Rockapaedia ObituariesKaren Carpenter<<go to audio control>>
Karen Carpenter died aged thirty-two on 4th February 1983 at Downey Community Hospital in Downey, California, U.S.A.. She had collapsed in her bedroom at her parent's home in Downey, California. Paramedics found her heart beating once every 10 seconds and Karen was taken to nearby Downey Community Hospital for treatment. By then in full cardiac arrest – she was pronounced dead twenty minutes later.
The acting Los Angeles County coroner performed the autopsy and the results were duly released by way of a press conference and accompanying press release. A drug or medication overdose was explicitly ruled out. The cause of Karen Carpenter's death was stated as 'emetine cardiotoxicity due to or as a consequence of anorexia nervosa.' What was not specified in the report was how the emetine got into Carpenter's system.
The March 11, 1983, press release for the autopsy did not use the word "ipecac" and the link between the use of ipecac syrup and Karen Carpenter's death was not made at that time. Media reports describing the primary cause of Karen Carpenter's death frequently used the phrase "'heartbeat irregularities brought on by chemical imbalances' associated with anorexia nervosa," phrasing used by Dr. Ronald Kornblum during the press conference. He explained in a 1985 interview, "It never occurred to me to mention ipecac. In my mind, emetine and ipecac are the same thing." Two years after Karen Carpenter's death, March 21, 1985, Kornblum was a part of a teleconference with other medical doctors. At that time, Kornblum explicitly stated that Karen Carpenter's heart failure was caused by repeated use of ipecac syrup, an over-the-counter emetic often used to induce vomiting in cases of overdosing or poisoning. During the teleconference, the process was explained "...over time, (emetine) attacks the heart muscle, ultimately causing disorders in the small electric impulses that coordinate the heart's beating. Those disorders lead to heartbeat irregularities, which in turn lead to death." Doctors on the 1985 conference call urged making ipecac syrup available only by prescription, or at the least, the addition of warning labels to the product.
The conclusion that Karen Carpenter's death was caused by chronic use of ipecac syrup was disputed by her mother and brother, who both stated that they never found empty vials of ipecac in her apartment, and have denied that there was any evidence that she had been vomiting. Richard has also expressed the belief that Karen was not willing to ingest ipecac syrup because of the potential damage that both the syrup and excessive vomiting would do to her vocal cords, and that she relied on laxatives alone to maintain her low body weight.
Dr. Richard Shepherd, a forensic pathologist, believed that Karen's abuse of ipecac syrup and synthroid contributed to her death along with the singer's anorexia and shrunken heart.
Karen Carpenter's funeral service took place on February 8, 1983, at the Downey United Methodist Church. Dressed in a rose-colored suit, Karen Carpenter lay in an open white casket. Over 1,000 mourners passed through to say goodbye, among them her friends Dorothy Hamill, Olivia Newton-John, Petula Clark, and Dionne Warwick. Karen Carpenter's estranged husband Tom attended her funeral, where he took off his wedding ring and placed it inside the casket. She was entombed at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Cypress, California. In 2003, Richard had Karen re-interred, along with their parents, in a newly constructed outdoor Carpenter family mausoleum at the Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, California, which is closer to his Southern California home.
Karen Carpenter was born on March 5th 1955 in New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A, the daughter of Agnes Reuwer (née Tatum) and Harold Bertram Carpenter.
When she was young, Karen enjoyed playing baseball with other children on the street. On the TV program This Is Your Life, she stated that she liked pitching and later, in the early 1970s, she would become the pitcher on the Carpenters' official softball team. Her brother Richard developed an interest in music at an early age, becoming a piano prodigy. Karen enjoyed dancing and by age four was enrolled in tap dancing and ballet classes. The family moved in June 1963 to the Los Angeles suburb of Downey.
When Karen Carpenter entered Downey High School, she joined the school band. Bruce Gifford, the conductor, who had previously taught her older brother, gave her the glockenspiel, an instrument she disliked and after admiring the performance of her friend, Frankie Chavez,who idolized famous jazz drummer Buddy Rich,, she asked if she could play the drums instead. She and her brother made their first recordings in 1965 and 1966. The following year she began dieting. Under a doctor's guidance, she went on the Stillman Diet. She rigorously ate lean foods, drank eight glasses of water a day, and avoided fatty foods. She was 5' 4" in height and before dieting weighed 10 st 5 lb and afterwards weighed 8 st 8 lb until 1973, when the Carpenters' career reached its peak. By September 1975, her weight was 6 st 7 lb.
From 1965 to 1968 Karen, her brother Richard, and his college friend Wes Jacobs, a bassist and tuba player, formed The Richard Carpenter Trio. The band played jazz at numerous nightclubs and also appeared on the TV talent show Your All-American College Show. Karen, Richard and other musicians, including Gary Sims and John Bettis, also performed as an ensemble known as Spectrum. Spectrum focused on a harmonious and vocal sound, and recorded many demo tapes in the garage studio of friend and bassist Joe Osborn. Many of those tapes were rejected by record companies. According to former Carpenters member John Bettis, those rejections "took their toll." The tapes of the original sessions were lost in a fire at Joe Osborn's house, and the surviving versions of those early songs exist only as fragile acetate reference discs. Finally A&M Records signed the Carpenters to a recording contract in 1969. Karen sang most of the songs on the band's first album, 'Offering',later retitled 'Ticket to Ride', and her brother wrote 10 out of the album's 13 songs. The issued single, later the title track, which was a cover of a Beatles song, became their first single; it reached number 54 on the American Billboard Hot 100. Their next album, 1970's 'Close to You', featured two massive hit singles: "(Close to You" and "We've Only Just Begun". They peaked at number 1 and number 2, respectively, on the Hot 100.
Karen Carpenter started out as both the group's drummer and lead singer, and she originally sang all her vocals from behind the drum set. Because she was just 5' 4" tall, it was difficult for people in the audience to see her behind her drum kit, so she was eventually persuaded to stand at the microphone to sing the band's hits while another musician played the drums. After the release of Now & Then in 1973, the albums tended to have Karen Carpenter singing more and drumming less. At this time, her brother developed an addiction to Quaaludes. The Carpenters frequently cancelled tour dates, and they stopped touring altogether after their September 4, 1978, concert at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The Carpenters' Very First TV Special aired December 8, 1976. In 1980, she performed a medley of standards in a duet with Ella Fitzgerald on the Carpenters' television program Music, Music, Music. In 1981, after the release of the 'Made in America' album, which was their last, the Carpenters returned to the stage and did some tour dates, including a final live performance in Brazil.
In addition to being a drummer and a singer, Karen Carpenter could also play the electric bass guitar. She played bass guitar on two songs on Offering; they were 'All of My Life' and 'Eve'. Although Karen's bass playing is heard on the original album , Richard remixed both songs, and Joe Osborn's bass playing was substituted for later "greatest hits" releases.
Karen Carpenter started playing the drums in 1964. She was always enthusiastic about the drums and taught herself how to play complicated drum lines with "exotic time signatures," according to her brother.Karen Carpenter's drumming was praised by fellow drummers Hal Blaine, Cubby O'Brien, and Buddy Rich and by Modern Drummer magazine. According to her brother, Karen Carpenter always considered herself a "drummer who sang." Despite this, she was not often featured as a drummer on the Carpenters' albums. She was, however, the only drummer on the albums 'Ticket to Ride' and 'Now & Then'. Karen was known for endorsing Ludwig Drums and she had two setups (20" bass drum, 14 and 16" floor toms, 13" mounted tom, 4, 6, 8 and 10" concert toms and the Ludwig SuperSensitive snare drum, which was the one snare drum she favored greatly). She also used a Rogers hi-hat, a Rogers bass drum pedal, Zildjian cymbals, 11A drumsticks and Remo drumheads. On 'Made in America', Karen provided percussion on "Those Good Old Dreams" in tandem with Paulinho da Costa and made a final return to playing drums on the song "When it's Gone (It's Just Gone)" in unison with Larrie Londin.
In 1979, Richard took a year off to treat his addiction to Quaaludes, and Karen decided to make a solo album with producer Phil Ramone. These sessions produced music that was noticeably different from the usual Carpenters material, tending more towards disco and up-tempo numbers, with more explicit lyrics, and taking full advantage of Karen's upper vocal register. The album met with a tepid response from Richard and A&M executives in early 1980. The album was shelved by A&M Records co-owner Herb Alpert, in spite of attempts by producer Quincy Jones to convince him to release the record after a remix. A&M subsequently charged the Carpenters $400,000 to cover the cost of recording this album, to be paid out of the duo's future royalties. Carpenters fans got a taste of the solo album in 1989 when some of its tracks (as remixed by Richard) were included on the album 'Lovelines', the final album of Carpenters' unreleased new material. In 1996, the complete album, entitled 'Karen Carpenter', was finally released.
Karen Carpenter lived with her parents until she was 24. In September and October 1971, two years after the Carpenters' debut album, she and her brother bought two apartment buildings in Downey as a financial investment. Formerly named the "Geneva", the two complexes were renamed "Only Just Begun" and "Close to You" in honor of the duo's first smash hits. Karen Carpenter bought two Century City apartments, gutted them, and turned them into one condominium. Located at 2222 Avenue of the Stars, the doorbell chimed the first six notes of "We've Only Just Begun". As a housewarming gift, her mother gave her a collection of leather-bound classic works of literature. Karen Carpenter collected Disney memorabilia, loved to play softball and baseball, and counted Petula Clark, Olivia Newton-John, and Dionne Warwick among her closest friends.
Karen Carpenter dated a number of well-known men, including Mike Curb, Tony Danza, Terry Ellis, Mark Harmon, Steve Martin, and Alan Osmond After a whirlwind romance, she 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 Carpenter at the ceremony, "Because We Are in Love", was released in 1981. Burris concealed from Carpenter, who desperately wanted children, the fact that he had undergone a vasectomy. Their marriage did not survive the deceit and ended after 14 months. In addition to that, Burris was said to have been broke and living well beyond his means, borrowing up to $35,000 and $50,000 at a time from his wife, to the point that she had only stocks and bonds left. He was also said to have been abusive towards her, often being impatient with Karen, who shared with close friends that she remained fearful when he would occasionally lose his temper with her. Close friend Karen Kamon recounted one incident where she and Karen Carpenter went to their normal hangout, Hamburger Hamlet, and Karen appeared to be distant emotionally, sitting not at their regular table but in the dark, and wearing large dark sunglasses, unable to eat and crying. According to Kamon, the marriage was "the straw that broke the camel's back. It was absolutely the worst thing that could have ever happened to her." In September 1981, Karen Carpenter revised her will and left everything to her brother and parents. Two months later, following an argument after a family dinner in a restaurant, Karen Carpenter and Burris broke up. Karen Carpenter filed for divorce while staying in Lenox Hill Hospital.
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song: 'Make Believe It's Your First Time' by Karen Carpenter