One night in 1981, the favored BBC1 programme Nationwide broadcast an interview with one of the crucial cherished musical parterships of the time: The Carpenters, a squeaky-clean duo, comprising the velvet-voiced singer Karen and her brother Richard.
They have been interviewed by Sue Lawley, and followers little question anticipated to listen to about new report releases and concert events that the American pair had deliberate. As an alternative, viewers noticed a painfully skinny, gaunt and fragile-looking Karen sitting on a settee – her enormous, brown eyes staring, hauntingly, from her drawn face.
Lawley requested the query outright: was the explanation Karen hadn’t been recording or occurring tour not too long ago as a result of she was ‘affected by the slimming illness referred to as anorexia nervosa’?
Forty years in the past, it was a situation that most individuals hadn’t heard of, and few understood.
Karen, then 31, was immediately defensive. ‘No, I used to be simply pooped… drained out,’ she protested.
DUO: Singers Karen and Richard Carpenter of the Carpenters pose for a portrait in 1981 in Los Angeles, California
AWARD WINNING: Photograph of Karen in 1977, on the Los Angeles Billboard Music Awards Carpenters posing with Emmyiou Harris
Her brother, sitting by her facet, rapidly stepped in. He referred to as a halt to filming, claiming that Karen’s consuming points have been previously. When the interview re-started, there was no point out of Karen’s weight or her gaunt look.
Sixteen months later, Karen was lifeless. Her dying, an inquest later recorded, was as a consequence of coronary heart failure as a consquence of anorexia.
Greater than 4 many years on, a brand new e-book and documentary are re-evaluating the life and legacy of one of many world’s best-known singers, who turned the primary superstar casualty of an consuming dysfunction and whose dying put a face on anorexia, triggering widespread consideration and analysis, for which many younger individuals will be grateful at the moment.
That awkward BBC encounter is re-shown within the documentary movie, Karen Carpenter: Ravenous For Perfection, which reveals contemporary insights into the singer’s life and legacy. The not too long ago printed biography, Lead Sister: The Story Of Karen Carpenter by British creator Lucy O’Brien, additionally re-examines Karen’s battle with anorexia and physique dysmorphia, which noticed her devour as much as 90 laxatives at a time and her weight plunge to lower than five-and-a-half stones.
So what drove this intelligent, proficient and exquisite younger girl to starve herself to dying?
Opposite to standard perception that fame and public scrutiny have been guilty, these near the Carpenter household declare the basis of Karen’s issues was an overbearing, perfectionist mom who clearly favoured her ‘musical genius’ brother, Richard.
Chatting with The Mail on Sunday, Randy Schmidt, a author and producer on the documentary, says: ‘Considered one of Karen’s closest buddies instructed me there was a gap in Karen’s coronary heart the place the love of a mom ought to have been and it could not be stuffed with the love of buddies and even by hundreds of thousands of adoring followers all over the world, and she or he ended up virtually eager to disappear – to make herself smaller and smaller.
‘I believe her household did love her in their very own approach, however Karen wanted one thing else and it is unlucky that their love for each other was so misaligned.’
Born in 1950 to middle-class mother and father in Connecticut, Karen was three years youthful than her brother Richard, a piano prodigy who began arranging music at 12. Their mom, Agnes, typically boasted that her son was a musical genius, and Karen idolised him.
In 1963 the household moved to California to assist the teenage Richard’s burgeoning musical profession. There, Karen discovered her first musical love, taking part in drums in her highschool’s marching band. Karen was a typical, chubby teenager and Richard teased her, calling her ‘fatso’. Their mom described Karen as ‘hefty across the butt’ and when she was 17 took her daughter – then a wholesome 10st and 5ft 4in – to see a health care provider about her weight.
She was placed on the Stillman water weight loss program, a high-protein, low-carbohydrate weight loss program standard within the Sixties, which concerned vitamin dietary supplements and consuming eight glasses of water a day.
MUMMY DEAREST: Karen Carpenter along with her mom Agnes at Christmas, 1982
After six months, Karen had misplaced 25lb, however her relationship with meals, and her self-image, was irrevocably broken.
‘That was the beginning of Karen counting energy day by day and exercising. She was decided to stay to it,’ says Lucy O’Brien. ‘Meals started to be seen because the enemy and I believe that is what was bedding down in Karen’s psyche.’
Driving this obsession, explains Randy Schmidt, was Karen and Richard’s perfectionist mom. ‘Karen joked that the ground of their storage was so clear you could possibly eat off it. Their mom scrubbed the window fittings on their home with a toothbrush and when she seen her neighbours’ home windows have been soiled, she’d go over and clear them as effectively.
‘Karen and Richard discovered from a younger age to attempt for perfection in all the things. It is not a nasty factor if regulated. However as individuals within the documentary say, perfection is inconceivable, and also you frequently disappoint your self when that is the objective.’
The brother and sister signed with A&M Data and their first hit single launched in 1969 was a canopy of The Beatles’ Ticket To Experience. After realising the true value of her contralto voice – described by some as like that of an angel – the label began to wean Karen away from taking part in the drums, her best love, and – poignantly – an instrument she might conceal behind.
By the early Nineteen Seventies, she was entrance of stage, alone and with a microphone, and hundreds of thousands of eyes on her.
With timeless classics resembling Wet Days And Mondays and Yesterday As soon as Extra, they bought 100 million information worldwide.
In 1973, when she and Richard appeared on The Bob Hope Particular, Karen noticed photos of herself in her stage gold trouser swimsuit. She had a barely noticeable tummy however instructed her brother she appeared heavy and supposed to do one thing about it.
‘Karen was all the time anxious about her weight however once I first met her, she wasn’t anorexic,’ remembers Maria Luisa Galeazzi, who labored as Karen’s private assistant, hair and make-up artist. She remembers recurrently going out to dinner with Karen and Richard, and Karen complaining, ‘You two can eat something and never placed on a pound.’
‘However she was consuming usually. She cherished to prepare dinner and at Christmas we might spend a day making cookies.’
Her relationship along with her mom remained something however regular, nonetheless. Whereas her father was a quiet man who stayed within the background, ‘her mom dominated the roost and Karen couldn’t please her mum. Richard wasn’t picked on as a lot as Karen.’
Galeazzi and Richard had a romance that was minimize brief when Karen instructed her assistant that her companies have been now not required. Galeazzi believes it was the siblings’ mom’s doing.
Richard went on to marry his adopted first cousin, with whom he had 5 youngsters.
Drummer Cubby O’Brien joined The Carpenters in 1972 once they have been driving excessive on hits like Shut To You. At first, Karen hid her weight reduction effectively, he says. ‘It was exhausting to inform that something was unsuitable as a result of Karen wore sweatpants and sweatshirts – layers of clothes. It was solely when she was in her night robes that you could possibly see she was getting skinny.
‘She would eat salads, transfer meals round her plate. I believe she thought it was the one factor she might management, however we did not understand it was a major problem. We guys within the group would by no means say something. I believe Richard knew and was anxious for her. Associates like Olivia Newton-John, Petula Clark and Dionne Warwick did speak to her, girlfriend to girlfriend.’
ICONS: Greater than 4 many years on, a brand new e-book and documentary are re-evaluating the life and legacy of one of many world’s best-known singers, who turned the primary superstar casualty of an consuming dysfunction and whose dying put a face on anorexia, triggering widespread consideration and analysis, for which many younger individuals will be grateful at the moment
Karen’s weight dropped to 5st 7lb, in line with the documentary, and audiences gasped when she walked on stage, fearing she may be affected by most cancers.
‘I believe it was a type of attention-seeking, even when it turned damaging, and folks have been saying ‘You do not look good.’ She was in a position to management one thing in her life – Richard managed so much, her mum managed so much, the report corporations managed so much, and this was one of many few instances in Karen’s life when she made a stab for independence. She was a insurgent in some ways,’ says Schmidt.
One other stress was the duo’s squeaky-clean, all-American picture within the rebellious period of Vietnam protests, the Watergate scandal and exhausting rock.
‘As a result of we have been brother and sister, we have been ridiculed up, down, backwards and forwards… No one would go after the music, however they criticised our garments, our hair… they criticised our audiences as a result of households got here,’ Karen says in one of many newly found interviews.
Unknown to most individuals, Richard had his personal issues. Struggling insomnia, panic assaults and despair, he turned hooked on sleeping tablets and as soon as fell asleep at his piano. It was an habit he lastly kicked after going into rehab.
Additional unhappiness, for Karen, got here from her lack of ability to seek out lasting love. However, in 1980, it appeared she lastly had her blissful ending when she married self-described property mogul Tom Burris.
Her former aide Maria Luisa Galeazzi remembers bumping into Karen shortly earlier than the marriage: ‘She was so skinny that I had to take a look at her twice, however she appeared blissful and invited me to her marriage ceremony bathe and to the ceremony. She was lovely on the day, however she did not look blissful.’
It later emerged how, three days earlier than her marriage ceremony day, Burris instructed his future spouse, who needed youngsters, that he’d had a vasectomy and wouldn’t get it reversed.
‘If I might have identified what a jerk her husband was, I might have dragged her off the altar,’ says Galeazzi.
Unsurprisingly, the wedding did not final. In 1982, the newly separated and painfully skinny Karen flew to New York and put herself within the arms of psychotherapist Steven Levenkron, towards the needs of her household, who felt she may very well be ‘fastened’ by a Beverly Hills physician.
She arrived in New York with 22 suitcases of garments and footwear and checked in to a resort with a girlfriend for assist,
Throughout therapy, Karen confessed to Levenkron that she might take as much as 90 laxatives without delay and admitted taking as much as ten thyroid remedy tablets a day. Later, it was discovered that she had additionally been unknowingly poisoning herself with overdoses of a syrup that induced vomiting.
Karen made some progress in understanding the roots of her sickness in intensive remedy classes however nonetheless didn’t placed on sufficient weight. Levenkron suspected his affected person was nonetheless secretly taking laxatives and, as a brand new tactic, requested Karen to alter right into a bikini and have a look at herself in a mirror. ‘Karen was skeletal, however she did not see something unsuitable. She thought she was gaining weight,’ explains Lucy O’Brien. ‘That is physique dysmorphia – the thinner Karen was, the fatter she felt.’
By the autumn of 1982, Karen weighed 5st 5lb and, when she instructed the psychotherapist that her coronary heart was ‘beating humorous’, she was admitted to hospital. Over the subsequent seven weeks she gained 20lb from intravenous diet and consuming small meals. She believed she was cured, filed for divorce and headed again to Los Angeles. She joined a reunion of Grammy award winners in January, but it surely was her final public look. She was discovered lifeless at her mother and father’ residence on February 4, 1983. She had suffered congestive coronary heart failure as a consequence of issues from anorexia.
Tragically, drummer Cubby O’Brien remembers her optimism and dedication in her remaining days: ‘I spoke to Karen only a few days earlier than she died and she or he was in good spirits. She was within the studio and recording. She was feeling good.’
‘She did not need to die,’ says documentary maker Randy Schmidt. ‘She instructed individuals she was ‘going to beat this factor’ and she or he was wanting ahead to the subsequent stage of her life.
‘I believe if she’d had the alternatives that folks with consuming problems have now she would nonetheless be right here and would have contributed a lot extra to music,’ provides Lucy O’Brien. ‘The lesson is that there’s assist out there and a few of that’s right down to Karen.’
- Karen Carpenter: Ravenous For Perfection is being screened at movie festivals and its creators are in talks with streaming corporations for wider distribution. Lead Sister, The Story Of Karen Carpenter, by Lucy O’Brien, is printed by 9 Eight Books, value £22.