There are few celebrities whose stories genuinely move you. For me, Karen and Richard Carpenter are among those few. The vocalist Karen Carpenter had one of the greatest voices the world has ever heard. People loved swaying to her sensational voice during her peak career days. Her brother, Richard Carpenter, was part of the iconic singing duo. Together, they rocked the stage.
I was shocked when I learned how Karen Carpenter’s voice was discovered and what led to her death. Karen passed away in 1983 at the young age of 32. Although it shocked the entire music community, her legacy lives on to this day. I want to share her story with everyone who loves music and the industry to motivate you, just like it does me.
Who Was Karen Carpenter?
Along with her brother Richard, American vocalist and drummer Karen Carpenter was a member of the Carpenters, a legendary musical duo. She was notably well-known for her contralto singing, and both musicians and journalists alike praised her drumming skills. I cannot stop listening to the Carpenters’ songs, “I Need to Be in Love” and “Superstar.”
Karen was the daughter of Harold Bertram Carpenter and Agnes Reuwer. She was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on March 2, 1950. Richard, her only sibling who was three years older than her, was a piano prodigy who had a significant role in developing Karen’s early interest in music.
Karen admitted that she initially felt anxious about performing in front of an audience, but she was too immersed in the music to care about it. Two Plus Two was her first group, an all-girl trio that included her high school classmates.
She recommended her brother Richard join, and they broke up. With his undergraduate buddy Wes Jacobs, Richard Carpenter formed the Richard Carpenter Trio, which A&M Records finally signed as the Carpenters in 1969 to produce some of their most legendary songs!
Her Struggles with Anorexia
While still a senior in high school, Karen started dieting. She started the Stillman diet upon the recommendation of her doctors, which involved consuming only lean meals, eight glasses of water each day, and avoiding fatty foods.
As a result, she lost weight and maintained it at 120 pounds until 1973, the Carpenters’ best year. She later came across a photo of herself taken during a concert that gave her the impression that she was “too heavy.”
She hired a personal trainer who advised her to alter her diet, but this led to her gaining muscle instead of losing weight, giving the impression that she was bigger. Karen fired the trainer and started her calorie-counting weight loss program on her own.
She had shed roughly 20 pounds in a short time and intended to shed more. After noticing her weight loss, some admirers wrote to her to inquire about their concerns. In 1981, when she refused to openly admit she was ill, she claimed to be “simply pooped.”
Richard later said that neither he nor his parents could help her. She confessed to Richard that she was anorexic and needed support. She decided to see Steven Levenkron, a psychotherapist in New York City.
In the 1980s, Karen also began using laxatives. She continued to lose weight while her condition worsened further. She was sent to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York in September 1982, where she was placed on an intravenous drip.
She began to regain healthy weight after the successful treatment, but unfortunately, this put stress on her heart. Karen made her last public appearance at a meeting of former Grammy Award winners on January 11, 1983. Friend Dionne Warwick said she appeared fragile but cheerful, saying to everyone: “Look at me! I have a butt!”
The last time Karen saw her brother was on February 1, 1983, when they spoke about the upcoming Carpenters album. She passed out in her bedroom at her parent’s house on February 4. Sadly, she passed away at Downey Community Hospital the next morning.
Her death was attributed to “emetine cardiotoxicity as a consequence of anorexia nervosa” after an autopsy ruled out the use of narcotics or a prescription overdose. Her blood glucose level was more than ten times the average, at 1,110 milligrams per deciliter. Karen’s recurrent use of ipecac syrup, an over-the-counter emetic designed to induce vomiting, was the terrible reason for her heart failure.
The Carpenters ruled the world of pop and rock music during the peak of their career. Today, their legacy continues to live on. If you like the songs by this fantastic vocal and instrumental duo, you likely share similar musical interests with me. Check out my songs at https://maggysimonsings.com/music.