The horror story of why Shelley Duvall vanished from the spotlight

Struggling with anxiety, Shelley Duvall, famed for her role in “The Shining,” confessed to a decline in her mental health following an emotionally charged performance in Stanley Kubrick’s film.

Duvall’s evident mental instability surfaced during her 2016 appearance on Dr. Phil, where she expressed disbelief in the death of her “Popeye” co-star Robin Williams, claiming he was “shape-shifting,” and alleged threats from “the sheriff of Nottingham,” among other delusions, prompting a plea for help.

“The Shining,” a psychological thriller from 1980, featured concepts so chilling that they took a toll on Duvall, who portrayed Wendy, the wife of the menacing Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson.

With her distinctive, eccentric persona and elfin appearance characterized by large brown eyes and a slender frame, Duvall was a legend in the 1980s. Today, at 73, she is scarcely recognizable after a prolonged absence from Hollywood.

Duvall’s acting journey began serendipitously at a junior college party she hosted with her then-boyfriend. Encountering three men associated with Robert Altman, renowned for “MAS*H,” led to her audition for Altman’s film “Brewster McCloud.” Despite lacking acting experience, she impressed, later earning acclaim for her role in Altman’s “3 Women” (1977).

Hollywood took notice of the rising star, leading to roles in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” (1977), Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980), and “Time Bandits” (1981). Duvall also created and hosted the fantasy series “The Faerie Tale Theater” and “Tall Tales and Legends,” garnering an Emmy nomination.

“The Shining,” based on Stephen King’s novel, revolves around the Torrance family, spending a secluded winter at a remote hotel in the Rocky Mountains, where eerie occurrences unfold due to the hotel’s haunted history.

Off-camera, Duvall’s mental health deteriorated under the strain of embodying the tormented Wendy in “The Shining,” compounded by personal challenges.

Following the end of her first marriage and a failed relationship with Paul Simon, Duvall introduced Simon to her friend Carrie Fisher, precipitating Simon’s relationship with Fisher. This breakup, coupled with the high demands of Kubrick, exacerbated Duvall’s emotional turmoil.

Renowned for his perfectionism, Kubrick subjected Duvall to numerous retakes, setting records for retakes in certain scenes. The iconic stairwell scene, for instance, required 127 takes, taking a toll on Duvall physically and mentally.

Despite the challenges, Duvall holds Kubrick in high regard. However, her experience portraying Wendy left lasting scars, with the emotional toll evident in her 2016 Dr. Phil appearance.

Following her resurgence in the 2023 horror film “The Forest Hills,” Duvall’s journey serves as a cautionary tale about the tolls of fame and the importance of mental health awareness in the entertainment industry.