In 2002, TV legend Carol Burnett‘s life was forever changed when her youngest daughter Carrie Hamilton, 38, died of cancer that had started in her lungs and then spread to her brain.
“I think of her every day,” Burnett, 85, says in the new issue of PEOPLE. “She never leaves me…I just feel her.”
Burnett, now starring in the Netflix series A Little Help With Carol Burnett, which features the comedy icon and a panel of children giving advice to flummoxed adults, says Hamilton, an actress and writer who starred in Fame and occasionally worked alongside her mother, was not only talented but also kind.
“She was very interested in people,” Burnett says. “She never met a stranger. I think it’s in our genes…[knowing] you can make somebody’s day by being kind.” Burnett adds, “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.”
Read more from Carol Burnett in the latest issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.
When Hamilton (whose father was Burnett’s second husband, Carol Burnett Show producer Joe Hamilton) was a teenager, she battled a drug addiction that Burnett helped her overcome.
“She got sober when she was 17,” Burnett says. “I put her in a third rehab place, and oh my God, she hated me. I came to the conclusion that I had to love her enough to let her hate me. She got sober and we started bonding. We wound up working together, writing a play together. We worked together in three shows.”
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Burnett says losing her daughter is not something she’ll never get over.
“You don’t get over it, but you cope,” she says. “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.”
Burnett says that at the time of the play, she suddenly felt Carrie’s presence all around her.
“I got on a plane and said a little prayer to Carrie, and said, ‘I’ve got to do this alone. Don’t leave me alone. Give me a sign that you’re with me.’”
When Burnett got off the plane and checked into her hotel, she saw there was a beautiful bouquet of birds of paradise flowers waiting for her.
“That was Carrie’s favorite flower,” she says. “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.”
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