The Haunting Toll of “The Shining”
Shelley Duvall, the renowned actress from the 1980s, has become a mysterious figure after stepping away from the Hollywood spotlight. Best known for her role in Stanley Kubrick’s psychological thriller The Shining, Duvall’s career took a toll on her mental health. In a candid interview on Dr. Phil, she revealed her struggles with anxiety and delusions, including a belief that her co-star Robin Williams is alive and shape-shifting. This revelation was a cry for help from a talented actress whose mind had been deeply affected by her intense performance in Kubrick’s film.
From Stardom to Obscurity
In her prime, Shelley Duvall was an enigmatic and eccentric actress, loved for her distinctive appearance and incredible talent. However, at 73 years old, she is now barely recognizable. Duvall’s acting career began unexpectedly when she caught the attention of director Robert Altman’s associates at a college party. Taking a chance, she auditioned for Altman’s film Brewster McCloud and quickly became a rising star with her award-winning performance in 3 Women (1977). From there, she went on to act in iconic films such as Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), and Time Bandits (1981). She also created and hosted the fantasy series The Faerie Tale Theater and Tall Tales and Legends, which earned her an Emmy nomination.
The Shining: A Gateway to Madness
Based on Stephen King’s novel, The Shining tells the story of the Torrance family who takes care of an isolated hotel during the winter. As the spirits of past victims begin to haunt him, the character of Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, descends into madness, endangering his wife Wendy, portrayed by Duvall, and their young son Danny.
Behind the scenes, Duvall’s mental health was deteriorating, worsened by her personal struggles. Her first marriage ended in 1974, and her relationship with singer-songwriter Paul Simon crumbled just as she was about to start filming The Shining. Simon broke up with her at the airport, and shortly after, he began dating Duvall’s friend, Carrie Fisher. Emotionally devastated by the breakup, Duvall had to face the demanding perfectionism of Kubrick. One scene with child actor Danny Lloyd took a staggering 148 takes, and the iconic stairwell scene, where Duvall’s character swings a bat at Nicholson, took 127 takes. Duvall’s dedication to her role was met with physical and mental exhaustion.
A Director’s Unyielding Vision
Jack Nicholson has described Kubrick as a “different director” when it came to working with Duvall. Nicholson revealed that Duvall was constantly antagonized by Kubrick, leading to extreme stress and even hair loss. In a 2021 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Duvall opened up about the challenges she faced, including the emotional toll of having to cry on cue every day. Despite the immense difficulty, Duvall found the strength to deliver a stellar performance alongside Nicholson, who commended her ability to endure the grueling shoot.
Anjelica Huston, who was dating Nicholson at that time, witnessed firsthand Duvall’s struggles. She praised Duvall’s bravery in taking on such an emotionally demanding role and expressed her disappointment in the lack of compassion shown to Duvall by those involved in the film.
Fame, Breakdown, and Recovery
Despite receiving a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Actress, Duvall achieved fame. She captured the hearts of fans across America, as she once recounted being recognized at a Dairy Queen in Texas—a true symbol of stardom. Following The Shining, she appeared in films like Popeye (1980) alongside Robin Williams, Roxanne (1987) starring Steve Martin, and Manna from Heaven (2002). However, she eventually withdrew from the spotlight and lived a quiet life, away from the prying eyes of Hollywood.
In recent years, Duvall’s mental health struggles resurfaced during an appearance on Dr. Phil’s show, where she spoke in a bewildering mix of reality and fantasy. Concerned for her well-being, Dr. Phil facilitated her relocation to California for treatment, albeit amidst controversy. Vivian Kubrick, daughter of the late Stanley Kubrick, criticized Dr. Phil for exploiting Duvall and turning her struggles into “lurid entertainment.” Despite the incident, Duvall has made a comeback with a role in the 2023 horror film The Forest Hills.
A Tribute to the Strength of Actors
The enduring legacy of The Shining is incomplete without acknowledging the powerful performances of Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. We must admire the dedication and strength of actors who fully immerse themselves in their characters. As fans, we hope for Duvall’s mental health to improve and for her to find peace and happiness once again.