A true legend in television! Carol Burnett rose to fame with her hour-long variety program, The Carol Burnett Show — and has since become one of the most groundbreaking comedians of her time.
The Broadway star was born in 1933 in San Antonio, Texas, but her family moved out to California where she attended Hollywood High School. Burnett went on to attend UCLA in 1951 where she developed her passion for theater.
After moving to New York to pursue acting, she had her breakout success on Broadway in the 1959 production of Once Upon a Mattress – which earned her a Tony nomination – and was a regular player on The Garry Moore Show doing sketch-comedy. In 1967, Burnett began her decade-long run as the star of her own sketch-comedy series, The Carol Burnett Show. During its time on air, the variety show won a total of 23 Emmy Awards, with the Glee alum taking home three individual wins for her performance. The program also won nine Golden Globe awards along with numerous nominations.
“When I said ‘I want to do that show,’ they said, ‘Well Carol, you know comedy/variety is a man’s game. It’s Jackie Gleason, it’s Sid Caesar, now there’s Dean Martin,’” Burnett told Conan O’Brien in a 2018 interview on the pushback she received when starting her own comedy show. “The vice president that I was talking to said, ‘You know, Carol, it’s not for you gals.’”
After The Carol Burnett Show ended in 1978, the former UCLA student appeared in many films including starring in 1981’s The Four Seasons and as Miss Hannigan in 1982’s Annie.
Along with several film and television roles, Burnett was a successful theater actress and received a Special Tony Award in 1969 for her Contributions to the Theater. Along with two Tony nominations, Burnett also co-wrote the 2002 Broadway comedy-drama Hollywood Arms with her late daughter Carrie.
In 1985, Burnett was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. Her longtime friend and inspiration Lucille Ball introduced her on stage.
“It was wonderful because there was [Lucille Ball], and she was kind of my mentor, and she I believe was the one who presented it to me, and that was of course a thrill,” she said in a 2018 Gold Derby interview. “She and I were very close.”
Ball became friends with Burnett in 1959 and the two shared a friendship that lasted for over 30 years. The I Love Lucy alum often spoke about how much she admired Burnett’s talent.
“[Burnett] had something that you couldn’t escape, you just knew that this girl had it,” Ball said in a 1984 interview with Hezakaya Newz. “She does things that are crazy, but you believe them.”
In 2019, the Golden Globes created the Carol Burnett Award for outstanding contributions to television on or off screen. The legendary comedian was granted the first accolade in which she thanked everyone who worked on her variety show, adding that the magic created by the cast is something that probably could not be replicated today.
“We all became one happy family for 11 joy-filled years,” Burnett said in her speech. “We’ve been granted a gift, a canvas to paint with our talent. One that can make people laugh or cry or maybe do both.”
She closed out her speech by tugging her earlobe – how she used to close out every show – and with the words: “I am so glad we had this time together.”
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Keep scrolling for a look back at Burnett’s life and career over the years:
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