Karen Anne Carpenter

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Karen Anne Carpenter

Birthplace: New Haven, CT, United States
Death: February 04, 1983 (32) (heart failure, caused by anorexia nervosa)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Harold Bertram Carpenter and Agnes Reuwer Tatum
Ex-wife of Private
Sister of Richard Carpenter

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Karen Anne Carpenter

American singer and drummer Karen Carpenter is best remembered for her vocal performances as the lead singer for the soft-rock duo the Carpenters, who scored a string of Top 10 hits in the early '70s, including "(They Long to Be) Close to You," "We've Only Just Begun," "Rainy Days and Mondays," and "Yesterday Once More." Carpenter recorded one solo album in the late '70s, yet it was unreleased at the time. Following the recording of the record, she returned to the Carpenters, and they had one final Top 40 hit -- "Touch Me When We're Dancing" -- in 1981 before she tragically died of heart failure, brought on by anorexia nervosa, in February of 1983. Her unreleased solo album, titled Karen Carpenter, was finally released in the fall of 1996.

She was born on March 2, 1950 in New Haven, Connecticut, to Agnes Reuwer Tatum and Harold Bertram Carpenter. When she was young, she enjoyed playing baseball with other children on the street. On the TV program, This Is Your Life, Carpenter stated that she liked pitching. In the early 1970s, she went on to play as the pitcher on the Carpenters' official softball team.

The Carpenter siblings moved with their parents to California in 1963 and settled in the Los Angeles suburb of Downey. Richard had developed his interest in music at an early age, becoming a piano prodigy. The move to southern California was intended in part to foster his budding musical career. Karen, meanwhile, did not manifest her musical talents until high school, when she joined the band and soon mastered the drums.

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. 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. By September 1975, Karen's weight dropped to 91 pounds.

During the mid to late 1960s, the two attempted to launch a musical career but failed to gain a successful recording deal until the decade's end. In May 1966 Karen joined Richard in attending a late night session in the garage studio of L.A. bassist Joe Osborn, where Richard was to accompany an auditioning vocalist. Asked to sing, Karen performed and landed a short-lived recording contract as a solo artist with Osborn's flegling label Magic Lamp. The resulting single included two of Richard's compositions, "Looking for Love" and "I'll Be Yours", but the label soon folded, bringing this promising start to a close.

During this period, the pair, joined by bassist friend Wes Jacobs, formed the Richard Carpenter Trio, a jazz instrumental group. Winning the Hollywood Bowl "Battle of the Bands" in 1966, the trio was picked up by the RCA label. The label chose not to release their songs, however, and doubting their commercial potential, RCA soon dropped the trio. Richard and Karen next teamed with four other student musicians from California State University-Long Beach to form the sextet Spectrum. Although the new group landed club dates at such venues as the Whisky A Go-Go, no record deal was forthcoming. Nevertheless, the experience proved rewarding for the siblings, as Richard found a lyricist for his original compositions in fellow Spectrum member John Bettis.

After Spectrum folded, the Carpenters decided to continue as a duo, with Richard on keyboards, Karen on drums, and both contributing vocals. They sent out demo tapes and eventually attracted the attention of Herb Alpert, who signed the duo to his label, A&M Records, in 1969. Their initial LP, titled Offering, featured numerous selections that Richard had written or co-written during their Spectrum period. The most significant track on the album, though, was a ballad rendition of The Beatles' hit "Ticket to Ride", which soon became a minor hit for the Carpenters, and the LP was subsequently retitled Ticket to Ride with somewhat improved sales.

The Carpenters achieved their breakthrough in 1970 with the release of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David song, "(They Long to Be) Close to You", which rose to #1 and stayed atop the charts for four weeks. A follow-up recording, "We've Only Just Begun" (written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols), reached #2 to become the duo's second major hit in the fall of 1970, and helped catapult the album featuring both hits (titled Close to You) to bestseller status.

A string of hit singles and albums followed, including "For All We Know", "Rainy Days and Mondays", and "Superstar" (all from the LP, Carpenters) in 1971; "Hurting Each Other", "It's Going to Take Some Time", and "Goodbye to Love" (from the LP, A Song for You) in 1972; "Sing" and "Yesterday Once More" (from the LP, Now and Then) in 1973. "Top of the World", an album selection on the Song for You LP, became a word of mouth hit and was re-recorded for single release in 1973, reaching number one on the Top 40 late that year. A greatest hits LP, titled The Singles: 1969-1973, topped the charts in the U.S. and the United Kingdom and became one of the bestselling albums of the decade, ultimately selling more than 7,000,000 copies in the U.S. alone.

During the first half of the 1970s, the Carpenters' music was a staple of Top 40 playlists. The duo produced a distinctive sound featuring Karen's expressive contralto on lead vocals, with both siblings contributing background vocals that were overdubbed to create densely layered harmonies. To his role as vocalist, keyboardist, and arranger, Richard added that of composer on numerous tracks. Several of his compositions with lyricist John Bettis became hit records, including "Goodbye to Love", "Yesterday Once More", and "Top of the World".

To promote their recordings, the Carpenters maintained a staggering schedule of concert tours and television appearances during this period. Among their numerous television credits were appearances on such popular series as American Bandstand, the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and the Carol Burnett Show. In 1971 the duo appeared in a television special on the BBC-TV in the United Kingdom and were the featured performers in a summer replacement series, Make Your Own Kind of Music, which aired on NBC-TV in the U.S. In May 1973 the Carpenters accepted an invitation to perform at the White House for President Richard M. Nixon and visiting West German chancellor Willy Brandt.

The Carpenters' popularity often confounded critics. With their output focused on ballads and mid-tempo pop, the duo's music was often dismissed by critics as bland and "saccharine". The recording industry, however, bestowed awards on the duo, who won three Grammy Awards during their career (including Best New Artist, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus, for "Close to You" in 1970; and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group for the LP Carpenters in 1971). In 1973, the Carpenters were voted Best Band, Duo, or Group (Pop/Rock) at the first annual American Music Awards.

The Carpenters scaled the charts with a remake of the Marvelettes' hit "Please Mr. Postman" in early 1975 and scored a final top five hit with the Carpenter-Bettis song "Only Yesterday" later that year. Both singles appeared on the LP Horizon, which also included covers of the Eagles' "Desperado" and Neil Sedaka's "Solitaire", which became a moderate hit for the duo that year. The LPs Horizon and A Kind of Hush, released in 1975 and 1976 respectively, achieved "gold" status but failed to peak as high as previous efforts. Their singles releases in 1976 likewise followed a pattern of diminishing returns. The duo's highest charting single that year was a cover of Herman's Hermits' "There's a Kind of Hush", which peaked at number 12. The follow-up single, the Carpenter-Bettis song "I Need to Be in Love" charted no higher than 25, while the novelty song "Goofus" failed to reach the Top 40 entirely.

Their more experimental album, Passage, released in 1977, marked an attempt to broaden their appeal by venturing into other musical genres. The LP featured an unlikely mix of Latin rock, calypso, and pop, and included the Top 40 hit "All You Get From Love is a Love Song". The most notable tracks included cover versions of "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" (from the rock opera Evita), and Klaatu's "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft", both complete with choral and orchestral accompaniment. Although the single release of "Calling Occupants" became a top ten hit in the U.K., it stalled at number 32 on the U.S. charts, and the album failed to cross the gold threshold of 500,000 copies sold in the States.

Despite their disappointing performance on domestic charts, the Carpenters continued to enjoy enormous popularity. A second Singles album (covering the years 1974-1978) was released in the U.K., while in the States, their 1978 holiday album, A Christmas Portrait, proved an exception to their faltering career at home and became a seasonal favorite. (A second Christmas collection, An Old Fashioned Christmas, was released in 1984 after Karen's death.) Their television specials also garnered solid ratings and kept them before the public eye during the late 1970s.

By the mid-1970s, extensive touring and lengthy recording sessions had begun to take their toll on the duo and contributed to their professional difficulties during the latter half of the decade. Karen dieted obsessively and developed the disorder anorexia nervosa, which first manifested itself in 1975, when an exhausted and emaciated Karen was forced to cancel concert tours in the U.K. and Japan. Richard, meanwhile, developed an addiction to Quaaludes, which began to affect his performance in the late 1970s and led to the end of the duo's live concert appearances in 1978.

Richard sought treatment for his addiction at a Topeka, Kansas, facility in early 1979. Karen, meanwhile, decided to pursue a solo album project with renowned producer Phil Ramone in New York. Her choice of more adult-oriented and dance-tempo material represented an effort to retool their image. The resulting product, however, met a tepid response from Richard and A&M executives in early 1980, and Karen wavered in her dedication to the project. Ultimately, she abandoned the solo effort in favor of launching a new LP with her brother, now fully recovered from his addiction. (The solo LP remained unreleased until 1996.) Their LP Made in America, released in 1981, spawned a final top 20 hit single, "Touch Me When We're Dancing".

Personal troubles, however, dimmed the prospects of this modest return to the charts, as Karen suffered a failed marriage and the ongoing effects of her anorexia. In 1982, Karen sought therapy with noted psychotherapist Steven Levenkron in New York City for her disorder and returned to California later that year determined to regain her professional career. The years of dieting and abuse proved too much strain on her heart, however, and on February 4, 1983, Karen suffered cardiac arrest at her parents' home in Downey and was pronounced dead at Downey Memorial Hospital.


Carpenter 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. After a whirlwind romance, Karen married real estate developer Thomas James Burris on August 31, 1980, in the Crystal Room of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Burris, divorced with an 18-year old son, was nine years her senior. 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." The marriage was not a happy one, and the couple filed for divorce in November 1981, after a final argument at Karen's parents' house, where Tom stormed out of the house and told her family " You can keep her!"

Sources: Starpulse, Wikipedia, Biography Base

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Karen Anne Carpenter's Timeline

March 2, 1950
New Haven, CT, United States
February 4, 1983
Age 32
United Methodist Church