This past week was the 25th anniversary of Karen Carpenter’s death from anorexia nervosa. She was born in New Haven, Connecticut, which was only a few miles from where I went to high school but as a young teen, she moved to California with her family to be closer to the music industry in Los Angeles. Her older brother Richard was interested in music first as a pianist and composer but Karen soon demonstrated herself to be an amazingly gifted drummer. It was only after she began drumming with her brother that she discovered her exceptional singing ability. Once she started singing, she stopped drumming which was too bad because a) there weren’t a lot of female drummers in the 70s and b) she was extremely talented.
There are as many reasons that people develop anorexia as there are people with the disease but it’s widely believed that Karen felt like she had very little control over her career. Whether this could be blamed on her brother, who was clearly the leader of the duo, who’s to say? People with the disease interpret reality in vastly different ways than the average person might. Regardless, this was something Karen struggled with for years. After being in and out of the hospital in the early 80s, she finally died in winter of 1983 and the world lost one of the loveliest voices ever born.
Karen Carpenter - and her death - had a huge influence over so many girls and teens, including me. I was in high school at the time and knew some people who were struggling with anorexia but until Karen died from it, we had nothing to call it and no way to identify it as an illness. That was probably the only good to come from her death: the light that was shone on this disease.