A few days ago, I watched a documentary about Karen Carpenter.
During the programme, Elaine and I were talking about her death and I said it was in February 1983... possibly the 5th. In actual fact, it was the 4th (time zones and all that), but I remember it so clearly because of an enduring inability to sleep well.
I was at College in Newcastle, snuggled up with my radio for company, because I couldn’t nod off without it... I had a disturbed sleep with vivid dreams and woke up thinking that Karen Carpenter had died. For a moment, I thought I had seriously remarkable powers, but obviously in my semi-conscious state, the news bulletins had simply affected my dreams...
Karen Carpenter was actually a talented drummer, but she also possessed a remarkable (and instantly recognisable) voice. I guess we all look for something different in a singer or a song, but I can’t think of anyone with a voice that could move me quite like Karen Carpenter.
Aside from her musical prowess, most will associate the name of Karen Carpenter with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. During the time she suffered from the illness, Karen would take laxatives and medication to speed up her metabolism in order to lose weight. I’m not much of an expert on anorexia, bulimia or the like, but I do have some knowledge of how the mind can control a person and I am easily able to accept that a beautiful young woman can stand in front of a mirror and be disgusted by the reflection that is staring back...
The belief that weight loss (by any means, however extreme) is essential to create a “perfect” body soon escalates to an obsession; something that friends and family will notice, but the sufferer almost certainly won’t accept and will probably lie (very convincingly) to ensure that the ritual abuse can continue without external interference. The truth is that the “perfect” figure doesn’t exist and at some point, something has to give... either an eventual willingness to accept help... or... a body that simply waves the white flag.
Towards the end of 1982, Karen Carpenter began to suffer from dizzy spells and irregular heartbeats; she was hooked up to an intravenous drip in hospital, which reportedly caused her to put on two stone in as many months. Whether or not that sudden weight gain put even more burden on a heart that had been under strain for such a long period of time, I wouldn’t know, but on 4th February 1983, Karen Carpenter suffered heart failure and her life ended at the ridiculously young age of 32.
I usually try and find something insightful and intelligent to say at the end of a blog... but I’m not sure I can today. Struggling to hide, yet still having to fight an essentially unseen, but devastating illness is something I can only partially understand... but this blog is dedicated to Karen Carpenter - and anyone who has faced (and hopefully some-how overcome) similar demons.
Karen Anne Carpenter 1950-1983
All my own work... almost.