Grappling with anxiety, Shelley Duvall, The Shining star, admitted that her mental health had faded after an emotionally charged performance in the late Stanley Kubrick’s film.

Duvall’s unbalanced state of mind was evidenced in her 2016 appearance on Dr. Phil, where she said she doesn’t think her Popeye co-star Robin Williams is dead, but is “shape shifting,” and that she’s being threatened by “the sheriff of Nottingham,” along with and other ramblings, that included her plea for help.

The Shining is a 1980’s psychological thriller with concepts so terrifying that it took a toll on Duvall, who starred as Wendy, the wife of the predatory Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson.

Distinctive, eccentric and almost elfish with her large brown eyes and slender physique, Duvall was a legend in the 1980’s and today, the 73-year-old is barely recognizable after a Hollywood hiatus.

Duvall’s acting career started with a chance meeting at a junior college party she was hosting with her then boyfriend.

Three men, associates of Robert Altman, known for M*A*S*H, suggested she try out for his movie, Brewster McCloud. Though she wasn’t an actor, she took the bait, and soon after, she earned an award for her next performance in Altman’s 3 Women (1977).

Hollywood took notice of the newcomer, who went on to perform in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and Time Bandits (1981). She is also the creator and host of the fantasy series The Faerie Tale Theater and Tall Tales and Legends, which earned her an Emmy nomination.


Robert Altman and Shelley Duvall at Cannes Film Festival in 1974 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Gilbert TOURTE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

The Shining, the film adaptation of Stephen King’s book of the same name, centers around the Torrance couple, and their young son Danny, who are spending the winter upkeeping a stately secluded hotel in the Rocky Mountains, that for the winter is closed to guests, but inhabited by the spirits of victims, who were killed by the previous caretaker.

After seeing visions of the ghastly beings that haunt the hotel, Jack’s mental health starts breaking down, and as he spirals into depravity, Wendy and their young son are put in danger.

When the cameras were off, Duvall’s mental health was also breaking down. Becoming the tormented Wendy in The Shining was amplified by her personal struggles.

Duvall’s first marriage ended in 1974 and her relationship with singer-songwriter Paul Simon ended after she introduced him to her friend, Carrie Fisher, who was about to gain massive fame in her role as Princess Leia in the first Star Wars.

Terrified Shelley Duvall in lobby card for the film ‘The Shining’, 1980. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

After two years of living together, Simon broke up with Duvall at the airport just as she was boarding a plane to start filming The Shining. Simon then started dating the late Fisher, whom he later married.

Emotionally distraught after her breakup, Duvall then had to meet the exceptionally high demands of the legendary Kubrick, famously known as a perfectionist.

In fact, one scene with the young Danny Lloyd took 148 takes, earning Kubrick a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for most retakes of one scene.

The iconic stairwell scene, where Duvall’s character is swinging a bat at Nicholson, took 127 takes to meet Kubrick’s standards.

Duvall said that scene took three weeks to shoot and that “It was very hard.”

“Jack was so good–so damn scary,” Duvall said, adding that “It was a difficult scene, but it turned out to be one of the best in the film.”


In the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, Jack Nicholson admitted Kubrick was a “different director” with Duvall. According to People, Nicholson claims that Duvall was constantly antagonized by Kubrick, whom she showed clumps of hair that were falling out from the stress of doing that one scene.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter in 2021, Duvall, who’s lost the elfish glint that fans loved, explained the physical and mental exhaustion of playing Wendy.

“(Kubrick) doesn’t print anything until at least the 35th take,” she said. “After a while, your body rebels. It says: ‘Stop doing this to me. I don’t want to cry every day.’ And sometimes just that thought alone would make me cry. To wake up on a Monday morning, so early, and realize that you had to cry all day because it was scheduled–I would just start crying. I’d be like, ‘Oh no, I can’t, I can’t.’ And yet I did it. I don’t know how I did it. Jack said that to me, too. He said, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’”

Anjelica Huston, an award-winning actor and director, was dating and living with Jack Nicholson at the time of filming. She said, “Shelley was having a hard time just dealing with the emotional content of the piece … and they didn’t seem to be all that sympathetic … She took it on. She was, I think, incredibly brave.”

Wikipedia Commons

Still, Duvall has nothing but praise for the iconic filmmaker. “He was very warm and friendly to me,” she said.

Though she was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress, she found fame.

“When somebody recognizes you at a Dairy Queen in Texas, you’re a star,” she told People in 1981.

Duvall next played Olive Oyl, alongside the late Robin Williams in Popeye, had a small role in 1987’s Roxanne, that starred Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah, and had another minor part in 2002’s Manna from Heaven.

And then she recoiled, living quietly in her small Texas town, until she made headlines after an appearance on Dr. Phil McGraw, who treated her interview as a case study.

Slipping between reality and fantasy, Duvall spoke of recent struggles and shared paranoid delusions of being harmed, indicating that her mental health was clearly off balance.

She then, after recalling how she was once beautiful, called herself “grotesque.”

On McGraw’s recommendation, she was taken to California for treatment, resulting in a minor incident with police, which critics argue should have happened closer to her home.

Big day for our Shelley: she finally got the vaccine and her copy of the @hollywoodreporter 🧚‍♀️

Posted by Hello, I’m Shelley Duvall – a documentary on Thursday, March 4, 2021

Vivian Kubrick, daughter of the late Kubrick, jumped on Twitter and called out Dr. Phil, saying it was “exploitative,” and a “form of lurid entertainment.” She wrote, “I recoil in complete disgust. I hope others will join me in boycotting your utterly heartless form of entertaining…”

Duvall recently returned to the screen with a role in the 2023 horror flick, The Forest Hills.

Friday funday watching some Faerie Tale Theatre + Tall Tales & Legends 🎭

Posted by Hello, I’m Shelley Duvall – a documentary on Friday, March 26, 2021

The Shining would not be the same without the pairing of Nicholson and Duvall. We have so much respect for the strength of actors, whose passions for acting deeply immerse them into a character.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *