Lynda Carter on Losing Her Husband of 37 Years: 'I Don't Know Who I Am Without Robert'

The Wonder Woman star's husband Robert Altman died in February of myelofibrosis, a rare blood cancer

When producers of the hit '70s TV series Wonder Woman needed to figure out just how Diana Prince, played by Lynda Carter, would transform into the first female DC Comics superhero, they were perplexed.

"They couldn't put her in a phone booth – that's what Superman did," Carter tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "They wanted to put me on a lazy Susan and I thought that was ridiculous, so I said, 'Why not a dancer's pirouette?' And that was it. That's how Wonder Woman's transformational spin was created."

Now, nearly five decades later, the actress who first brought the Amazon princess to life, wearing star-spangled armor and bulletproof bracelets, is having to figure out her transformation once again. This time after the loss of her husband of 37 years, Robert Altman, who died in February of myelofibrosis, a rare blood cancer.

"The next part of my life is I want to learn who I am," says the 70-year-old star. "It's totally frightening. I don't know who I am without Robert."

"It still gets me," she adds, dabbing her eyes between a few tears. "I just can't believe I've lost him."

lynda carter and robert altman
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In the months since his death, she's returned to her first love — music — to cope, as well as to honor his memory. On Friday, she's releasing a new song, Human and Divine, which she wrote in tribute of their nearly four-decade love affair. "It was a real romance," she says. "I was really trying to define love and loss and and make sure it was about the human-ness of love."

lynda carter

The statuesque star met the D.C. power lawyer in 1982 at a dinner hosted by Maybelline. Carter was the face of the cosmetics company and Altman was the attorney for their parent company. Then in the process of divorcing her first husband, Hollywood manager Ron Samuels, the instant connection — and the chemistry — came when she least expected it. "I was not prepared to meet anyone new," she says, adding with a laugh, "I was going to do it on my own."

They had two kids: James Altman, 33, an attorney, and Jessica Carter Altman, an attorney turned singer-songwriter. And like any good love story, there were challenges. "We'd been through ups and downs and ins and outs," says Carter, "and I'd never in my life felt the love and the support and the thrill of having a guy like this."

lynda carter and robert altman

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She stood by him when he was accused of fraud in a headline-making 1992 bank scandal. (He was later acquitted on all counts.) And when Carter admitted she had an alcohol problem, he urged her to get the help she needed. Now 27 years sober, she says, "Robert supported me through admitting that. The only thing he wanted was for me to be healthy and happy and okay."

And he supported her in 2018 when she came forward to share she'd had a #MeToo experience as a young actress in Hollywood by a man whom she choses not to name. "I don't know if that's healthy for me," she says quietly of revealing additional details. "I still feel like I should have known better, but how could I know? This was a long time ago."

These days, she's focused on the positive changes that have come since she first started out, back when she was the only woman on the Wonder Woman set besides the female script supervisor. When she was told, "No one would watch a woman on TV," she proved them wrong with her lasso of truth and then some.

The original series, now available on HBO Max, is still a fan favorite, and Wonder Woman's story has been given new life in the blockbuster film franchise directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot. "We feel as a unit," she says of the three women, "I've passed the torch." And after making a cameo in Wonder Woman 1984 as the warrior Asteria, she'll reprise her role once again in the next installment.

wonder woman

And like all good superheroes, Carter is apparently ageless. Along with her music, she has a new indie movie The Cleaner (in which she plays "a kooky older woman") co-starring Shelley Long and Luke Wilson. As for turning 70, she says with a laugh, "It's such a big freakin' number. But it's kinda fun. I feel like the Rolling Stones. They're in their 70s and they're rolling towards their 80s!"

Besides, isn't age a relative concept?

"It's Wonder Woman's 80th anniversary," she adds of the character created by DC Comics in 1941, "so she'll always be older than me!"

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