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Karen Carpenter

Karen and Richard Carpenter at the White House on August 1, 1972.
Background information
Birth name Karen Anne Carpenter
Born March 2, 1950(1950-03-02)
New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Origin Los Angeles, California, USA
Died February 4, 1983 (aged 32)
Downey, California, USA
Genres Pop
Instruments Vocals, drums, percussion
Years active 1965–1983
Labels A&M
Associated acts The Carpenters
Richard Carpenter
Website Richard and Karen Carpenter
Notable instruments
Ludwig Drums

Karen Anne Carpenter (March 2, 1950 – February 4, 1983) was an American singer and drummer. She and her brother, Richard, formed the 1970s duo The Carpenters. Her drumming skills were considerable, but it is for her vocal performances that she is best remembered.[1]

She suffered from anorexia nervosa, a little known disease at the time, and died at the age of 32 from heart failure, later attributed to complications related to her illness.[2]


Early life

Carpenter was born in New Haven, Connecticut, to Agnes Reuwer Tatum and Harold Bertram Carpenter.[3] 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.[4] In the early 1970s, she went on to play as the pitcher on the Carpenters' official softball team.[5]

Karen's brother, Richard, had developed an interest in music at an early age, becoming a piano prodigy. Karen showed less interest in music as a young child. The family moved in June 1963 to the Los Angeles suburb of Downey.

When Karen entered Downey High School, she joined the school band. The conductor (who had previously taught her older brother) gave her the glockenspiel, an instrument she disliked. After admiring the performance of a friend named Frankie Chavez, she asked the conductor if she could play the drums instead.[6] Drumming came naturally to Carpenter, and she practiced for several hours a day. She and Richard made their first recordings in 1965 and 1966. The following year, Karen began dieting. Under a doctor's guidance Karen, who stood 5'5' and weighed 145 pounds, went on the Stillman Diet. She rigorously ate lean foods, drank 8 glasses of water a day, and avoided fatty foods. Eventually, Karen dropped to 120 pounds. She would stay at 120 pounds until 1973.

Music career

From 1965 to 1968, Karen, her brother Richard and his college friend Wes Jacobs, a bassist and tuba player, formed The Richard Carpenter Trio. The band played jazz at numerous nightclubs, and also appeared on a TV talent show called Your All American College Show.

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. Many of those tapes were rejected. According to former Carpenters member John Bettis, those rejections "took their toll."[7]

Finally, in April 1969 A&M Records signed the Carpenters to a recording contract. Karen Carpenter sang most of the songs on the band's first album, "Offering" (later retitled Ticket to Ride). The issued single (later the title track), which was a cover of a Beatles song, became their first single: it reached #54 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts. Their next album, 1970's Close to You, featured two massive hit singles: "(They Long to Be) Close to You" and "We've Only Just Begun." They peaked at #1 and #2, respectively, on the Hot 100.

Karen Carpenter started out as both the group's drummer and lead singer, and she originally sang all her vocals from behind the drum set. Eventually, she was persuaded to stand at the microphone to sing the band's hits while another musician played the drums, although she still did some drumming. (Former Mouseketeer Cubby O'Brien served as the band's other drummer for many years.)

After the release of Now & Then in 1973, the albums tended to have Karen singing more and drumming less. Karen 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. At the same time, her brother Richard developed an addiction to Quaaludes.

The Carpenters frequently cancelled tour dates, and they stopped touring altogether after September 4, 1978, when they gave their last live concert at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. In 1981, after the release of the Made in America album (which turned out to be their last) the Carpenters returned to the stage and did some tour dates, including their final live performance in Brazil.


As a drummer

Karen's drumming was praised by fellow drummers Hal Blaine, Cubby O'Brien, Buddy Rich and Modern Drummer magazine.[8] 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[citation needed]. However, according to Richard Carpenter in an interview, Karen always considered herself a "drummer who sang."

Carpenter started playing the drums in 1964. She was always enthusiastic about the drums, and taught herself how to play complicated drum lines with "exotic time signatures", according to Richard Carpenter.[7]

Solo album

In 1979, Richard Carpenter took a year off to cure a dependency on quaaludes,[9] and Karen decided to make a solo album with producer Phil Ramone. Her solo work was markedly different from usual Carpenters fare, consisting of adult-oriented and disco/dance-tempo material with more sexual lyrics and the use of Karen's higher vocal register.

The project met a tepid response from Richard and A&M executives in early 1980. The album was shelved by A&M CEO Herb Alpert, in spite of Quincy Jones' attempts to talk Alpert into releasing the record after some tracks had been remixed.[10] A&M made the Carpenters pay $400,000 to cover the cost of recording Karen's unreleased solo album, which was to be charged against the duo's future royalties.[11][12]

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, the final album of Carpenters' new unreleased material. Seven years later, in 1996, the entire album, featuring mixes approved by Karen before her death and one unmixed bonus track, was finally released.

Personal life

Karen lived with her parents until she was 26 years old. 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 Street, Downey, California.[13]

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 closest friends.

Karen dated a number of well-known men including Mike Curb, Tony Danza, Mark Harmon, Steve Martin and Alan Osmond. The songwriter Tom Bahler wrote the song "She's Out of My Life" (which eventually became a hit single for Michael Jackson) after she broke up with him because she discovered that he had fathered a child with a married woman.[10]

After a whirlwind romance, Karen married real estate developer Thomas James Burris on August 31, 1980 at the Beverly Hills Hotel in the Crystal Room. Burris, a divorcee with an 18-year old son, was nine years older than she was. 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."[14] The marriage was not a happy one, and the couple filed for divorce in November 1981.[15]

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. The sight of Karen upon her return to California in April shook Richard and his parents, since she had lost a considerable amount of weight since beginning her therapy with Steven Levenkron. In September 1982, Karen's treatment, which had never convinced her family as being an effective method, took a sinister turn of events when Karen called her psyschotherapist to tell him she felt dizzy and that her heart was beating irregularly. Karen was admitted to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York and hooked up to an intranvenous drip, which would be the cause of her much debated 30 pound weight gain in 8 weeks. Richard recalled visiting her in the hospital, saying 'Karen, this is crap. Don't you understand? This is crap! You're going about this all the wrong way, this guy isn't getting anything accomplished, because you're in a hospital now!'

Karen returned to California in November 1982, 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. During her illness, Karen also took thyroid replacement medication, in order to speed up her metabolism, and laxatives. [16]

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.

A few weeks before Karen died, Richard tried to get through to Karen that she was still sick, saying many years later "Karen had marvellous, big brown eyes. And there was just no life in them. "[2] Speaking of a meeting with his sister and Werner Wolfen, the Carpenters' financial advisor, two weeks prior to her death, Richard said:

Karen was hot as hell at me for even questioning how she looked. And I told her 'the only reason I'm bringing all of this up, and talking to because I'm concerned and because I love you.' And am I glad I said that because within weeks, that was that. She was dead.'"[2][10]


On February 4, 1983, less than a month before her thirty-third birthday, Karen suffered heart failure at her parents' home in Downey, California. She was taken to Downey Community Hospital, where she was pronounced dead twenty minutes later. The LA coroner gave the cause of death as "heartbeat irregularities brought on by chemical imbalances associated with anorexia nervosa."[citation needed] Her divorce was scheduled to have been finalized that day.

The autopsy stated that Karen'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 cardiotoxicity implies that Karen abused ipecac syrup,[citation needed] an easily obtained emetic medicine that is only meant to be taken by persons who have accidentally swallowed poison. Agnes and Richard disputed this finding. Both have stated that they never found empty vials of ipecac in her apartment, nor was there any concrete evidence that Karen had been vomiting.[citation needed] 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.

Her funeral service took place on February 8, 1983, at the Downey United Methodist Church where the Rev. Charles Neal, an old family friend and their pastor in New Haven, officiated.[17] 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, and Dionne Warwick. Carpenter's estranged husband Tom attended her funeral, where he took off his wedding ring and threw it into the casket.[10]

She was buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Cypress, California. In 2003, she was re-interred, next to her parents, in a mausoleum at the Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, California.

After death

Carpenter's death brought lasting media attention to anorexia nervosa and also to bulimia. In the years after Carpenter's death, there were a number of celebrities who decided to go public about their eating disorders, among them actress Tracey Gold, the Olsen Twins, 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.[18]

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.

Carpenters' star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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.[19] 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 with Barbie dolls, rather than live actors. 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, the similarly-titled made-for-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. Both films use the song "This Masquerade" in the background while showing Karen's marriage to Burris.

Lists containing Karen Carpenter

1975 - In Playboy's annual opinion poll, its readers voted Karen Carpenter the Best Rock Drummer of the year.

1999 - VH1 ranked Karen Carpenter at #29 on their list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll.[20]

2008 - Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Karen Carpenter number 94 on their list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. [21]


Studio albums

Solo albums


  1. ^ Paul Grein, "An Appreciation: Carpenter's Voice Lives On", Billboard, Feb. 19, 1981.
  2. ^ a b c VH1, Behind the Music: Carpenters (1998).
  3. ^ Coleman, Ray. The Carpenters: The Untold Story (HarperCollins, 1994), pp. 29-33.
  4. ^ This Is Your Life, 1970
  5. ^ E! Channel, "True Hollywood Story - Karen Carpenter"
  6. ^ Coleman, p.52
  7. ^ a b Close to You: Remembering the Carpenters
  8. ^ Karen Carpenter Site
  9. ^ Coleman, p.242.
  10. ^ a b c d Coleman.
  11. ^ Coleman, p.274.
  12. ^ Phil Ramone, E! Channel, True Hollywood Story — Karen Carpenter.
  13. ^ Google maps has a street view of both apartments[1][2] across the street from one another with the titles on the front of each.
  14. ^ Coleman, p.284.
  15. ^ Coleman, p.291.
  16. ^ Dr. Dave Krainacker (2006-03-22). "Anorexia and Karen Carpenter". Queen City News. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  17. ^ Interview with the Rev. Dr. Charles Neal, December 1989, First United Methodist Church of Desoto, Desoto, Texas. Also listed in funeral bulletin.
  18. ^ Coleman, p.330.
  20. ^ Rock On The Net: VH1: 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll
  21. ^ 2008 Rolling Stone Magazine's list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time


  • Coleman, Ray. The Carpenters: The Untold Story. An Authorized Biography (HarperCollins, 1994)
  • VH1, Behind the Music: Carpenters (1998)

External links

Simple English

Karen Carpenter
Also known as The Carpenters
Born March 2, 1950
New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America
Origin Downey, California
Died February 4, 1983
Downey, California, United States of America
Genres Pop, Jazz
Occupations Musician
Instruments Drums, singer
Years active 1969-1983
Labels A&M Records
Associated acts Carpenters
Website Richard and Karen Carpenter - Official Website
Richard Carpenter
Former members
Karen Carpenter
Notable instruments
Wurlitzer Electric Keyboard
Ludwig Drums

Karen Carpenter (March 2, 1950February 4, 1983) was an American singer and drummer who was most popular in the 70s. She is known as the singer of the group the Carpenters.



Karen Carpenter was born in New Haven, Connecticut on March 2, 1950. She played baseball a lot, and said that she likes being the pitcher.[1] She has a brother, named Richard Carpenter. While Karen played baseball with her friends, Richard usually played the piano. Her parents, Agnes and Harold Carpenter, decided that they wanted to move to Downey, California, a city near Hollywood. They moved in 1963.

In Downey, Karen attended Downey High School. She was a good student, but did not like gym. In order to get out of gym, she asked to be in the marching band instead. When she got into the marching band, the director gave her the glockenspiel, an instrument that sounds somewhat like a xylophone. Karen did not like the glockenspiel and asked her band director if she could play the drums instead. Seeing Karen's natural talent for rhythm, the director approved. From then on, she practiced drumming on pots and pans before her parents finally bought her a drum set.


Her brother formed the Richard Carpenter Trio in 1965. Karen played the drums. Richard played the piano, and a friend named Wes Jacobs played the electric bass. They played jazz music at clubs in Hollywood. They entered the Battle of the Bands contest at the Hollywood Bowl in 1966. The Richard Carpenter Trio played "The Girl From Ipanema" and "Iced Tea," a song composed by Richard Carpenter. They won the Battle of the Bands that year. Afterwards, they signed with RCA Records, but the RCA thought their music wouldn't sell, so RCA let them go. The Richard Carpenter Trio made one last TV appearance on "Your All American College Show" in 1968, where they played "Dancing in the Street." Karen had a great drum solo. They won the "Your All American College Show" contest, too.

In 1967, Richard and Karen formed another group called Spectrum. Spectrum focused on making big harmonies, and the public did not like their music. Both the Richard Carpenter Trio and Spectrum disbanded in 1968.


After five years of going nowhere, Richard and Karen Carpenter wanted to sign with a record label, but were constantly rejected. Joe Osborn, a bass player, had recording studio and let Richard and Karen record demo tapes. They sent in those demo tapes to a man named Herb Alpert. Herb Alpert appreciated Richard and Karen's music, and agreed to sign the two to his record label, A&M Records.

In April of 1969, Richard and Karen Carpenter signed to A&M Records as "Carpenters." They released their first album that year as well. It was called "Offering." It did not have any popular songs on there, except for a song called "Ticket to Ride." When they released it as a single, the public's reaction was somewhat less than great. Too many people were accustomed to the Beatles' version.

The next year, Herb Alpert recommended a song called "(They Long to Be) Close to You." After being given the music, Richard Carpenter worked on on arranging it to invent their own sound. This song was their first major hit. It went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Later that year, the Carpenters recorded another song, called "We've Only Just Begun." It was originally for a commercial for a bank called "Crocker Bank", but Richard saw potential in it. He again began working on the arrangement and the song was released. Ultimately, "We've Only Just Begun" released it as a single, went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Throughout their career, Karen and Richard continued to be successful and release great singles. All of them placed in the top 20 until 1977. In 1977, both singles released only peaked at #32 and #35. Their last top 20 single was released in 1981, and it was called "Touch Me When We're Dancing."

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder. It is a physcological disorder that is characterized by undereating, due to an innacurate body image. Victims of this disorder are typically perfectionists that have trouble showing their emotions. Karen Carpenter's eating disorder started in 1967, when the group "Spectrum" was still playing. Because she was moderately overweight, her doctor advised her to lose weight. Her doctor then suggested a diet called the "Stillman Diet." She drank 8 cups of water everyday and avoided high calorie foods. Karen lost about 25 pounds from the Stillman Diet. After she became successful, she decided that she neede to lose more weight. In 1975, she lost so much weight that she became ill. Eventually, she collapsed on stage and was sent to the hospital. At one time, she was only 80 pounds and 5'4" tall (five feet, four inches). A woman her height should be between 124 to 138 pounds. Becoming aware of her illness, she decided to gain weight. In 1982, she was the healthiest she'd been, but her heart failed. It's been proven that she had been abusing laxitives and thyroid pills. She may have also abused syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting, but that has not been proven. On February 4, 1983, Karen Carpenter died at the age of 32 from heart failure.


With the Carpenters, Karen Carpenter had a lot of records. Here is a list of them. The italicized words are the names of the records, and the things in the (parentheses) are the years that the records were released.

  • Ticket to Ride (1969)
  • Close to You (1970)
  • Carpenters (1971)
  • A Song for You (1972)
  • Now & Then (1973)
  • The Singles: 1969-1973 (1974)
  • Horizon (1975)
  • A Kind of Hush (1976)
  • Passage (1977)
  • Made in America (1981)
  • Voice of the Heart (1983 - after Karen's death)


  1. This Is Your Life (TV Show with Ralph Edwards)

Other websites


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