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Carol Burnett, friend of Mark Twain and a loving mother . . . always

Carrie and Carol, 1980s
Carrie and Carol, 1980s
Author's collection

It’s always nice to spend time together with Carol Burnett.
She received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the nation's foremost award for humor, in October, and the Kennedy Center ceremony was broadcast the other evening, a perfect way to bring in the New Year . . . with lots of classic footage, a handful of Carol’s Big Name Friends and oodles of new laughs.
While seeing her daughters Jody and Erin (and her handsome hubby Brian Miller) sitting with her, I started thinking about Carol's oldest daughter, Carrie Hamilton. Carrie died, at 38, of cancer in 2002; last year, Carol wrote Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story (Simon & Schuster), a bittersweet journey about her life and laughs and loss with Carrie. The book is being released in paperback this April.
Carol called one day and we chatted about the book but I never got around to writing about that talk.
It simply hurt me too much.
I knew Carrie from her work on Fame and other TV shows, and the day I spent with her for a Redbook cover story. She dropped by my office looking fab; maybe the word is “hot.” Her locks were very blonde, the cut very sleek; the smile broad and bright; she was glowing from the critical acclaim she had received for her role as an American singer headed to Japan in the film Tokyo Pop. Carrie was clean as well, off drugs for years, surviving an addiction that almost killed her and her relationship with her mother.
Carol uses this Carrie quote in the book, 40 words that sums up her humanity: “More than anything, we are remembered for our smiles: the ones we share with our closest and dearest, and the one we bestow on a total stranger who needs it right then, and God has put us there to deliver.”
I just reread the transcript of our chat, and still weep.
So I offer two simple questions and answers, a few photos and a request that you read Carrie and Me. Now. You will read it and savor two voices, mother and daughter; you will laugh and cry and love.
How do you deal with the loss?
It still hurts, but it gets easier. Now I celebrate her life instead of mourning her death.
Carrie was so beautiful inside and out.
Yes, and a wildly optimistic human being. When Tokyo Pop came out, Marlon Brando wanted to work with her and she turned him down! When I was thinking of writing the book, I asked Carrie for her permission---I threw it out to the universe, and the answer came to me in a dream. I saw her face and she said yes. I hope the world knows the kind of human being she was.

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