A Brief History
On February 4, 1983, the World was shocked to hear that popular 32 year old singer Karen Carpenter had died, due to complications from anorexia nervosa. The public gaped at photos of an emaciated and shrunken singer they had known as a beautiful girl.
Carpenter, one half of the brother sister singing duo known as The Carpenters, had scored mega hit records with “Close to You,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Superstar,” “Hurting Each Other”, “Sing,” “Yesterday Once More,” and many others. Karen and her brother, Richard, were also popular overseas, ranking 3rd all-time in Japan behind the Beatles and Mariah Carey. They have sold something in excess of 100 million albums worldwide.
Unfortunately, the lovely Karen had a psychological disorder known as anorexia, having a body image out of sync with reality, causing her to attempt to lose excessive amounts of weight. Her efforts to shed pounds included taking thyroid replacement therapy medicine to speed up her metabolism, and extreme use of laxatives. Although her family denies it, she is believed to also have frequently used Syrup of Ipecac to cause her to vomit. The emaciated Karen suffered from irregular heartbeat due to her extreme weight loss and out of kilter body chemistry (emetine cardiotoxicity). Her normal weight of 145 to 120 pounds had fallen to about 90 pounds.
Anorexia nervosa is believed to affect at least 2 million people around the world, people that take measures to lose weight even when they are ridiculously thin. Vomiting, laxatives, bizarre diets, not eating at all, excessive drinking of fluids, all contribute to health problems such as infertility, lack of menstruation, osteoporosis, heart problems, glandular problems, malnourishment, and ultimately, death. The disorder is mostly exhibited by women and girls, though males can certainly suffer from the illness. It is speculated that the fashion world’s emphasis on “Thin is In” and the media portrayal of thin people as superior to rounded people is to blame for giving people the self loathing complex of not meeting this seemingly impossible standard of thinness. Just look at the Barbie doll as an example, and the criticism that particular icon has generated.
Karen Carpenter was buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Cypress, California, and stars attending her funeral included fellow singers Petula Clark, Dionne Warwick, and Olivia Newton-John. In 2004, she was re-interred at a family mausoleum in Westlake Village, California. Besides her wonderful music portfolio, Karen’s legacy includes a much needed light of attention shining on the problems of anorexia and bulimia, as well as body self-image of girls.
Note: Besides doing virtually all the singing for the Carpenters, Karen was also the drummer!
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For more information, please see Time.