Silverman, Kristin Stewart, Ruby Rose, Adele and Beyonce (to name just a few) have all suffered from some form of mental illness? You didn’t know? Well, that is because it isn’t publicised. Have we learned anything from Robin Williams death? Suicide, due, mainly to depression. We have to talk about Mental Health, and it needs to start with the biggest Media power in the world: Hollywood.


As always- Thank You for Reading,

Much Love,

Sammy X