Carol Burnett is a classic comedy icon. Since her variety show ended, she’s guest-starred in multiple movies and TV shows with an instantly recognizable face and voice.
Her trailblazing efforts as one of the first women to break onto the comedy TV scene make her inspirational, but so does the way she overcame a difficult childhood. Her parents were alcoholics, and addiction hung over her family like a dark cloud. She always pushed through it to find the spotlight.
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A Family History of Addiction
Carol Burnett was born in San Antonio, Texas on April 26, 1933. The family moved to Hollywood when she was 3. She grew up poor like most children during the Depression. She had to cut back on luxuries and use the shower curtain in the bathtub to hang her clothes.
A family history of addiction made her childhood even more difficult. Her father, Joseph Thomas, was mostly absent but was like a “drunk Jimmy Stewart” when he did visit. Her mother, Ina Louise, was an erratic, mean drunk. Much of her anger centered around the fact that her own Hollywood dreams went unfulfilled.
Carol and her sister Chrissy lived with their maternal grandmother Mabel White. It was a more stable environment for them, but it didn’t keep all of the problems caused by addiction away.
Carol distracted herself from the fighting between her parents and grandmother by drawing. She even wanted to have her own comic strip at one point. Her parents divorced when she was 8, but her mother was often down the hall. Both her mother and father died of alcoholism when they were 40.
Carol’s grandmother eventually helped her find a new escape. They would go to movies every week and sometimes visit 4 theaters a week to see double features. The young girl hooked from the start and became interested in acting from then on.
Carol worked to create a better life for herself as soon as she became an adult. She was an usher at a Warner Brothers theater when she first entered college at UCLA in 1951. Her Hollywood Walk of Fame star was placed in front of the theater. It was a form of revenge against the boss who fired her for refusing to seat customers during the last few minutes of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
Carol switched her degree from journalism to acting after attending an acting workshop. She never graduated, but a lack of education never kept her from succeeding.
Carol’s career took off in 1954 during a final workshop for her degree. She performed in a UCLA play and attracted the attention of a mysterious stranger. She told him about her dreams of acting in musical comedies in New York. He lent her $1,000 on the condition that she never reveal his name.
Carol found another form of help from a prominent celebrity in 1959. That’s the year she met Lucille Ball, one of her earliest idols, after her Tony-winning performance in Once Upon a Mattress. Lucy said, “if you ever need anything, give me a call.”
Carol had a few TV appearances to her name at that point. The Garry More Show helped her hone her talents in sketch comedy and learn to play several roles in a single show. She even won an Emmy for her work.
She eventually got a 1-hour special on CBS called Carol +2 in 1966. The role also came with a condition; she had to get big names to appear with her. Lucy agreed to join, and it helped her get the famous Carol Burnett Show that ran from 1967-1978.
The professional between the two women relationship continued after that. Carol guest-starred on The Lucy Show in 1961, and Lucy guest-starred on The Carol Burnett show several times. She’s also made plenty of big-name friends. She’s partnered with Julie Andrews more than once and has mentor to Vicki Lawrence.
Carol was the first woman to have her own variety show. It ran from 1967-1978 and was a massive success that brought in plenty of major names. It earned 3 Emmys, 5 Golden Globes, and 7 People’s Choice Awards.
Carrie was also able to show off her talents in more serious projects such as Friendly Fire in 1979 and The Story of Beatrice in 1982. Her movie work wasn’t as popular, but her hammy portrayal of Miss Hannigan in the 1982 version of Annie was certainly memorable.
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Carol always worked to balance her career with her family life. It wasn’t always easy because of her dedication to her work, and it often caused a break in her relationships.
Carol first married her college sweetheart, Don Saroyan. They married from 1955-1963. She then married Joe Hamilton who produced many of her shows. They had 3 daughters, Carrie, Jodie, and Erin Hamilton. Her hectic schedule proved too much for the couple, and they divorced in 1984.
She married Brian Miller in 2001, 2 months before Carrie’s death. He was a drummer for both the Hollywood Bowl and Pantages Theater Orchestras. They’re still together today, and he accepted her children as his own. She’s expressed how deeply in love they are and how much his support means to her.
Carrie Hamilton was born on December 5, 1963. She followed in her mother’s footsteps and was an aspiring actress from an early age. Carrie first appeared as Reggie Higgins on the TV show fame from 1986-1987 then went on the US tour of Rent. She also appeared in other popular TV shows in the 90s, including Murder, She Wrote, and The X-Files.
Carrie married Mark Tamplin in 1994. The ceremony held on the stage where The Carol Burnett Show was filmed. They divorced 4 years later and didn’t have any children together.
Addiction eventually took over. By the time Carrie was in her 3rd rehab facility, Carol said that her daughter hated her guts. She also admits that you shouldn’t try to be your children’s best friend; you have to love them enough to let them hate you.
Carrie’s relationship with her mother began to heal by the time she got sober at the age of 18. They even wrote a play called Hollywood Arms based on Carol’s memoir One More Time. It managed to make it to Broadway but never a major hit.
Carol was there for her daughter when she got lung cancer that spread to her brain during her final years. Her mantra was “every day I wake up and decide today I’m going to live my life.”
Carrie tragically died from pneumonia, a complication of her treatments, on January 20, 2002, at the age of 38.
Carol so depressed that she didn’t want to get out of bed, but she wanted to finish the play that she working on with Hal Prince. She felt it was the best way to honor her daughter’s memory. Support from her husband also helped, and she says she feels Carrie with her every day.
Carol has been open about her personal struggles in interviews. She told Marol Thomas in 2011 that those who have loved ones with addiction should never blame themselves or believe they can cure them. She also recommends reaching out to a resource called Alateen.
Carol and Her Children Today
Carol Burnett is currently 89 years old. Her appearances are less frequent but include guest spots in shows such as Glee, Hot in Cleveland, Hawaii Five-O, and Mad About You. She’s even continued her tradition of ending live performances by tugging her ear in honor of her late grandmother.
Carol’s daughters are now grown adults. They’ve followed after their mother in using their time to pursue their passions, but they’ve had varying degrees of success.
Jody Hamilton was born on January 18, 1967. Carol Burnett fans know her name, but others may not know how much she’s been working behind the scenes as a successful film producer. She helped create her mother’s show Carol Burnett: Show Stoppers. She’s also worked on Lunchtime Thomas in 2001, Kink in 2008, and Porkchop Playhouse in 2011.
Erin Hamilton was born on the 14th of August, 1968. She was born with a talent for singing and has released hits such as a 1998 cover of Gary Wright’s 1975 hit Dream Weaver. She even named Miss Golden Globe in 1993.
Erin also took the time to create a family and has 2 sons. Zachary Carlson was born in 1997, and Dylan West was born in 2006.
The history of addiction in the family, unfortunately, continued with Carol’s second daughter. She became hooked on drugs. She’s been in and out of rehab multiple times. She’s also spent at least a month in an institution 8 times over the last 19 years.
Carol petitioned for temporary guardianship of her 14-year-old grandson Dylan with her husband Brian. Erin’s ex-husband Tony West wasn’t able to take over because he also recently checked into a rehab center.
The judges in the case agreed that Dylan needed a more stable environment and decided that Carol would be able to provide it. She and her husband won guardianship up to January 8, 2021. They began working to make the arrangement permanent in November 2021.
Dylan now attends a boarding school and is happy and healthy. His mother, Erin, is working to overcome her addictions.
Carol Burnett may have never been able to escape the specter of alcoholism and drugs that hung over her family, but she has been able to push through it. She managed to become one of the most inspirational and beloved comedians in the world of TV despite it all.
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