Tragic details about Shelley Duvall
Like many women throughout Hollywood in the 20th century, Shelley Duval didn’t have all that great a time working as an actress. While she appeared in iconic films like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Robert Altman’s 3 Women, Duvall also won a Peabody Award for her work on Faerie Tale Theatre, a children’s television series she hosted for six seasons. Most recently, however, Duvall drew attention for her alarming interview with Dr. Phil McGraw in 2016, as her appearance alongside the daytime TV host raised concerns about her mental and physical health.
Duvall looked haggard and seemed paranoid, claiming that people were out to get her and harm her. The actress also refused any offers of help from the show’s host. While many people did criticize Dr. Phil for airing the interview when Duvall was in such an apparently vulnerable state, the interview also drew attention to many aspects of Duvall’s life that had either been swept under the rug or completely unacknowledged, including the poor treatment Duvall received on film sets.
Filming 'The Shining' was a nightmare for Shelley Duvall
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has become a modern classic, but the 13-month filming process was “almost unbearable,” lead actress Shelley Duvall told Roger Ebert in 1980. Describing the “excruciating” production, Duvall said, “I had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week.” Duvall was also forced to do the famous baseball bat scene 127 times, and Kubrick reportedly intentionally isolated her from the rest of the cast. After filming, clumps of her hair began falling out from stress.
Duvall also felt that her performance was overlooked in favor of co-star Jack Nicholson’s flashier performance. “After I made The Shining, all that work, hardly anyone even criticized my performance in it, even to mention it, it seemed like,” she explained. “The reviews were all about Kubrick, like I wasn’t there.”
But The Shining wasn’t the only film of that era that caused Duvall physical pain, as filming The Time Bandits with Terry Gilliam resulted in some sort of head injury. Duvall told Ebert there was a scene that called for “six dwarfs to come crashing through the roof of a medieval carriage.” When the dwarfs didn’t want to do the stunt, Gilliam did it himself. “He weighs 180 pounds and landed on my head. I could have been paralyzed,” she revealed. “As it is, there’s just a pain that comes through my ears to my eye, and then it goes away. I’m sure it can be fixed.”
Inside Shelley Duvall's life after Hollywood
In the 1980s, Duvall moved away from filmmaking and focused her energy more towards television work. She appeared in a few films and series throughout the 1990s before retiring in 2002 and avoiding the public eye. That is, until Duvall’s controversial appearance on Dr. Phil in 2016. The first words out of her mouth during the interview were, “I am very sick. I need help” (per Inside Edition).
Duvall’s appearance alarmed fans who hadn’t seen the actress in nearly 15 years. She claimed that people would hurt her if she was healthy, but could not pinpoint who would hurt her. Duvall also shared thoughts about her late Popeye co-star Robin Williams. “I don’t think he’s dead,” she said, adding that Williams is now a shapeshifter. “He looks real good in some forms and in other forms he doesn’t,” she explained. Dr. Phil asked Duvall if she sees Williams, and she replied, “Have, yes.” She also refused treatment that McGraw offered.
While the interview was difficult to watch because of just how disturbed Duvall seemed to be, fans expressed immediate concern for the actress and criticized McGraw for exploiting her. Stanley Kubrick’s daughter Vivian, in particular, posted a letter on Twitter criticizing the host, calling him “appallingly cruel.” She wrote, “Shelley Duvall is a movie star. Whatever dignity a mere unfortunate creature might have in this world, is denied her by your displaying her in this way.” The full interview appears to have been scrubbed from the internet, and Duvall hasn’t been seen since.
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