Carol Burnett may be spending a lot of time at home right now, but she’s making the best of it. The 87-year-old approaches the situation with a tremendous perspective.
“My heart goes out to people who are ill or lost their job — it’s just mind-boggling. So I can’t complain. I’m safe,” Carol told AARP The Magazine in a recent interview.
“I’ve got my husband, a home, and food on the table. We do crossword puzzles and play Scrabble and watch old movies. But I miss seeing my kids, my grandchildren, and my friends, and when all this is over, I just want to throw a great big hugging party.”
Carol has seen hard times, but she knows that there’s always someone out there who has had it worse.
“Some people say I had a tough childhood. It wasn’t that tough. We were poor, but I was never hungry,” she said.
“My mama and dad were alcoholics, and they were divorced. But I had my grandmother, and she raised me. We had one room; I slept on the couch until I was 21; Nanny was on the Murphy bed. She was funny! She used to look under the bed every night. I’d say, ‘What are you looking for, Nanny?’ She’d say, ‘Randolph Scott.'”
Her upbringing in Los Angeles was full of surprises she could have never anticipated. “Growing up in Los Angeles, we’d fly kites and roller-skate and play Jungle Girl. I taught myself the Tarzan yell when I was about 9,” she recalled.
“I was also editor of my high school paper. My intent was to go to UCLA and major in journalism, but we didn’t have the money. Tuition was $43. One morning I got a letter. Inside was a $50 bill. I don’t know, to this day, who sent that.”
Her unpredictable journey led her to realize that things happened when they were meant to. It helped her develop the thick skin she’d need to make it in show business.
“When I went to New York, I was auditioning for something and I thought I had it. But another girl got it,” she recalled.
“Instead of being discouraged, I thought, It’s her turn. It’s not my turn. My turn will come. It saved me from being disappointed.”
Like her mentor, Lucille Ball, Carol hit her stride when she got her own show. The comedy hour still draws laughs over 40 years later.
“If someone had told me 52 years ago that our little show [The Carol Burnett Show] would be viable today, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy!’ But it has held up because we were never that topical — we just went for the laugh.”
Off-screen, Carol was a mom of three daughters — Carrie, Jody, and Erin. As a teen, Carrie went through a three-year period where she heavily abused drugs and alcohol. She beat it at 15 and relapsed just once at 17.
“My daughter Carrie got into drugs. In that situation, don’t be their best friend. When we got her into a third rehab, oh, she hated my guts! You have to love them enough to let them hate you,” Carol said of the difficult time for her family.
“She got sober before her 18th birthday, and we had a good 20 years — we were joined at the hip for a while there,” she continued.
“Carrie died of cancer at 38. But in the hospital, she said, ‘Every day I wake up and decide, today I’m going to love my life.’ And that was her mantra.”
Carol has chosen to adopt the mantra as her own. She’s taken that love and appreciation of each day with her throughout her years. It’s also helped fuel her candid spirit to say what’s on her mind, one she refuses to let go of with age.
“Before the pandemic, I did shows where the audience asked questions. About 10 years ago, in Texas, a lady said, ‘If you could be a member of the opposite sex for 24 hours, who would you be and what would you do?'”
The answer could’ve gone a lot of ways, but Carol was sure she wanted to just say what came to mind.
“I said a little prayer: OK, God. Whatever comes out of my mouth is going to be your fault. And out tumbled, ‘I’d be Osama bin Laden, and I’d kill myself.’ The audience went nuts.”
Carol has undoubtedly had a lot of ups and downs. Through it all, she’s learned to appreciate and enjoy what’s in front of her.
“I’ve lost a lot of people — Tim Conway and Lyle Waggoner and Ken Berry in just the past couple of years,” she noted.
“You learn to cope and also to live in the now. And you have to laugh.“