Creating his own version of a beloved family photo has helped Carson Daly feel closer to a father he lost when he was just 5 years old.
Carson, 47, and his older sister, Quinn, 49, recently got together for a family project, using a green screen to re-create a photo from the 1970s of their fun-loving father, James "J.D." Daly.
"I feel like I time traveled back to like 1978 for a second there and entered the personal space of my father, and I'm grateful for that," Carson said on TODAY Tuesday.
The original photo, which Carson has near the bar area in his home, shows their father mixing up a drink.
"You look at a picture of your family, and it just conjures up 1 million questions about your past," he said. "During having to stay at home the last three or four months, everybody's gotten very nostalgic and kind of holding onto their past.
"That photo's been speaking to me over the past three months. I've got so many questions about it."
Family has meant so much to Carson and Quinn, who leaned on one another during a tragic time in 2017 when their mother, Pattie Daly Caruso, died at 73 of a heart attack. Just five weeks later, their stepfather, Richard Caruso, whom they called "Pops," also passed away. He died at 85 from bone cancer and had been a beloved father to the siblings following James Daly's 1979 death from bladder cancer.
Quinn even moved with her family from Palm Desert, California, to live near Carson in New York City so they could be together after losing their parents. Carson thanked her in an emotional scene on TODAY last year.
"It was a crippling time for our family,'' Carson said at the time. "After that devastating event, Quinn and I sort of looked at each other and went, 'We're all we have left.' Like literally, you're my only family left. Life is too short."
Experiencing that loss has only made Carson cherish the old photos of his father even more.
"I have so few shared experiences with him, it's like a powerful moment," he said.
"He may have been afraid in that picture, but he wasn't living in fear," Quinn said.
The photo of James Daly pouring a drink symbolizes the kind of lively environment the siblings grew up in, which Carson called "a party house." However, it's also a bittersweet scene because the picture was taken less than a year before he died.
"It's a complex picture," Quinn said. "It's the home that you remember the most growing up in. It is a matter of months before our dad passes."
Daly was free of cancer when Carson and Quinn were born, Quinn said. He initially recovered after being treated, but the cancer resurfaced five years later.
"I have few memories around that time," Carson said. "I get pictures mixed up with actual memories. I remember, being a teenager, actually feeling guilty for that."
"He fought hard," Quinn said. "Those first five years he fought like hell to have those years with you. So now as a grown-up, it might be a little foggy, but, like, it's in you. It's in your brain. It's in your soul."
"That whole year was really weird," he said. "Because I was like, 'Wow, that's me.' And I'm J.D. I'm James Daly.' Maybe that's another reason why I've been so inquisitive about it recently, because I'm sort of at that age."
Quinn now sees plenty of their father in Carson.
"To see you literally embodying him in a photo, it's really symbolic," she said. "Because you embody him in a lot of those ways. You love your family, and maybe you don't remember it as much as I do, but he loved us. We were his life."
"I feel it," Carson said. "I feel like the product of love, for sure."
Carson even wore the same outfit his father was wearing in the photo.
"For me it was just cool putting on the UCLA sweatshirt because I have so few things that connect me to my biological father,'' he said. "To be able to re-create that photo was really cool. That dichotomy I see in Dad's face when I look at that picture. I don't know if he's running from fear or head into it."
"I think he was running right into it," Quinn said. "He was probably pouring that Tanqueray and tonic for Mom. And he was like, 'We're here, we're gonna celebrate,' like they did before they knew he was sick."
Carson and Quinn also re-created a special memory from their childhood when their parents took them to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where they watched the Osmond family perform.
"We had the time of our lives," Quinn said.
The siblings re-created a cute photo their parents took of them in front of a fountain at the casino. Carson even wore a Donny Osmond T-shirt like he did as a kid all those years ago.
"That picture really makes me smile," Carson said. "There is just you and me, at the end of the day."
Carson again expressed his gratitude to Quinn for moving with her husband and two daughters to New York so they could all be together.
"We're lucky because I'm obligated to love you because you're my brother, but I really love you because of who you are," Quinn said.
The siblings were also grateful for the chance to re-create the photo of their father as they keep his memory alive 41 years after his death.
"It's important for you to know that he's in you every single moment of every single day," Quinn said.
"In a weird way, it's given me some sort of closure," Carson said. "It got me closer to him, and that's something that I feel like I really have been yearning for."