Karen Carpenter was perhaps one of the most popular women at one time. Her angelic voice was one of the reasons for the massive success of the group ‘The Carpenters.’

But behind her outward persona of serenity and joy lurked some secrets which ended up taking her life… keep reading to learn more.

Karen Carpenter and Richard Carpenter were one of the most successful acts of their time. They sold over 100 million records in the 1970s. This propelled them to the level of stardom that perhaps no sibling duo had ever reached before.

But behind the success and happiness, there were issues that the public did not know about.

Karen grew up a little chubby, she had a height of 5″ 4 and weighed 145 pounds. She worked on losing weight and reached 120 pounds. At this point, the singer was already working and touring which led to her having difficulty establishing a proper eating schedule.

She once said, “When you’re on the road, it’s hard to eat. Period. On top of that, it’s tough to eat well. We don’t like to eat before a show because I can’t stand singing with a full stomach.”

Since performances and concerts would end late and dinner would be at midnight, it was a challenge to maintain a normal healthy eating routine. This added to the fact that she did not like how she looked in her pictures and wanted to shed more weight. She said once, “You’re going to be a balloon.”

Karen ended up hiring a personal trainer to help her shed the weight. However, she bulked up instead which caused her to fire the trainer and do something else to shed the weight she did not like.

What began as her goal to lose weight, became an eating disorder. She would pretend to have already eaten with those around her when in reality she was starving herself. And in his book “Little Girl Blue,” Randy Schmidt revealed the root of her eating disorder; never receiving love from her mother.

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The singer ended up losing 20 more pounds which gained her compliments from her boyfriend’s sister, Carol Curb. “She lost around 20lbs, and she looked fabulous,” Curb recalled. “She weighed 110lb or so and looked amazing. If she’d been able to stop there, then life would have been beautiful.”

Losing weight became an obsession for her. During mealtimes, she would pretend to eat so her friends and family thought she had a meal when in reality she would eat nothing. She would cut up her food and move it around her plate. She would then give some of it to her friends to try which would end up emptying her plate. And while her place was empty, so was her stomach.

At this point, Karen was 90 pounds and had found a way to hide her dramatic weight loss.

The “Yesterday” singer would wear several layers of clothing in order to avoid comments from those who knew her to eat more. Her agent, Sherwin Bash, recalled “She would start with a long-sleeved shirt and then put a blouse over that, and a sweater over that and a jacket over that. With all of it, you had no idea of what she had become.”

Bash was shocked when she saw how Karen’s bones were protruding. Even fans were worried, some even believed their beloved performer had cancer.

Her diagnosis was of anorexia nervosa and the reasons behind it can never be exactly known. But some believed one of the contributing factors was how she was denied the maternal love which she longed for. After two years of extreme dieting, she was finally admitted to a hospital.

She was mentally and physically exhausted, and she finally had her mother Agnes’ attention. Agnes watched as her daughter slept 14 hours a day. After getting help, Karen’s weight went up to 104 pounds but her body was still exhausted from the deprivation it had suffered in the last few years.

While she did gain a little more weight she still suffered from anorexia and bulimia nervosa. In 1976, after spending two months under her parents’ watchful eyes, she finally moved to her own place.

Four years later she met Tom Burris, a 39-year-old divorcee who she fell in love with. And two months after that, the couple was engaged.

Karen finally believed she could have her own family but unbeknownst to her it might not be possible. Burris had had a vasectomy and did not disclose this information to Karen even though he knew she had wanted children.

Karen had wanted to call the wedding off but her mother Agnes forbade it, citing that it would ruin her image. The marriage was not healthy, Burris who had seemed to be wealthy was actually living much beyond his means allowed to.

He spend Karen’s hard-earned money and routinely humiliated her, at one point even calling her a “bag of bones.” “Karen was dealing with her anorexia and her career. I was dealing with my real estate problems,” he later said. “I feel totally guilty like I’d like to reverse everything.” In 1981, Karen had had enough and filed for divorce.

Shortly after her divorce Karen sought help from Steven Levenkron, a psychotherapist who was an authority on eating disorders and had even written a book on it. She told him how she would eat about 80 to 90 laxative tablets a night and also use thyroid medication to speed up her metabolism even though her thyroid was fine.


Levenkron organized a family therapy session which he believed would help Karen. He asked Richard and her parents to both attend. He asked them to tell Karen how much they loved and cared for her. While Richard did so with ease, her parents were not as forthcoming. Her mother even said, “Well, I’m from the north, and we just don’t do things that way.”

Pat Boone’s daughter, Cherry O’Neil who was a close friend of Karen’s recalled a call she had received from the singer. “She didn’t sound panicked, but she felt that she really needed some help,” O’Neil said. She further added, “Karen was having particular problems with laxatives. She could not believe she could ever get to a point where she was not dependent on them.”

Another longtime friend of Karen’s revealed that the singer had always lived under her parents’ control.

But at 32 years old, the singer was hospitalized again due to her irregular heartbeat and dehydration. She was given a feeding tube to help her gain weight and showed all the signs of wanting to recover.

But on a Friday morning, Agnes walked upon her daughter collapsed in a heap face-down in her walk-in closet. Karen was dead after battling eating disorders for the last few years of her life.

Agnes was grief-stricken and escorted out of the room. Paramedic Bob Gillis later revealed that Karen could have survived had she not gone into cardiac arrest. The reason for that had been vomit-inducing medication called Ipecac she had been abusing in her last days. The medication caused her heart muscles to essentially dissolve which led to her death.

After her death, professionals and authorities over eating disorders requested the Food and Drug Administration to ban the over-the-counter sale of drugs that induced vomiting.

Karen’s therapist said that thousands of Americans were in the same boat as Karen and abused Ipecac in the hopes of losing weight. Ipecac is a “drug that was not known until very recently as an abusive drug,” he said.

Karen Carpenter was perhaps the first celebrity to be known to pass away from anorexia nervosa. She brought the disease to the forefront of the public and removed the taboo around it.

The death of Karen Carpenter was incredibly tragic. There are millions who still enjoy her music and miss her. We are sending our prayers to her and those still mourning her.

Share this piece with other fans of The Carpenters so they can know more about her last days as well.

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