Another Heartbreak

01/24/2002 at 01:00 PM EST

Mom became the enemy in 1977. After discovering her 13-year-old daughter was sneaking cigarettes, Burnett began to eavesdrop on Hamilton's phone conversations. "I was mother tigress and not above snooping," she told PEOPLE in 1979. Soon cigarettes became pot and alcohol; uppers, downers, psychedelics, cocaine and mushrooms followed. "I could think or talk of nothing else, and it was driving a wedge in (my) marriage," Burnett said. When therapy failed, Burnett and Hamilton tightened the parental noose, grounding Carrie and taking away her phone. "We didn't want her to hate us," said Burnett, "but she already did."

Burnett also said she felt "sorry and guilty -- by then Carrie was a virtual prisoner in our house." But she remembered her own parents, who had died of alcoholism when she was in her 20s, and dug in even harder. She signed Hamilton up for a rehab program at the Houston headquarters of the Palmer Drug Abuse Program -- then kept her distance. A month into the program, a newly sober Carrie asked to see her mother. "The thing that stands out in my mind," says Frank Beard, a program counselor who served as Hamilton's surrogate parent during her year in the Houston program, "is how much she cherished her sobriety."

At 17, she briefly stumbled and took to life on the streets, supporting herself with odd jobs and small music gigs before checking back into rehab. This time around, she experienced what she described as an epiphany: "I knew I wanted to be a rock star, and I couldn't do that if I was dead." She stayed clean.

Soon her vagabond heart found new outlets. She studied music and acting at Pepperdine University in Malibu and later appeared with the L.A. comedy troupe the Groundlings. In 1986 she joined the cast of the syndicated TV series Fame for two seasons while singing and playing keyboard with the rock band Big Business. In 1988 she won admiring reviews for her first starring role on the big screen in Tokyo Pop, playing aspiring punk rocker Wendy Reed. The role fit like Spandex. "Wendy is me," she said of her nightclubbing, decadently clad alter ego. By then the tall, slender 24-year-old was developing a fashion sense that gave outer expression to her maverick spirit. "She would wear these 5-in. heels, and she was suddenly, like, 7-ft. tall," says filmmaker Joanne Small. "Her closet of clothes was to die for, all of it very bold. Always boas draped somewhere, and everything about her just sparkled. Very dramatic, always." Later that year Hamilton and Burnett visited Moscow to help introduce the first branch of Alcoholics Anonymous to the Soviet Union. It was clear the wounds in their relationship had scarred over. "We're as close now as we were far apart then," Burnett said at the time. Together they starred in the TV movie Hostage -- in which Hamilton played a prison escapee who takes the wealthy, widowed Burnett hostage -- appeared on a few TV specials and began a mother-daughter memoir that they would never complete.

-- JILL SMOLOWE
-- PAMELA WARRICK, ALISON SINGH GEE and RON ARIAS in Los Angeles, LAUREN COMANDER in Chicago and PATRICIA B. SMITH in Houston

Read the 1979 PEOPLE cover story where Burnett talks about confronting her daughter.

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