Carol Burnett, through laughter and tears

(CBS News) "The Carol Burnett Show" ran for 11 years on CBS. Back then she was the queen of comedy -- and she can still leave 'em laughing. Lee Cowan has a Sunday Profile:


There was a time when staying home on Saturday nights wasn't an indictment of your social life, because America had a standing date with Carol Burnett.

For more than a decade "The Carol Burnett Show" was on in almost every household with a TV. It's still regarded as one of the most beloved variety shows ever.

Remarkable, given that when she first auditioned to be on television, no one -- not even Carol Burnett herself -- believed she'd ever really be a good fit.

"The guy who was casting me said, 'You're too big for television!'" Burnett laughed. "You're too loud. You're too . . . Poof!!!'"

At almost 80 years old she hasn't lost any of that larger-than-life charm.

Who else could interrupt a taping of "The Bold and The Beautiful" and still get such a warm welcome?

It's been more than 30 years since her show went off the air at Television City in Hollywood. She toured Studio 33 with Cowan. "This was our big stage," she said - what is now home of "The Price Is Right."

"This is the best studio in town as far as doing sketches or music or anything like that, because you're right there with the audience," Burnett said.

Carol Burnett shows Lee Cowan the Los Angeles TV studio where her classic show was taped -- it's now home to "The Price Is Right."
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She was especially close to her audience. Her Q&A sessions made her seem less like a star and more like a friend, always aiming to please.

"You wanna hear the Tarzan yell? Aahhhhh eeee aaaahhh eeeee ahhhhhhhhhhhh!"

But out of all the seats in the house, one row meant the most -- where her three young daughters (Jody, Erin and Carrie) all sat during rehearsals.

"They'd usually sit in these three seats here," she said, seats which she laughingly noted have been reupholstered.

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She laughs now, but those seats weren't always filled with smiles.

Carrie, her oldest, descended into a world of drug addiction -- what People Magazine at the time called "Carol Burnett's Nightmare."

"I didn't give up on her," Burnett said. "It was very hard, and at time, you know, we weren't speaking. At one point I said, I have to love her enough to let her hate me."

But Carrie got clean -- and didn't hate her mother. She actually followed in her footsteps -- becoming a writer and an actress herself, even appearing opposite her mother.

But not for long.

"She was on her way, so to speak, when she got sick," Burnett.

In 2001 Carrie learned she had cancer. What happened next is the subject of Burnett's latest book, "Carrie and Me," out this week.

"We all went through disbelief, shock," Burnett told Cowan. "Then you get angry, then scared. They were hoping that they might save one lung. But then it went up to her brain."

Carrie died at just 38 years old.

"You never get over it, but I've learned to cope," Burnett said. "You have no other choice."

It was hardly her first bout with addiction, and loss. She grew up in the midst of all of it, always making the best of it.

"Daddy drank from when he was a teenager," Burnett told Cowan. "But he was like a drunk Jimmy Stewart," she laughed. "Sweet, but unfortunately he couldn't hold a job, he had the disease. And then Momma, she started to drink in her 30s, and then she became an alcoholic also. So they both died in their 40s."

She was raised by her grandmother -- first in Texas, where Burnett was born, then in Hollywood, where they shared a one-room apartment.

They lived on government assistance. Their only escape was the movies.

"Nanny would save up her pennies and at times, I think sometimes I would see maybe eight movies a week," Burnett said.

She never thought she'd be a star herself. She actually wanted to a writer.

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