- For support please contact The National Eating Disorders Association at [email protected]
Karen Carpenter‘s battle with anorexia nervosa, which began in the 1970s and ended with her untimely death at age 32 in 1983, is explored in a new biography titled Lead Sister: The Story of Karen Carpenter.
In January 1982, the emaciated Carpenters singer-drummer checked into the $6K/month City Regency Hotel in Manhattan to begin six months of intensive therapy sessions with psychotherapist Steven Levenkron costing $100 each session.
‘Karen’s willingness to set aside the time and the money showed her initial level of commitment to the therapy,’ author Lucy O’Brien wrote in an excerpt published by THR.
‘Her compulsive behaviors had developed over time, so [Steven] knew it would take a while to dislodge them. At one of their early sessions he discussed with Karen what she was taking to expel food and she owned up, saying she could ingest more than 90 Dulcolax at once. Under his supervision, the aim was for her to cut down and eventually stop.
‘He then asked her if she had taken anything else and she admitted to taking 10 pills a day of Synthroid, a thyroid medication, which would have the effect of speeding up her metabolism. Levenkron was horrified. Overdosage of thyroid medication could lead to coma, convulsions and heart attacks. “Give me the bottle,” he said. Karen handed it over and he locked it in his desk drawer.’
Anorexia is a serious mental illness where a person restricts their food intake, which often causes them to be severely underweight.
Many also exercise excessively.
Some sufferers may experience periods of bingeing, followed by purging.
Sufferers often have a distorted view of themselves and think they are larger than they really are.
Untreated, patients can suffer loss of muscle and bone strength, as well as depression, low libido and menstruation ceasing in women.
In severe cases, patients can experience heart problems and organ damage.
Behavioural signs of anorexia include people saying they have already eaten or will do later, as well as counting calories, missing meals, hiding food and eating slowly.
As well as weight loss, sufferers may experience insomnia, constipation, bloating, feeling cold, hair loss, and swelling of the hands, face and feet.
Treatment focuses on therapy and self-help groups to encourage healthy eating and coping mechanisms.
Source: Beat Eating Disorders
When Karen – who won three Grammy Awards – argued ‘I don’t need any care. I’m successful like this,’ Levenkron replied: ‘But you do need care because you are incompetent…because you can’t keep yourself alive.’
By September 1982, Carpenter realized her heart was ‘beating funny’ and was admitted into intensive-care hospital Lenox Hill on the Upper East Side where she ‘weighed 77lbs and was severely dehydrated.’
The Connecticut-born, Cali-raised musician had a life-threatening blood potassium level of 1.8 and her ‘digestive tract was so damaged she had to be fed by intravenous drip.’
‘Even though she had resisted gaining weight for a long time, once she was in hospital Karen allowed herself to be cared for. Over the next seven weeks she gained 20lbs, first from intravenous nutrition and then through eating small meals,’ O’Brien wrote in her 368-page book, which hit shelves October 15.
‘Karen began making plans for the next phase of her life, and on Oct. 28 in her hospital room she signed a petition for divorce [from Thomas James Burris, whom she married in 1980]. This was her statement of independence.’
Karen weighed in at 100lbs and concluded her therapy with Levenkron in November 1982 – three years shy of what he had recommended – and she presented him with a needlepoint canvas reading ‘YOU WIN — I GAIN.’
Carpenter made her final public appearance alongside her big brother and bandmate Richard on January 11, 1983 at a gathering of past Grammy Award winners and the siblings planned a tour at their final meeting on February 1.
The contralto crooner had seemed ‘industrious and elated, keen to rebuild her life’ before her parents Harold and Agnes discovered her ‘unclothed and motionless on the wardrobe floor’ of her Downey childhood home on February 4.
Karen was in cardiac arrest with her heart reportedly beating once every 10 seconds, and the cause of death was attributed to ’emetine cardiotoxicity due to or as a consequence of anorexia nervosa.’
Carpenter left everything in her will to her now 77-year-old brother who oversaw the release of 14 Carpenters compilations and four posthumous records including Karen’s self-titled solo record in 1996.
The easy-listening pop duo – who signed with A&M in 1969 – sold over 150M records worldwide and had 35 Billboard Top 10 hits including Close To You, Rainy Days on Mondays, and We’ve Only Just Begun.
Richard battled his own demons in 1979 when he completed a six-week rehab stint at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas for an addiction to Quaaludes.
Filmmaker Randy Martin’s documentary Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection is currently touring the film festival circuit, and it features audio of Karen admitting she had an eating disorder.
‘When I got sick it scared the hell out of me. I mean, whoa, down to the old 89lbs there,’ Carpenter marvels in the trailer.
For support please contact The National Eating Disorders Association at [email protected]