Carol Burnett Opens Up About Her Daughter's Death 16 Years Later

May 3, 2018 at 11:10 a.m. ET
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We've all heard the cliché "bad things happen to good people," and sadly, it couldn't be truer. Carol Burnett is living proof. Sixteen years later, she is still mourning the death of her firstborn daughter, Carrie Hamilton.

“I think of her every day,” Burnett, who's currently promoting her new Netflix series, A Little Help With Carol Burnett, told People. “She never leaves me… I just feel her.”

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Hamilton died at the age of 38 just five short months after discovering she had lung cancer. The diagnosis came too late and the cancer quickly spread to her brain, leading to her untimely death on Jan. 2, 2002. But while Hamilton's young adolescence was riddled with addiction problems (she had been to three rehabs by the time she was 17 years old), she overcame her demons, found her own talents and was a unique spirit.

“She was very interested in people,” Burnett said. “She never met a stranger. I think it’s in our genes…[knowing] you can make somebody’s day by being kind... She also loved to write. One time she was in New York and it was the winter, and homeless people would come up and ask for money. She would say, ‘I’ll give you $10 if you tell me your story.’ She would collect those stories and write about them.”

Hamilton found a truly incredible way to explore the world and connect with other human beings from every walk of life in her short 38 years. But moving on from grief wasn't easy for Burnett who was only 67 years old when Hamilton died.

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“You don’t get over it, but you cope,” she said. “What else can you do? When Carrie died, I didn’t want to get out of bed for a while, but I had a play to finish that we started that Hal Prince was going to direct. I owed it to Carrie, and I owed it to Hal.”

So Burnett got on a plane and said a prayer to Hamilton to help her get through it — and it seems Hamilton sent her not just one, but multiple signs she was still there, cheering her on. When Burnett arrived to her hotel room, there was a bouquet of birds of paradise flowers in the room.

“That was Carrie’s favorite flower,” she said. “She had one tattooed on her right shoulder. Then at dinner the maître d’ gave us a bottle of Champagne, and the label said ‘Louise.’ That was Carrie’s middle name. Then it rained on opening night. Carrie and I were nuts for the rain.”

While Burnett misses Hamilton everyday, she's surrounded by family, including her two other daughters — Jody Hamilton (51 years old) and Erin Hamilton (49 years old) — and grandkids — Zachary (21 years old) and Dylan (11 years old).

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And she's keeping busy. After doing a few guest star roles in TV shows including All My Children, Desperate Housewives, Law & Order: SVU, Glee, and Hawaii Five-0, Burnett is starring in her own Netflix series premiering May 4, 2018, A Little Help With Carol Burnett, in which, with the help of Burnett, kids dish out advice to celebrities and everyday people in front of a live audience.

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