At 26, Patty Duke’s Son Sean Astin Used Paternity Tests To Discover Identity Of His Biological Father

Mar 24, 2023 by apost team

Sean Astin is an American actor best known for his role as Samwise Gamgee in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. He was born on Feb. 25, 1971, in Santa Monica, California, to Patty Duke. The identity of his father, though, was something that Sean grew up uncertain about.

Throughout various periods of his life, Sean tried to figure out who his dad could be. He was led to believe he could’ve been a few different people, and Sean developed good relationships with various folks as well. He was even adopted by fellow actor John Astin. John is best known for his work in “The Addams Family,” and also appeared in “Freaky Friday,” “West Side Story” and “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.”

All while on the search for learning more about his identity and who his father was, Sean pursued a career in the entertainment industry. He found a great love for acting and worked hard to make his dreams come true. The talented man also went on to show off more of his skills and talents in the entertainment world as the years went by.

Still, people were unsure of who Sean’s biological father was, including his own mother. When Duke became pregnant with Sean, she was unsure who his father was. The actor had grown so curious himself that he took matters into his own hands.

The main speculation was between John, Desi Arnaz Jr. and music promoter and writer Michael Tell. Finally, a DNA test revealed who Sean's biological father was, finding out the truth when he was in his mid-20s.

Sean Astin (1987), (Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Sean found a love for acting pretty early on in his childhood. He obtained his first acting role in 1981 for a television movie called “Please Don’t Hit Me, Mom.” In the film, he portrayed an 8-year-old with an abusive mother, who was actually played by his real-life mother, Duke. Sean was around the same age as his character at the time, as he was born in 1971.

When he was 13 years old, Sean made his official film debut with the role of Mikey in the 1985 film “The Goonies.” The adventure comedy film became a cult classic based on a story by Steven Spielberg. Sean worked alongside several other respected stars, including Josh BrolinJeff CohenCorey FeldmanKerri GreenMartha Plimpton and Ke Huy Quan. “The Goonies” was a box office success and is still held dearly in the hearts of fans today. In 2017, the Library of Congress selected the movie for preservation in the United States National Film Registry due to its significance.

After doing well in “The Goonies,” Sean continued to find more work in the entertainment industry. His career was jam-packed during the 1980s and 1990s with films such as “Like Father Like Son,” “White Water Summer” with Kevin Bacon,” The War of the Roses,” “Toy Soldiers,” “Encino Man” and “Rudy.”

Sean even showed off more of his skills when he directed and co-produced the short film “Kangaroo Court” in 1994 alongside his wife, Christine Astin. It went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Film. Afterward, Sean acted more in movies such as “Harrison Bergeron,” “Courage Under Fire” and “Bulworth.”

Sean Astin (2015), (Valerie Macon/Getty Images)

But it was Sean’s role in “The Lord of the Rings” franchise that really helped cement him in Hollywood and prove that he could create a worthwhile career for himself. While he had already starred in other successful and adored films, nothing could quite compare to the excitement that “The Lord of the Rings” franchise had in store.

Sean portrayed the character of Samwise Gamgee in “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy. The franchise of epic fantasy adventure movies was directed by Peter Jackson and based on the novel of the same name by J. R. R. Tolkien. The author also wrote “The Hobbit,” which added more detail to “The Lord of the Rings” world. 

The movies Sean appeared in included “The Fellowship of the Ring” in 2001, “The Two Towers” in 2002 and “The Return of the King” in 2003. Other notable stars to come from the series include Elijah WoodIan McKellenLiv TylerOrlando Bloom and Cate Blanchett.

Yet again, Sean found himself as part of a beloved franchise. “The Lord of the Rings” series received several awards. The cast as a whole and all three movies were celebrated by fans and critics alike. Sean also received seven nominations for his own work in the film, bringing home five of them: a Saturn Award, a Sierra Award, a Seattle Film Critics Award, a Utah Film Critics Award and the Visual Effects Society Award. His awards celebrated his performance as an actor and also as a star in films with outstanding effects.

Bernard Hill, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, Billy Boyd, John Noble, John Rhys-Davie (2004), (KMazur/WireImage for Turner)

Based on the way Sean has spoken about his past, there’s no doubt that he enjoyed his time filming the popular franchise series. He released his 2004 memoir “There and Back Again,” co-written with Joe Layden, that highlighted his experience specifically during the production of “The Lord of the Rings.” The title was even inspired by “The Hobbit,” proving that Sean simply couldn’t get enough of the fantastical worldbuilding he witnessed.

In 2021, Sean spoke with Collider to talk about how he viewed the films 20 years after the first one was released. He talked about how his “understanding” of his character “changes all the time.”

“So yesterday, 20 years and the day after the movies I realized, it's the first time that it occurred to me that he didn't put the Ring on,” Sean said. “Unless he did. Did he put it on to hide from the orcs? I don't think he did.”

Surprisingly, Sean “didn’t even know” about the book when he was first approached about the movies. However, Sean was intrigued by his agent encouraging him so much to go for the part, so he took the time to educate himself on the topic. Sean explained:

“But I went to the bookstore. And I went in there, (because) she said I was going to audition for Sam. So from the second I heard of the existence of these things, I heard the name ‘Lord of the Rings’ and the character of Sam. So everything I've experienced from ‘Lord of the Rings’ has been from Sam's point of view.”

Sean Astin (2019), (Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

There’s no doubt that this film series helped make Sean the star he is today. However, fans also adore him for his variety of roles in other productions over the course of his career. Sean has also appeared in “50 First Dates,” “Click,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”

While Sean clearly made an impact on the entertainment industry, there’s no doubt that it could have come from his talented family. His mother, Duke, was a talented actress herself. She received an Academy Award, Golden Globe Awards and Primetime Emmy Awards. She even received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Duke found fame early on, similar to that of her son. When she was just 15 years old, she portrayed Helen Keller in the 1962 movie “The Miracle Worker.” She had previously portrayed the role on Broadway. Afterward, Duke went on to have her own TV series, “The Patty Duke Show,” which ran from 1963 to 1966.

As she grew up, she obtained more mature roles, including “Valley of the Dolls” in 1967 and “Me, Natalie” in 1969.

The birth of “The Lord of the Rings” star Sean in February 1971 was hounded with a lot of rumors because his famous mother, award-winning actress Duke, had an interesting love life. She was in a relationship with three different men within a span of a year before giving birth to her son.

Duke raised her firstborn to believe that his father was "Addams Family" star John Astin, who married the actress in 1972, a year after the birth of Sean.

Sean Astin (2012), (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Nickelodeon)

However, Duke was in a secret relationship with him long before they got married. They couldn't reveal this fact to the press as John was still married to Suzanne Hahn and was waiting for their divorce to be finalized. 

After that divorce, Duke and John had another son together, Mackenzie Astin, who was born in 1973. Duke also adopted John's three sons from his first marriage. However, their married life also ended in divorce in 1985, when Sean was 14 years old. 

Sean was at that age when his mother told him that John was not his biological father but Desi Arnaz Jr., the son of Hollywood legends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. However, Desi Jr. was only 17 when he dated Duke, who was 23. Their love story was tabloid fodder, especially after Ball was openly against her son's girlfriend. 

Duke turned to Michael Tell, a promoter and publisher who was subletting her apartment, for help. He proposed to marry her so that the press would stop hounding Duke about Desi Jr., and she went along with the impulsive plan. However, their marriage lasted just 13 days, and they went through an annulment just as Duke and Desi Jr.’s relationship fizzled and she had already started an affair with John.

Sean then built a good relationship with Desi Jr. after what his mother told him. Then a budding young star himself courtesy of the cult film, “The Goonies,” Sean regarded Desi Jr. as his second dad but still maintained a high regard for John, the man who raised him like his own son.

Sean Astin, Christine Astin (2001), (Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

However, when Sean was 26 years old, a relative of Tell told him how much they were alike. Confused, Sean decided to take a paternity test to finally have the answers to the mystery of who his real father was. John, Desi Jr., and Tell agreed to submit to the DNA test as well so they could all find out the truth as well.

"If you want to know who I am, John Astin is my father, Michael Tell is my biological father," Sean revealed in 2021, according to PEOPLE.

The actor also said that he has a good relationship with his biological father, whom his other dad, John, described as a great guy. Sean is OK with having three father figures, even if his mother didn't fully believe in DNA tests. Regardless, Duke said she respected the truth her son uncovered through science. Sean explained:

“I have a good relationship with Mike. That’s who I am. I don't fault anybody, I don’t fault myself or with Desi, who is like my godfather, I have such a powerful love bond with this man, he’s a gorgeous human being.”

John said that he considers his “spiritual connection” with Sean more important than DNA, and Sean has also shared that he will always view the man who raised him as his father. John added: “The greatest treasures are the treasures of the heart and Sean is a treasure. We’re very close, we have a good time together.”

John also built a close relationship with Tell over the years. “His biological dad turns out to be a great guy and we’ve become friendly,” he shared. “He’s a good guy.”

Patty Duke, Sean Astin (2004), (David S. Holloway/Getty Images)

However, Duke was not as happy with the paternity test results despite the rest of the family seemingly coming together. She spoke with PEOPLE back in 2001 and 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. When God looks me in the eye and says, ‘Anna Marie, you have been mistaken all these years,’ then I will consider (Tell’s paternity).”

Nonetheless, Sean appears proud to have such an eccentric family life now that he has a family of his own. Sean's childhood and paternity might be far from conventional, but he was determined to build a traditional family when he got married to Christine Astin (nee Harrell) in 1992. Together, the couple raised three girls — Alexandra “Ali” Astin, Elizabeth Astin and Isabella Astin. His eldest is following in his footsteps and had a small role in “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” She also starred in "Bad Kids of Crestview Academy." 

Duke passed away in 2016 at the age of 69. Sean was only 10 years old when his mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental health disorder. Her son founded the Patty Duke Mental Health Initiative following her death.

Sean has continued pursuing his career and still appears to be flourishing in it. According to his IMDb page, Sean has several projects in the works. With so much knowledge now under his belt, only time will tell what else Sean surprises us with next.

MacKenzie Astin, Patty Duke, Sean Astin (2004), (Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

Sean Astin's real-life paternity mystery is almost like a story from the movies, isn't it? What can you say about his discovery? Do you know someone with a similar life? Pass this interesting tale to someone you know!

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