Dim the Spotlight on… Karen Carpenter [#11]

THIS IS A NEW SERIES WHICH CONSISTS OF ME LOOKING BACK AT ARTISTS WE LOVE AND HAVE INFLUENCED US THAT IS UNFORTUNATELY NO LONGER ALIVE. THESE ARE PUBLIC FIGURES THAT WERE VERY OPEN/KNOWN FOR THEIR MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS, BOTH RUMOURED AND DIAGNOSED.

DISCLAIMER: THESE POSTS HAVE MENTIONS OF SUICIDE, DEATH, SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND/OR RAPE THROUGHOUT, SO VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

My earliest memory of Karen Carpenter was the songs Hey Mr Psotman and Yesterday Once More, which she sang alongside her brother Richard in their sibling duo band The Carpenters. I was always in awe of her: she was pretty, a talented singer and an equally talented drummer.

Karen Carpenter was born March 2nd 1950. In 1983, at the age of 32, she died from heart failure caused by complications related to her anorexia. In those days, eating disorders like anorexia were little heard of and even less understood. Anorexia was a new disease and certainly not one with the high profile it has today. People were not aware of how to deal with it. They thought it could be cured by eating.

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In the book Little Girl Blue: The Karen Carpenter Story, author Randy Schmidt reveals the emotional problems at the core of Karen’s eating disorder, her strained relationship with her mother Agnes and the latter’s inability to show the love and affection that Karen craved. Karen was adored by millions of fans, and her circle of friends loved her dearly. However, it was her mother’s love that she never received. At Karen’s worst, her family, particularly Agnes, insisted she had no emotional problems and that her ‘over-dieting’ was something they could sort out by themselves.

Karen’s disorder started out innocently enough when she wanted to lose a few pounds after leaving high school. She had been a chubby teen and in 1973, she saw a photo of herself that prompted her to take action. She had put on weight and didn’t look good in her stage outfit so she hired a personal trainer. When she saw herself beginning to bulk up, she fired her trainer and took her own extreme measures. Friends commented at how “fabulous” she looked, but, unfortunately, she didn’t stop there.

By day, Carpenter hid under several layers of blouses and jumpers. At night, onstage in low-cut slinky gowns, she concerned a lot of fans, thinking she was dying of cancer. Karen was always considered a strong girl when it came to getting others to face their problems, but in turn, refused to admit that her massive weight loss was anything other than stress-related.

Her manager confronted the Carpenter parents about the weight loss but insisted that this was a private family matter, and thought psychiatrists were only for crazy people.

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In the mid-1970s, Karenw as admitted to the hospital, both physically and emotionally exhausted from months on end of touring and her extreme dieting was no help either. This instance finally caught her mother Agnes’ attention, who nursed her daughter, finally regaining some of the weight back.

As many knows, one of the many consequences of anorexia on women is the loss or imbalance of their period. Despite this, Carpenter had always wanted to have children, so when she met property developer Tom Burris in the 1980s, she married him just two months after meeting. This set off alarms for her friends, and the bigger blow happened when Karen discovered Tom had a vasectomy before he met her and never told her.

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The marriage was quite disastrous. Since Burris drove flashy cars, Karen assumed he had his own money, but it became more evident eventually that he was broke. He spent her money until she had nothing but investments left. To top it all, he was very cruel and impatient with her, called her a bag of bones told her he would never have a child with her. (side thought: seriously, who did he think he is?! My heart broke for Karen as I researched this part. Poor girl!!). Thankfully, Karen plucked up the courage and divorced him in 1981, which was finalised in 1982.

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When Karen’s heart began beating unusually, she was admitted to hospital and was fed through a tube. By 1982, Karen was physically and emotionally depleted. On one occasion, her maid found her asleep on the floor of her wardrobe.

And the same thing happened on February 4th 1983: she was found face down on the floor of her wardrobe, her heart beating very faintly. She died a short time later in hospital.


To read past ‘Dim the Spotlight’ posts, click here.

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If you our someone you know displays any symptoms of mental health problems, please contact your local suicide hotlines, which you can find below.

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