Shelley Duvall doesn’t seem in such great shape during her interview with Dr. Phil. The sixty-something actress admits to the TV psychologist that she’s “sick” and “needs help.” Duvall seems more than just a world away from the days when she lit up the screen in The Shining opposite Jack Nicholson, or Popeye opposite Robin Williams. Or when she lit up real life too, opposite music legend Paul Simon.
To process Dr. Phil’s Shelley Duvall interview with deepest sympathy, it helps to understand what Shelley Duvall used to be — not just a film star with unusual beauty, but a crackling conversationalist. Duvall dated Simon in the late 1970s and a telling anecdote from the new Paul Simon biography Homeward Bound paints a picture of Duvall in her moment. When a new friend of Simon’s, the brilliant musician Chuck Israels, started hanging with Simon’s crowd he found himself in megawatt territory. As Peter Ames Carlin writes:
Invited to a party at Paul’s apartment, Israels found himself standing between Shelley Duvall, Mike Nichols, the actor Peter Boyle (then costarring in the smash comedy Young Frankenstein), and the British actor/writer Eric Idle, whose innovative troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus was rewriting the rules of comedy… the speed and complexity of their repartee left [Israels] speechless.
“I know I’m smart, I know I’m educated,” Israels told Carlin. “Generally I can hold my own. But around those people I’m a blithering idiot.”
That is a picture of Shelley Duvall to bear in mind as you watch Dr. Phil.