Karen Carpenter PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 04 November 2008 15:37

Karen Anne Carpenter

Born: March 2, 1950 New Haven, Connecticut, USA

Died: February 4, 1983, Downey, California, USA

Age: 32

Cause of death: "Heartbeat irregularities brought on by chemical imbalances associated with anorexia nervosa."

Notable because: Amazingly successful as a drummer, singer,  succumbed to Anorexia, the first major celebrity to bring this illness to the public eye. The Michael Jackson song 'She's out of my life' is written by her ex Tom Bahler about their break up.

Karen Carpenter was a highly successful American singer and drummer. She and her brother, Richard, formed the popular 1970s duo Carpenters.

Carpenter was an accomplished drummer, placing first in Playboy's reader poll for Best Rock Drummer of 1975, thus pioneering the way for a plethora of female drummers to follow. However, it is her vocal style for which she is best remembered. Known for impeccable phrasing and perfect pitch, Carpenter suffered from anorexia nervosa, a little known disease at the time, and eventually died from complications related to recovering from the illness at the age of 32, in 1983

Carpenter was born in New Haven, Connecticut, to Agnes Reuwer Tatum and Harold Bertram Carpenter. When she was young, she used to enjoy playing baseball with other children on the street. On the TV program, This Is Your Life, Carpenter stated that she liked pitching. In the early 1970s, she went on to play as the pitcher on the Carpenters' official softball team.

Carpenter's brother, Richard, had developed an interest in music at an early age, becoming a piano prodigy. The family moved in June 1963 to the Los Angeles suburb of Downey. The move to Southern California, home of many recording studios and record companies, was intended in part to foster Richard's budding musical career.

When Carpenter went to Downey High School, she asked Richard to ask the conductor of the band if she could substitute band for gym class. The conductor agreed to take her into the band, and gave her the glockenspiel. After admiring the performance of a friend named Frankie Chavez, she asked the conductor if she could play the drums instead. Though her time with other instruments went nowhere, drumming came naturally to Carpenter, and she practiced for several hours a day. Her drumming can be heard in many of the Carpenters' songs, mainly those from 1969 to 1975.

Though uncharacteristically thin toward the end of her life, Carpenter struggled with her weight during her adolescent years. As a teenager, Karen was 5'4" (1.63 m) and weighed 140 pounds (63.5 kg). At the age of 17, she went on the Stillman Diet with a doctor's guidance, and lost between 20 and 25 pounds. She would stay at 120 pounds until 1973.

From 1965 to 1968, Carpenter, her brother Richard and his college friend Wes Jacobs, a bassist and tuba player, formed The Richard Carpenter Trio. The trio played jazz at numerous nightclubs, and also on a talent show called Your All American College Show, though Bill Sissyoev played bass for the TV appearance. John Wayne met Richard and Karen on Your All American College Show. He urged Carpenter to try out for a role in the film True Grit. Carpenter auditioned, but actress Kim Darby was selected instead.

Karen, Richard, and other musicians, including Gary Sims and John Bettis, also performed as an ensemble known as Spectrum. Spectrum focused on a harmonious, vocal sound, and recorded many demo tapes in the garage studio of friend and bassist Joe Osborn.

Osborn's studio shut down in 1967, even though he let Richard and Karen record demo tapes in his garage. However, the duo was rejected due to their different sound. According to former Carpenters member, John Bettis, their rejections "took their toll".

Carpenter signed with A&M Records with her brother as "Carpenters" on April 22, 1969. She sang most of the songs on their first album, Ticket to Ride. Their only single released from that album, the title song, only reached #54 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts. Their next album, 1970's Close to You, contained two RIAA Certified Gold Records: "(They Long to Be) Close to You" and "We've Only Just Begun." They peaked at #1 and #2, respectively. The latter song was written by Paul Williams and was originally used in a commercial for Crocker National Bank, which showed a young couple moving into their first home.

By the mid-1970s, extensive touring and lengthy recording sessions had begun to take their toll on the duo and contributed to their professional difficulties during the latter half of the decade. Karen started out as both the group's drummer and lead singer. Since Karen was the lead singer on the albums, she was pressured to sing only, while another person played the drums during live concerts. It was then agreed that she would only stand up for the popular ballads, and would perform from behind the drums on album cuts.

The rock-and-roll press did not like having to write about this middle-of-the road brother and sister act and sometimes wrote negative reviews about their image or dress, yet never about Karen's voice or the meticulous arrangements of their music. Carpenter rarely selected the songs she would sing, and often felt she had very little control over her life. She dieted obsessively and developed anorexia nervosa, which first manifested itself in 1975 when an exhausted and emaciated Karen Carpenter was forced to cancel concert tours in the UK and Japan.

At the same time, Richard developed an addiction to quaaludes, which began to affect his performance by the late 1970s and led to the end of the duo's live concert appearances for several years. On September 4, 1978, the Carpenters gave their last live concert at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas until 1981 with the release of the Made in America album, which included a much-anticipated (but scaled back) tour, as well as their final live performance together in Brazil. This album was meant to signify the beginning of the duo's 1980s comeback. It turned out to be the last complete one that they recorded together.

Karen's drumming was praised by fellow drummers Hal Blaine, Cubby O'Brien, Buddy Rich and Modern Drummer magazine. Many people are unaware that Karen had an impeccable ability to play the drums, in part because the public wanted a singing Karen Carpenter, rather than a drumming Karen Carpenter. However, according to Richard Carpenter in an interview, Karen always considered herself a "drummer who sang."

Carpenter first started playing the drum set in 1964, shortly after moving to Downey, California, and joining up with her high school's band. She was always enthusiastic about the drums, and taught herself how to play complicated drum lines with "exotic time signatures" (quoting Richard Carpenter from the Close to You documentary). Songs that effectively demonstrate her drumming abilities include "Caravan" and "Iced Tea," from 1965 and 1966, respectively. They are featured at the beginning of The Carpenters' four CD box set, released in the early 1990s, which chronicles their earliest studio efforts, in 1965, when Karen was 15 and Richard was 19, starting with "Caravan", to what is thought to be their final song ever recorded in 1982, "Now", when Karen was 32 and Richard was 36.

After the release of Now & Then in 1973, the albums tended to have Karen singing more and drumming less. By 1981, Karen played on none of the songs, with drummers Hal Blaine and Ron Tutt as substitutes.

Considered by many to be one of the finest female vocalists of her generation, Karen Carpenter possessed a voice that has almost always been lauded for the pure and natural sound, her impeccable phrasing, resonance, and consistent perfect pitch. Her vocal quality (which admittedly has been matched by few) was melancholic, as demonstrated in their hit "Superstar" from 1971. Her voice became associated with Christmas music due to her performance of the holiday favorite, "Merry Christmas, Darling" from 1970 (also re-recorded in 1978), as well as the duo's Christmas themed albums of the time.

Prior to this, in the 1960s, Karen's voice was raspy and deep, which is demonstrated in their early demo "Looking for Love" from 1966. Richard stated in interviews that he told Karen that she should use "the basement," referring to her lower register, as opposed to her higher register. However, during the 1970s, Karen's voice transformed into one of a smoother, cleaner quality. During her Phil Ramone-produced solo sessions in New York in 1979, Karen, who was suffering from anorexia nervosa at the time, decided to test her higher register, and record the songs with a higher pitched voice. The A&M staff weren't enthused; either by the vocals, by the overtly sexual nature of the lyrics, or some of the disco arrangements, so she agreed to shelve the album. In 1983 and 1989, Richard slowly released more of Karen's solo songs. In 1996, Richard finally decided to release most of her solo songs on her self-titled, posthumous album, Karen Carpenter, which received lukewarm reviews from most critics.

In 1979, Richard Carpenter took a year off to cure a dependency on quaaludes, and Karen decided to make a solo album with producer Phil Ramone. Richard wanted his sister to see a doctor about her eating disorder, but Karen refused. While staying at the home of Ramone and his family, Karen took half of a quaalude tablet and passed out on the kitchen floor. Ramone and his wife moved the singer to the living room couch and called paramedics to the house. Karen managed to convince all concerned that she was indeed fine and not in need of hospitalization. Ramone took a moment to remind Karen that quaaludes were the same pills that her brother had had an addiction to. He also added that even half of one in her small frame would be enough to drop an elephant.

Karen Carpenter's choice of more adult-oriented and disco/dance-tempo material represented an effort to retool her image. "Something's Missing (In My Life)," which didn't make it on to the final album, remains unmixed and without strings. Other unreleased songs are now available on the internet as bootlegs. Her solo works are markedly different from usual Carpenters fare, with more sexual lyrics and the use of Karen's higher vocal register.

The resulting product met a tepid response from Richard and A&M executives in early 1980, and Karen wavered in her dedication to the project. The album was shelved by A&M executive Herb Alpert, in spite of Quincy Jones' attempts to talk Alpert into allowing the release of the record. According to Phil Ramone, Karen, who usually did not express her emotions in public, cried after being told her album was rejected. In the process, she had to pay $400,000, and wasn't pleased. The debt for the album's production was charged against future royalties of the Carpenters.

Carpenters fans got a taste of the album in 1989 when some of its tracks (as remixed by Richard) were mixed onto the album Lovelines. Seven years later, in 1996, the entire album, featuring mixes approved by Karen before her death and one unmixed bonus track, was finally released.


Karen lived with her parents until she was in her mid-20s. After the Carpenters became successful in the early 1970s, she and her brother bought two apartment buildings in Downey. Called "Close To You" and "Only Just Begun," both apartments can still be found at 8388 5th St, Downey, CA. Google maps has a street view of both apartments across the street from one another with the titles on the front of each.

In 1976, Karen bought two Century City apartments, gutted them, and turned them into one condominium. Located at 2222 Avenue of the Stars, the doorbell chimed the first six notes of "We've Only Just Begun". As a housewarming gift, her mother gave her a collection of leather-bound classic works of literature. Karen collected Disney memorabilia, loved to play softball and baseball, and listed Petula Clark, Olivia Newton-John and Dionne Warwick among her friends.

Karen's busy schedule reduced her involvement in serious long-term relationships. She dated Mike Curb, Tony Danza, Terry Ellis, Mark Harmon, Steve Martin and Alan Osmond. Karen went out with songwriter Tom Bahler, and broke up with him after she found out he had fathered a child with a married woman; this breakup inspired Bahler to write the Michael Jackson song "She's Out of My Life".

After a whirlwind romance, Karen married real estate developer Thomas James Burris on August 31, 1980. When they met, Burris was 39 years old and divorced, and Karen was 30. They were married at the Beverly Hills Hotel in the Crystal Room. A new song performed by Karen at the ceremony, "Because We Are In Love," was released in 1981. The couple went to Bora Bora for their honeymoon. Karen called her family from the island and described it as "Boring Boring." However, they filed for divorce in November 1981. (The divorce never took place, as it was scheduled to be finalized on the day Karen died.) After going out with Karen's parents to celebrate her father's birthday, Karen and Thomas returned to the Carpenters' Downey home and, after a brief argument, Burris told Carpenter's parents, "You can keep her!" Karen never saw her husband after that night.

The song "Now", recorded in April 1982, was the last song Karen Carpenter recorded. She recorded it after a two-week intermission in her therapy with psychotherapist Steven Levenkron in New York City for her anorexia, a relatively unknown disease at the time. In the midst of her therapy, she befriended recovered anorexic Cherry Boone, and embroidered a sign that read, "You Win, I Gain!" which she gave to Steve Levenkron. After her recovery, she planned to go public about her battle with anorexia.

Karen returned to California permanently later that year, determined to reinvigorate her career, finalize her divorce and begin a new album with Richard. She had gained 30 pounds over a two-month stay in New York, and the sudden weight gain (much of which was the result of intravenous feeding) further strained her heart, which was already weak from years of crash dieting. At the height of her illness, Karen, who had a normal thyroid, was taking ten times the normal daily dose of thyroid replacement medication (equivalent to 1 milligram, as opposed to the normal 100 microgram dose), in order to speed up her metabolism. This, combined with heavy doses of laxatives, weakened her heart and digestive and nervous systems even further.

On December 17, 1982, Karen made her last public appearance in the "multi-purpose" room of the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, California singing for her godchildren and their classmates who attended the school. She sang Christmas carols for friends. In late January 1983, Richard and Karen took part in a group photograph of Grammy winners, Los Angeles.

A few weeks before Karen died, Richard tried to get his sister into a hospital for medical treatment, because "She didn't look well... there was no life in her eyes." At a meeting with Werner Wolfen, the Carpenters' financial advisor, two weeks prior to her death, Richard stated about the meeting with his sister. "Karen was hot as hell at me for even questioning how she looked. But I was glad that I took the time to tell her that to me she just didn't look right and that I loved her. I was glad I did that because ten days later she was gone..."

On February 4, 1983, approximately a month before her thirty-third birthday, Carpenter experienced heart failure at her parents' home in Downey, California, and was taken to Downey Community Hospital, where she was pronounced dead twenty minutes later. She suffered cardiac arrest at 9:51 AM Pacific Standard Time. The LA coroner gave the cause of death as "heartbeat irregularities brought on by chemical imbalances associated with anorexia nervosa."

The autopsy stated that Carpenter's death was the result of emetine cardiotoxicity due to anorexia nervosa. Under the anatomical summary, the first item was heart failure, with anorexia as second. The third finding was cachexia, which is extremely low weight and weakness and general body decline associated with chronic disease. Emetine cardio toxicity implies that Carpenter abused ipecac syrup, an easily obtained emetic medicine that is only meant to be taken by persons who have accidentally swallowed poison.

Both her late mother and her brother Richard disputed this finding. Both have stated that they never found any empty vial of ipecac in her apartment nor was there any evidence that Karen had been vomiting. Richard believes that Karen was not willing to do this because it could damage her vocal cords, relying on laxatives alone to maintain her low body weight.

A documentary in the 1990s quoting medical sources and those in her immediate circle asserted that Karen Carpenter had actually died from "recovering" from anorexia—she was recovering from the disease but her quick weight gain placed enormous pressure on her heart, which had been weakened by years of malnutrition.

Her funeral service took place on February 8, 1983, at the Downey United Methodist Church. Carpenter, dressed in a rose colored suit, lay in an open white casket. Over a thousand mourners passed through to say goodbye, among them her friends Dorothy Hamill, Olivia Newton-John, Petula Clark, Cristina Ferrare and Dionne Warwick. Carpenter's estranged husband Tom attended her funeral, where he took off his wedding ring and threw it into the casket.

Carpenter's death brought lasting media attention to anorexia nervosa and also to bulimia. Carpenter's death encouraged other celebrities to go public about their eating disorders, among them Tracey Gold and Diana, Princess of Wales. Medical centers and hospitals began receiving increased contacts from people with these disorders. The general public had little knowledge of anorexia nervosa and bulimia prior to Carpenter's death, making the condition difficult to identify and treat

Her family started the "Karen A. Carpenter Memorial Foundation," which raised money for research on anorexia nervosa and eating disorders. Today the name of the organization has been changed to the "Carpenter Family Foundation." In addition to eating disorders, the foundation now funds the arts, entertainment and education.

On October 12, 1983, the Carpenters received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It is located at 6931 Hollywood Blvd., a few yards from the Kodak Theater. Richard, Harold and Agnes Carpenter attended the inauguration, as did many fans.

In 1987, movie director Todd Haynes used songs by Richard and Karen in his movie Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. In the movie, Haynes portrayed the Carpenters as Barbie dolls. The movie was later pulled from distribution after Richard Carpenter won a court case involving song royalties; Haynes had not obtained legal permission to use The Carpenters' recordings.

On January 1, 1989, TV movie The Karen Carpenter Story aired on CBS with Cynthia Gibb in the title role. Gibb lip-synced the songs to Carpenter's recorded voice. The Karen Carpenter Story is not to be confused with Haynes' "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story." (Both films use the song "This Masquerade" in the background while showing Karen's marriage to Burris).

In 1990, the alternative rock band Sonic Youth recorded "Tunic (Song for Karen)" for the album Goo. Sung by Kim Gordon, the song deals with Carpenter's anorexia and death.

On December 11, 2003, at 12:30 p.m. PST, Agnes, Karen and Harold, who remained in their original caskets and occupied 3 out of the 6 spaces in the Carpenter Private Mausoleum, were exhumed from the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Cypress, California, and re-interred at the Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, California. Their mausoleum is a 46,000-pound, Partenope-style structure and was constructed in Texas over seven months. It is polished sunset red, and features crystal patterns. It is located in the Tranquility Gardens section of the cemetery. Similar structures constructed at the time had a price range around $600,000.

"A Star on Earth - A Star in Heaven" was written on Carpenter's mausoleum stone in Forest Lawn Memorial Park. It was also re-written in the new mausoleum.

1999 - VH1 ranked Karen Carpenter at #29 on their list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll.

2001 - VH1 ranked Karen Carpenter's death from anorexia nervosa at #93 on their 100 Greatest Shocking Moments in Rock and Roll.

2003 - E! ranked Karen Carpenter's death at #30 on their list of the Most Shocking Moments in Entertainment.

2006 - Entertainment Tonight ranked Karen Carpenter's death from anorexia nervosa at #3 on their list of the Top 25 Stories in 25 Years.

Karen Carpenter

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Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter

Author: Randy L. Schmidt
Manufacturer: Chicago Review Press
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Editorial Review:

Little Girl Blue is an intimate profile of Karen Carpenter, a girl from a modest Connecticut upbringing who became a Southern California superstar.

            Karen was the instantly recognizable lead singer of the Carpenters. The top-selling American musical act of the 1970s, they delivered the love songs that defined a generation. Little Girl Blue reveals Karen’s heartbreaking struggles with her mother, brother, and husband; the intimate disclosures she made to her closest friends; her love for playing drums and her frustrated quest for solo stardom; and the ups and downs of her treatment for anorexia nervosa. After her shocking death at 32 years of age in 1983, she became the proverbial poster child for that disorder; but the other causes of her decline are laid bare for the first time in this moving account.

            Little Girl Blue is Karen Carpenter’s definitive biography, based on exclusive interviews with her innermost circle of girlfriends and nearly 100 others, including childhood friends, professional associates, and lovers.


Carpenters Gold (CD) [2 Discs]

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Editorial Review: A 2-CD set containing all their big hits, near-misses, key album tracks and even a few rarities! Like, for instance, The Rainbow Connection (the theme to The Muppet Movie ); the unreleased movie theme Leave Yesterday Behind , and their take on California Dreamin' , all of which appear here for the first time in the U.S.! Plus, of course, chart-toppers like Superstar; Rainy Days and Mondays; Top of the World; (They Long to Be) Close to You; We've Only Just Begun; Goodbye to Love; Yesterday Once More; Ticket to Ride; Sing; Hurting Each Other; For All We Know; Please, Mr. Postman , and more. 40 tracks.


My Body Keeps Changing My Mind

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The Carpenters Karen Tee Shirts Fashion 3/4 Sleeve T Shirt Mans

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