Like Neely O'Hara: Remembering Patty Duke & Her Iconic Role In 'Valley Of The Dolls'

by Stephanie Maida · March 29, 2016

    "And like Neely O'Hara you swallow your sleep and wake up in the morning to find out you are not who you used to be." As an emo teenager, and a still somewhat emo twenty-something, these lyrics croaked by Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst were my introduction to the mythos of one Neely O'Hara, the kind of mess of a girl I could relate to in my high school angst - and could still relate to, as a nocturnal New Yorker who writes about nightlife for a living. 

    It wasn't until I was a tad bit older that I really discovered Valley of the Dolls, both the Jacqueline Susann novel and the 1967 film adaptation. Though my original obsession was with the vacant-eyed but beautiful Sharon Tate (who has a whole other haunting degree of legend to her), I soon looked to Patty Duke's glamorous, tragic, over-dramatic Neely to channel something and to find something at the same time. 

    Today, at 69, the child star, Oscar-winner, mental health advocate, and eternal glamazon Patty Duke died, calling forth of course an outpouring of remembrance and respect for both her talent and her person. Faced with stardom at a young age, Duke struggled like we've seen plenty of child stars struggle, and when, in 1982, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the disaffected character Neely O'Hara seemed even more poignant than before.

    Notorious for being hopelessly camp, albeit a cult favorite, Valley of the Dolls wouldn't be called the best or most groundbreaking of films, but there is still something eerily relevant about a pill-popping, cigarette-smoking, alcohol-swigging group of pretty young things on the verge of stardom. All you need to do is listen to a Weeknd song to know that a whole new generation of Neely O'Haras are still out there, though none of them will quite be Patty Duke. 

    [Photo via Valley of the Dolls]