Texas native Sandy Duncan has had a can-do attitude her whole life. And her mindset got a boost after she won over legendary choreographer Agnes de Mille for a 1966 NYC revival of Carousel. “I didn’t think I could do it and I did it,” she exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “It gave me confidence that if I worked hard enough I could do something [great].”
Since then, Sandy’s career has spanned films (including 1971’s Star Spangled Girl, for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination), TV sitcoms, and Broadway, where she memorably played Peter Pan.
Amazingly, most of that was accomplished after a brain tumor operation left her blind in one eye at age 24. But that health scare helped make her a “better person,” she has said. “It gives you an attitude of strength and hope. I considered myself a lucky girl in how I survived.” And Sandy still feels lucky.
She continues to perform in shows like Love Letters, and she’s been married for 38 years to her third husband, Don Correia, 67, with whom she has two sons, Jeffrey, 35, and Michael, 34.
Now the showbiz legend exclusively opens up to Closer about her marriage, motherhood, and how she finally met Valerie Harper, the woman she replaced on TV 31 years ago in The Hogan Family. Scroll down to read our exclusive Q&A with Sandy!
Congrats on 60 years in showbiz! What have you been up to?
I wouldn’t call it retired. I’ve performed since I was 12, but I don’t commit to eight shows a week at 72 because you have to really love the material to do something for an extended time, like a year on Broadway. I just haven’t read anything that’s blown me away. So if someone offers me a limited engagement, that’s what I do, and I got to do Love Letters [this year].
How have you persevered all this time?
It had something to do with luck and determination. The work was hard, but the progression of my career was extremely easy. I hate to admit it!
What project of yours do people bring up to you most often?
A lot of people associate me with Peter Pan, but they couldn’t have all seen it! I did it in 1979 to 1981 for about 1,000 shows — and I didn’t miss a single one.
That’s great! After you rose to fame on the stage, what made you want to do TV?
Nothing. I was doing a  Broadway musical called The Boy Friend. Some people from Disney came and I got a film called Million Dollar Duck. I went out to LA to do it with no mind to stay there. Movies weren’t my dream and weren’t what I was trained to do.
Then in 1971, I got the TV series Funny Face, got a brain tumor, and had that surgery, then went back to the show. They revamped it [as 1972’s The Sandy Duncan Show] so I didn’t have such a hard schedule.
How did you know you were ill?
During the last two episodes of Funny Face, I was having excruciating headaches and kept saying, “Something’s really wrong.” People would say, “It’s stress,” and they just kept sending me to doctors. I was so sick I could barely walk, but I finished [the season].
Who finally figured it out?
I went home and my family eye doctor from when I was 10 said, “Honey, there’s something going on behind your eye. It’s starting to protrude. Get some tests done.” It was before the days of CT scans and MRIs, so they literally took the top of my head off for 10 hours and found this big tumor attached on the orbit of my left eye. They took the tumor and orbit out, and I lost vision in my eye.
That must have been traumatic
I was in never-never land for sure. A lot of people ask, “Why me?” and go into this pity party thing. Luckily, I didn’t. You just have to keep plugging along. I can complain a lot, though, so I guess that balances it out. [Laughs]
And how is your health now?
I am going to have surgery [soon] to support the eye. With time, it starts to recess because there’s nothing holding it, so there’s a lack of symmetry now. Wish me luck!
You’ve got it! How did this health crisis change your life when you were initially diagnosed and being treated?
My first husband [Bruce Scott] was a brilliant rock ‘n’ roll singer, but we were just too different. We were only married for three years when the tumor thing happened and I thought, I can’t die and be married to this man. Then when I was in the hospital I met a physician [Thomas Calcaterra] who was really gorgeous! We were married seven-something years but, again, it was a mismatch, so I left.
How did you meet Don?
He joined a nightclub act that I’d put together. After all the time we spent dancing in rehearsals, we didn’t have any romantic interest. But then it took off because we liked being together. Two years later we got married.
What makes you two work?
We’re easy with each other and we laugh a whole lot. We have similar interests and have done a whole bunch of shows. We’ve worked together so much and because we’re dancers, I flip and he catches me. There’s trust involved in our relationship, and he’s never dropped me yet! [Laughs]
How are your sons doing these days?
My oldest, Jeffrey, is going down to perform on a few Disney World cruises. And Michael works in commercial insurance. He got married two years ago to this amazing woman and they just bought a house. News break: Even Michael doesn’t know this, but we’re considering moving to an area in New Jersey near him in about a year.
After you started your own family with Don in the early ’80s, you famously replaced Valerie Harper in 1987 on her show Valerie, which was renamed The Hogan Family. Was that awkward on set?
It was a breeze. It was lovely from day one. I hit it off with the whole cast.
Did you ever meet Valerie?
I didn’t at all until three years ago at a red carpet event, when she was having all her health issues. [I’m glad] she’s still alive and kicking. She came over and said, “I can’t believe we haven’t met after all these years!” I said, “I know!” and we hugged.
What are the benefits to this stage of your life?
Until recently, I was part of that career world and stressed a lot, because that’s what you do when you’re working and you have kids. Things don’t upset me as much now. I used to worry a great deal about what somebody thought, but not anymore.
Could you rate your mood now from 1 to 10?
I’d say about an 8. Depression is a very real part of my life, always has been, but luckily not often. At one of my low points I made a list of people I’ve worked with: Danny Kaye! Ginger Rogers! Bing Crosby! It made me realize I’ve been very blessed on many levels.
For more on Sandy Duncan, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!