Karen Carpenter’s short life was marred by self-doubt even though she was a hugely talented artist

By Nina Steele 

Listening to Karen Carpenter singing, one feels transported to another world. One where life is synonymous with sweetness and innocence. Yet, sadly, Karen herself was battling demons that would eventually have the better of her. Just like many other hugely talented but troubled artists, she seemed to have the world at her feet, yet personal happiness always eluded her.

It’s now accepted that in addition to her struggles with her weight, Karen also desperately wanted to get married and have children. She did eventually marry, on August 31, 1980. However, her new husband did not share her desire to become a parent. He was already a father of one, who also happened to have had a vasectomy. It is said that he refused to have the vasectomy reversed, which ultimately led to the end of their marriage, 14 months later.

Also contributing to Karen’s fragile mental state, it is claimed, was the fact that Richard, her brother and band member, had always been their parents favourite. In a 2007 BBC documentary about the Carpenters, Nicky Chinn, a songwriter and a friend of Karen, confirmed this. This lack of parental support was such that, one of the doctors treating Karen at the height of her illness, felt the need to tell her mother that she should show Karen more love and affection.

Karen Carpenter died on February 4, 1983, aged 32. The anorexia she had battled for many years, had sadly got the better of her. Even though she died childless and thus never fulfilled her dreams of motherhood, her great talent means that her legacy lives on. It’s a shame however that her low self-esteem meant she never quite grasped the fullness of her talent, nor the great impact her music had on people.

During the aforementioned BBC documentary, her friend Nicky Chinn recounted an incident that happened in the 70s, which illustrates how much she doubted herself. As he and Karen were walking out of a restaurant in LA, John Lennon was walking in. John stopped and just said to Karen: “I want to tell you love, I think you’ve got a fabulous voice”, and he just walked on. Karen couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. She kept asking Nicky Chinn if he thought John Lennon really meant it. He had to reassure her that of course he did. Why else would he say it?

That the Carpenters have sold almost 150 million records to date, is not only testament of their talent as a duo, but ultimately, Karen, with that voice, will always be the one that people remember. She had the voice of an angel and a talent that everyone around her, including the public, could see. Shame that she spent her life doubting herself.

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