Carol Burnett's Tragic History with Addiction in the Family: 'You Can't Cure Them'
The actress is currently seeking legal guardianship of her grandson amid daughter Erin Hamilton's substance abuse issues
Carol Burnett knows all too well what it's like to see a loved one struggle with substance abuse.
After growing up with alcoholic parents, the iconic actress has also seen some of her own children fall victim to the disease. This month, her daughter Erin Hamilton's current battle with addiction prompted Burnett, 87, to file for legal guardianship of her grandson, Dylan.
"Due to addiction issues and other circumstances that my daughter, Erin, has been struggling with impacting her immediate family dynamic, my husband and I have petitioned the court to be appointed legal guardian of my 14-year-old grandson," Burnett said in a statement to PEOPLE.
"Guardianship will be for oversight purposes concerning his health, education and welfare and not intended to deny him nor the parents proper visitation with one another," she continued. "We look forward to recovery being the next stepping stone towards normalization and ask for privacy at this time to allow that process to occur."
According to the court documents obtained by PEOPLE, Hamilton, 52, "has suffered from severe substance abuse and addiction issues" and has been in and out of rehab and institutionalized eight times (for a minimum of 30 days) over the last 19 years.
The filing also states that Burnett's daughter threatened suicide in July. The LAPD was called to complete a wellness check on Hamilton, who was placed on a 51/50 hold for "suicidality and drug use," according to the court documents.
Dylan's father, Hamilton's ex-husband Tony West, is also reportedly unable to care for the child as he recently checked himself into a rehabilitation center, according to the documents. As stated in the filing, Burnett and her husband believe that West plans to relocate to Nevada after he checks out and recognizes that he is unable to provide financial support for Dylan.
"Dylan's living environment has long been unstable, unpredictable and unhealthy for a child," the filing states. "Proposed Co-Guardians' appointment is in Dylan's best interests and consistent with the love and care they are already providing to him. This will further Dylan's interests in a stable, secure, and loving environment and ensure that his needs are met on a consistent basis."
Burnett, who publicly disclosed long ago that both of her parents were alcoholics, is no stranger to these heartbreaking circumstances. In an interview with NPR in 2013, the comedian opened up about her upbringing, revealing she was primarily raised by her grandmother, Mabel White, as her mother and father battled with the disease.
"My parents came to Hollywood from Texas, and left me there with my grandmother. They were hoping that they were going to strike it big out here in Hollywood," she recalled. "And then they divorced. And so my grandmother and I followed my mother out to Hollywood in 1940."
"Mama lived in an apartment building one block north of Hollywood Boulevard ... She got us a single room, which faced the lobby of the building, and mama was down the hall," Burnett continued. "And so Nanny — that was my grandmother — and I lived in this one room. But the doors were always open, and mama was in our place, as much as we were down the hall with her. But I did live and stay and sleep in the same room as my grandmother."
In the interview, she recalled watching her mother try to fight off her father's alcoholism, at first, before succumbing to addiction herself.
"My dad drank before my mother did. He — in fact, at one time, I remember seeing mama break a bottle of his that she'd found and pour it down the sink," Burnett said. "But daddy, when he drank, just became sweeter. He was — there wasn't a mean thought in his body."
"Mama didn't start drinking until later. And she wasn't living with daddy then, but she started heavily in her 30s. And she was a mean drunk," she continued. "She could really get mean and vicious and angry."
Burnett said her mother would become "unreasonable," and accuse her daughter of "ridiculous" things. Her grandmother would often intervene, and Burnett said she coped by getting lost in her imagination.
"Then she and Nanny would go at it, you know, and sometimes I would just sit in the corner and draw," she said. "I, at one point, entertained the idea of being a cartoonist and having my own comic strip. And I could almost just ignore them while they were arguing, because it was like background music."
Sadly, Burnett's experience with addiction in the family didn't end there. The star's eldest daughter, Carrie, fell into drugs when she was a teenager. Speaking to PEOPLE in 2016, Burnett described those years as "hell."
"When my older daughter Carrie was a teenager, she got into drugs," she said. "I'm happy to say she got off drugs, but during those three years it was hell."
Burnett said she "threw" Carrie into rehab when she was just 17, after she realized it was the only thing she could do to help.
"I put her in a third rehab place, and oh my God, she hated me." she said. "I came to the conclusion that I had to love her enough to let her hate me."
RELATED VIDEO: Carol Burnett Opens Up About Her Daughter's Tragic Death — 'I Think about Her Every Day'
Carrie ultimately got sober and the mother-daughter duo repaired their relationship, even going on to work together on several shows.
Tragically, Carrie died in January 2002 at the age of 38 from pneumonia, a complication from lung cancer that spread to her brain.
"I think of her every day," Burnett told PEOPLE in 2018. "She never leaves me…I just feel her."
Over the years, Burnett has said that she wants others with loved ones battling addiction to know that they shouldn't blame themselves.
"It's not your fault. You think, 'Oh, what am I doing that causes all of this?'" she said during an interview with Marlo Thomas in 2011.
She also encouraged anyone living with addict parents to reach out to the resource Alateen, which is part of the Al-Anon Family Groups and provides support for young people whose lives have been affected by someone else's drinking.
"They help you realize that you're not the problem," Burnett said. "You can't cure them and you didn't cause it. So, you have to look out for yourself."
Most recently, in AARP The Magazine's August and September 2020 issue, Burnett looked back on her late daughter's struggles.
"My daughter Carrie got into drugs. In that situation, don't be their best friend," she advised. "When we got her into a third rehab, oh, she hated my guts! You have to love them enough to let them hate you."
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.