Shelley Duvall hasn’t been in a movie or a TV show for nearly 20 years, but the last time you may have seen her may have been pretty worrying. In 2016, the acclaimed actress appeared on a widely condemned 2016 segment of Dr. Phil, in which she appeared to be unhinged and unwell. It was generally seen that her condition had been exploited by the show’s producers. But some five years later, Hollywood Reporter journalist Seth Abramovitch tracked her down in a small Texas town, revealing that she’s doing much better than originally reported.
Duvall was once a big deal in Hollywood. She made seven films with iconoclastic filmmaker Robert Altman, endured an epic (and emotionally taxing) Stanley Kubrick shoot with The Shining, and even oversaw her own children’s show, Faerie Tale Theatre, in the 1980s. But in the mid-’90s, she and her partner, musician Dan Gilroy, high-tailed it from Los Angeles to Texas. And there she’s mostly dwelled since.
The Dr. Phil segment was instantly reviled, especially by those who know her. Abramovitch remarks that townsfolk, protective of Duvall, would pull him aside to make sure he didn’t mistreat her, as Phil McGraw had. He also notes that the ordeal is still very raw for her:
She grows visibly distressed at the mention of McGraw’s name. “I found out the kind of person he is the hard way,” Duvall says. “My mother didn’t like him, either. A lot of people, like Dan, said, ‘You shouldn’t have done that, Shelley.’ ” (She had submitted to the interview without Gilroy’s knowledge.) After the broadcast and ensuing backlash, McGraw made repeated attempts at contacting Duvall: “He started calling my mother. She told him, ‘Don’t call my daughter anymore.’ But he started calling my mother all the time trying to get her to let me talk to him again.”
Abramovitch wasn’t the first person to try to find Duvall after her encounter with Dr. Phil. Pixar director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3, Soul) managed to track her down in 2018, discovering that the Shelley Duvall seen in that segment was “just one part of a bigger picture.” As Abramovitch puts it:
Yes, she could be gripped by anxiety attacks or meander into unsettling descriptions of alien-surveillance programs. But she also could converse for long, coherent stretches and conjure up the slightest details about her life and of her career, of which she remains very proud.
As for Abramovitch, he found her to still be savvy and her memory “to be sharp and her stories engrossing.” The person you see in his profile is someone who has demons but appears to be happy and functional, spending most of her days driving around her small town, talking to people, snacking on takeout, chainsmoking Parliaments, celebrating her birthday at her favorite restaurant, Red Lobster, and not being anywhere near the industry that long ago lost her interest. May she continue to do the same for as long as she wants.