Karen Carpenter had a beautiful voice and made history in music alongside his brother Richard Carpenter with the duo The Carpenters. They’ve made amazing songs that are until this day true classics. But, unfortunately her life had a tragic ending too soon.
They were born in New Haven, Connecticut, Richard Lynn Carpenter (born in 1946) and Karen Anne Carpenter (in 1950). Moved with their parents to California in 1963 and settled in Los Angeles.
Interested in music from an early age, Richard became a piano prodigy. Karen only manifested her musical talents in her teens. Karen, Richard and their father Harold Carpenter spent hours in the basement listening to music.
Their extensive record collection included artists such as Les Paul and Mary Ford, Spike Jones, Patti Page. And other personalities who came to influence the band’s successful development years later.
Karen confesses that sometimes, while Richard listened to music in the basement, she found herself playing baseball. She was always very attached to activities that involved sports. And said she wanted to be a commercial artist, a nurse or a flight attendant.
Karen, noticing that her brother’s growing talent, started practicing the flute, but soon gave up. Until she heard the band from the school where he studied playing and got a taste for the drums. And finally asked her parents for a set of drums.
Richard Carpenter Trio
It was at California State University in 1964 that Richard became friends with a tuba and double bass player named Wes Jacobs. Richard, Karen (17 years old at the time) and Wes Jacobs got together and formed the “Richard Carpenter Trio”.
They performed at weddings and dances, until they reached the end of the talent contest known as “The Battle of the Bands” at the Hollywood Bowl. With the song “Iced Tea” the trio received a standing ovation and was immediately approached by a representative from RCA Records. They even signed a contract, which was canceled even before the commercial launch.
In 1966 Karen began to realize her vocal abilities. She signed with Magic Lamp Records (a small, independent label) and, in the garage of Joe Osborn, a well-known bassist in Los Angeles, recorded the hits “Looking for Love”, “I’ll Be Yours”, “The Parting of Our Ways “, among others.
The band consisted of Karen on drums, Richard on keyboard and Joe on bass. Only 500 copies of this single have been released. One of them ended up in the hand of Herb Alpert, head of A M Records. He liked what he heard and, in 1969, launched the band “The Carpenters” to the world.
Even sharing the music scene with bands and singers like ABBA, Bee Gees, Van Halen, The Jackson 5, Queen, Pink Floyd, KC and the Sunshine Band, The Clash and Donna Summer the Carpenters conquered their space without much effort.
The Carpenters’ debut album, entitled “Offering”, was released in 1969 and in a short time it was already in the first place in the top sales, with the song “Close To You”.
He continued to lead for four consecutive weeks. “Close to You” became an international success, earning the brothers two Grammy awards, including the 1970 Best New Artist Award.
After that, no one else held the duo, with all their light, meticulously worked melodies and clean arrangements. They were again on the charts with the hits “Rainy Days and Mondays”, “Superstar”, “Hurting Each Other”, “Goodbye to Love”, “Yesterday Once More” and “Top of the World”. They were in fact at the top.
Shortly after the release of the hit “Only Yesterday” in mid-1975, the group’s popularity began to decline. The duo was plagued by personal problems.
Addiction and Anorexia
Richard became addicted to prescription drugs and ended up being admitted to a rehab clinic. Karen began to experience the symptoms of a devastating illness that would accompany her for the rest of her life: anorexia nervosa.
Around 1978, both were still in treatment, no longer recording singles, not even reaching the Top 40. Karen even ventured into a solo career but the album was never completed, as she decided to return to the band.
In 1980, at the age of 30, Karen even married Thomas James Burris, a 39-year-old realtor, divorced and the father of an 18-year-old boy. The couple separated a year later, which helped further worsen her health.
Karen and her brother in a 1981 interview:
Karen Carpenter death cause
Karen struggled with her severe case of anorexia nervosa until the last years of her life. Her body could no longer stand the frantic pace of concerts and recordings.
She no longer ate, used diuretics excessively and took dozens of pills daily. The song “Now” was the last song recorded by Karen, in 1982, while she was still in treatment.
At that time, anorexia nervosa wasn’t very known. Karen said that after the recovery, she intended to make her fight against the disease public and thus help others who were experiencing the same problem.
The treatment was going well and Karen started to regain weight, but the way of gaining that weight (intravenous) came to weaken her heart even more.
A few weeks before Karen’s death, Richard tried to get his sister admitted to a hospital for treatment. “She didn’t look well … there was no sparkle in her eyes anymore,” he said.
On February 4, 1983, Karen’s mother entered her room and found her lying on the floor, naked and unconscious.
Karen had suffered a cardiac arrest and had her death declared at Downey Memorial Hospital at age 32. Karen, dressed in pink, was placed in an open coffin. Among those who attended her funeral were his best friends, Olivia Newton-John and Dionne Warwick. She was buried in the Carpenter family crypt in Forest Lawn.
After Karen’s death, Richard produced several albums of unpublished material, several collections and also released a solo album, “TIME”, in 1987, which featured contributions from Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick.
Karen’s voice is still considered by many to be the best and most expressive in American popular music. It is praised for its control, sense of field and subtle nuances.