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Karen Carpenter’s Tragic Death Revealed

The Carpenters were one of the most influential groups of the last 4 decades. They produced an array of successful albums and hit singles that fans still sing along to.

Karen Carpenter brought approachable energy to the duo. She had an incredible ability to maintain her beautiful voice while also playing the drums.

Despite her success, Karen struggled to connect with her family and developed a preoccupation with her weight from an early age. She denied having a problem for years but, when help eventually came, it was too late to save her failing body.

Like and subscribe for more on the lives of your favorite musicians. Watch our video to learn about the devastating condition that killed Karen Carpenter.

Karen Carpenter

Karen Carpenter was born on March 2nd, 1950 in New Haven, Connecticut to parents Agnes Reuwer and Harold Bertram Carpenter.

Karen’s older brother Richard was a piano prodigy from a young age. She preferred to spend her childhood playing softball. Once she did begin to experiment with music, it became clear that her contralto vocals and drummings skills were not to be ignored.

The Carpenter family moved to Downey, California, in 1963. They hoped the change of scenery would provide opportunities to grow Richard’s career, and their wishes came true.

Karen’s Career and Impact

Karen began playing music as part of the school band. She was handed a glockenspiel, a xylophone-like percussion instrument, and later moved on to the drums.

Karen’s first band was Two Plus Two, an all-girl trio who broke up when she suggested her brother join the group. Karen and Richard joined his friend Wes Jacobs to form The Richard Carpenter Trio. A&M Records signed the siblings as The Carpenters in 1969.

Their first album, Offering, came out in 1969. It was a commercial flop, but they moved on and tried again. They found their first success a year later when they released Close to You. It reached #2 on the album charts. The songs within were just as successful, including We’ve Only Just Begun, which reached #2 on the US pop charts and #1 on the Adult Contemporary charts.

Their second album titled Carpenters was released in 1971. It topped the Adult Contemporary charts. 3 singles, For All We Know, Rainy Days and Mondays, and Superstar, reached the top 3 of the pop charts.

The Carpenters continued to release hits during the 70s, including songs like Please Mr. Postman and Only Yesterday. Karen’s personal favorite was “I Need to Be in Love.”

The Carpenters won 2 Grammys in 1971 for Best New Artist of 1970 and Best Pop Performance By A Duo or Group. They won the latter award again the next year and ended up with 17 top 20 hits, 10 gold singles, 1 multi-platinum album, and 3 Grammy awards by the end of their career.

Karen also released a few solo tracks. Only 500 copies of her 1967 single Looking For Love were ever made. She also made a solo album in 1979 with producer Phil Ramone when Richard took a year off to treat his addiction. It had an up-tempo feel that record executives weren’t used to from the band. A small section of remixed tracks was featured on the album Loveliness in 1989. The full solo album, titled Karen Carpenter, was released in 1996.

Karen Carpenter left behind a massive legacy. She still has a horde of devoted fans that remember her voice and treasure the music she helped create.

There are currently over 6 websites focusing on Karen’s life and career. There are also several Carpenters tribute bands touring America and the UK.

Magazines and living musicians also recognize Karen’s talent. Rolling Stone ranked her at #94 on their Top 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list. Paul McCarney once said she had the best female voice in the world.

Like and subscribe for more on the most influential voices of all time. Keep watching to learn about the romantic and mental struggles that led to Karen Carpenter’s tragic death.

Karen’s Love Life

Karen sang of love in plenty of hit songs but never managed to find it for herself. She tried dating several times, and her partners included Mike Curb, Tony Danza, Terry Ellis, Mark Harmon, Steve Martin and Alan Osmond. None of these attempts turned into a lasting romance.

Karen had always wanted children and eventually tried to settle down. She described Tom Burris as a man who checked all the husband boxes. They were married in 1980. He had a son from a previous marriage but revealed that he’d had a vasectomy shortly before the ceremony. Karen was devastated that he couldn’t fulfill her dream of starting a family. She tried to call the ceremony off, but her mother pushed her into it.

Karen and Tom were divorced a year later. Friends and family alleged that he was abusive and used the Carpenter family fortune for his own pleasure.

Karen never married again after the heartbreak of this failed relationship. It made her feel even like there was even less love in her life, and this may have further deteriorated her already fragile mental state.

Karen’s Struggles

Karen worked to project an image of a clean, wholesome woman with no issues to overcome. Several personal struggles hid just behind this public persona, including low self-esteem, family issues, and a distorted view of her own body.

Karen’s personal issues began in childhood. She struggled to relate or connect to her strict, cold mother. Richard was always her favorite, and this left Karen feeling unloved.

Richard became part of the problem in another way. He was a workaholic who pushed his sister into a gruelling touring schedule. Her solo efforts may have been an attempt to get out from under his control and experiment creatively.

Karen’s lifelong struggle with her weight began after she graduated high school. She was never obese but tried several extreme diets.

She tried the Stillman diet, a program that only allows for lean foods and requires you to drink at least 8 glasses of water every day. She was down to 120 pounds by the time it ended.

After this extreme diet, Karen enjoyed a brief stint of healthy eating. This period ended when she began touring with The Carpenters.

Karen admitted in an interview in 1973 that eating well on the road was difficult to do. In August of that same year, she saw photos of a performance in Lake Tahoe. She was shocked by how large her stomach seemed and insisted on losing weight.

Karen sought to increase her exercise regiment as soon as possible. She hired a personal trainer but fired them after the workouts caused her to gain muscle instead of losing weight.

Karen hired another trainer after that, and her next workout routine helped her lose 20 pounds, but that wasn’t enough for her. She fantasized about looking like Twiggy, the famously thin model. Once she reached 110 pounds, her next goal was to slim down to 105.

Karen’s desire to lose weight became pathological for the rest of her life after that. She avoided food whenever possible and used medications to slim down quickly. Despite the obvious changes in her figure, she denied having a problem when asked by family, friends, and fans.

Karen’s rapid weight loss sent her to the hospital for the first time after she cancelled The Carpenters’ European tour. Complications from anorexia nervosa and bulimia left her exhausted from a cycle of binge eating and purging.

Despite the negative effect it had on her health, Karen was pleased with her weight loss. She showed her new body off on stage by wearing clingy, low-cut gowns. Fans immediately noticed and were said to gasp when they first saw her on stage. Many even worried that she may have cancer.

Karen’s mother also noticed the change in her daughter. This contributed to the problem because it made Karen want to continue losing weight to gain her attention.

Anorexia didn’t even have a name in the 80s. Her friends and family weren’t able to understand the condition or provide help. It went untreated for years, causing Karen’s frail heart and body to fail.

Karen eventually sought help for her weight-loss-related medication abuse. She admitted to New York city therapist Steven Levenkron that she took 80-90 laxatives every night and used thyroid medicine to speed up her metabolism.

Karen was hospitalized again in September of 1982 and sent to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. The doctors put her on an IV drip that helped keep her alive but put extra strain on her heart.

Karen kept a stable weight for some time after that. At her final appearance on January 11th, 1983, she jokingly told the crowd, “Look at me! I’ve got an ass!”

Karen’s mood and mental state seemed to have improved at that time. She seemed healthier than ever, but the truth came out the next year.

Karen’s Death

Karen met with her brother on February 1st, 1983, to discuss plans for a new Carpenters album. Neither one expected it would be the last time they would speak to each other. The entire Carpenter family was unprepared when tragedy struck days later.

Karen’s mother found her collapsed at their family home on February 4th, 1983.

Paramedics rushed in to assess her condition and found devastating results. Karen’s heart was only beating once every 10 seconds. Her blood sugar was 1,110 milligrams per decilitre, 10 times above the average.

The reason behind this rapid decline in her health is perhaps the most tragic part of the story. Karen had been using ipecac syrup to induce vomiting. This powerful medication is only used in cases of poisoning or overdosing. It dissolved her heart muscle, creating a condition known as emetine cardiotoxicity.

Karen Carpenter was declared at the age of 32 soon after arriving at the hospital.

Music transcends time, space, and even death itself. The Carpenters’ array of #1 hits will still be sung by fans and cover artists throughout the world for years to come. Karen’s story may also help those who struggle with anorexia nervosa today.

Do you think Karen could have benefitted from earlier care and a more accurate diagnosis? Let us know in the comments below. Like and subscribe for more on the most legendary artists we lost too soon.

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