Karen Carpenter, one half of the legendary duo The Carpenters, was known for her dulcet voice that captivated audiences around the world. But behind her angelic image was a long and lonely struggle with anorexia nervosa, a disease that would ultimately take her life.
Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Karen Carpenter moved with her family to Downey, California in 1963. It was here that she and her brother Richard began their musical career, eventually forming The Carpenters and releasing their first album in 1969.
By the mid-1970s, The Carpenters had become one of the most successful musical acts of all time, selling over 80 million records and winning three Grammy Awards. But behind the scenes, Karen’s weight had plummeted to a skeletal 90 lbs. due to her years-long struggle with anorexia.
On February 4, 1983, Karen Carpenter died of heart failure related to her anorexia. She was only 32 years old. Her death raised awareness of the dangers of eating disorders, which had until then been little publicized or understood.
Karen Carpenter was the first celebrity casualty of an eating disorder, but after her death, other public figures shared their own struggles with anorexia and bulimia, most notably Princess Diana.
Karen’s death also sparked a push to ban over-the-counter sales of the vomit-inducing drug ipecac, which she had reportedly been taking to keep from gaining weight. Doctors and therapists who specialized in treating eating disorders lobbied the Food and Drug Administration to ban the drug, which had overtaxed Karen’s already weak heart.
Karen’s life was tragically cut short, but her legacy lives on through her music and the awareness she raised about the dangers of eating disorders. As her longtime hairdresser Arthur Johns said, “She wasn’t the type of person to mop the floor with her tears.” Karen Carpenter had a lot of living left to do, but her legacy will always be remembered.