Introduction 1) Nurtured By Music 2) Turning Point 3) Enter Karen, The Singer 4) Rising Stars
5) Carpenters Join A&M 6) On The Charts 7) The Carpenters Legacy 8) At A Cost
9) Reaching The TV Special Pinnacle and Other Spectacular Achievements
10) Last Performance, Continued Success
The constant round of recording and touring was beginning to take its toll on Karen Carpenter. Slimming and health foods were becoming fashionable in the early 1970s, particularly in image-conscious California. So was the cachet of having a trainer visit private houses to supervise exercises. Despite the myriad pressures on her body through travel, erratic eating, her appetite for junk food, and a punishing work schedule, Karen had maintained her weight of 120 pounds from the summer of 1967 all the way through to early 1973.
When Karen saw pictures of herself in concert in Lake Tahoe in August 1973 she was appalled. An unflattering dress revealed her paunch, and she hired a “workout guru” to visit her home. She bought a “hip cycle” and lay on her bed with it every morning and took it on tour. Her “guru” advised her to go on a high carbohydrate intake, and she eliminated most of the known calorie-packed foods from her diet, particularly ice cream which she loved.
Then something happened to truly frighten her. As she stepped up her exercises, instead of losing weight she became somewhat muscular. “She definitely began to bulk up. She wasn’t too heavy,” Richard says, “but the weight was coming on her.” This threw her into a muddle and could have been the chrysalis of her problem.
On November 13, 1973, the Carpenters guested on a Bob Hope TV special. When Karen saw the video of the show soon afterward, she remarked to Richard about her appearance. Self-consciously unhappy about how she appeared, she assured him she intended to “do something about it.” He agreed that she looked heavier than she had previously. The conversation passed as insignificant.
She stopped most of the exercises, which she believed to be too muscle-building, and began what she considered to be a normal diet, nothing remarkable or even noticeable by others. It was just sensible enough, she assured Richard, to shed a few pounds which was necessary. With the benefit of hindsight, he now thinks that the “bulking up” caused by the exercises might have been the turning point that intensified her decision to maintain a strict check on her weight.
Nobody can be certain of exactly when her anorexic habits took root, Richard insists – chiefly because Karen had always been conscious about her weight. She remarked often on how much she hated her ‘hourglass’ figure.
The year 1974 set no alarm bells ringing, as Karen was seen as one of the many health-aware young women – and since she had a historic reason for weight watching, why should anyone have been surprised? Photographed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine on May 22, 1974, wearing a tank top, a cap, and the upbeat expression that was part of her trademark appeal, she looked radiantly happy and healthy.
Within less than a year, however, Karen plunged into what Richard believes was the period marking the start of the decline that was to prove deadly. By September 1975, due to the onset of anorexia nervosa, her weight had dropped to just 91 pounds, depleting Karen of her normal high energy and forcing her to take two months off to recover.
Later that month, Richard flew to both Tokyo and London for press conferences at which he explained that Karen was exhausted and that sold-out tours in both Japan and the U.K. were being postponed to the following year, a monstrous blow to the fans, the promoters involved, and to A&M Records as well. It pained Richard and Karen, as both were raised to honor commitments but, given Karen’s condition, there really could be no second thoughts.
Had Karen been in perfect health, the touring schedule set up by management for 1975 was not realistic, especially given the fact that time for recording was supposed to be factored in to any year’s schedule, and recording by a rested Karen and Richard. Richard maintained what he felt was obvious, that the Carpenters were first and foremost a record act and that all of their other successes had stemmed from the records. So much touring had been scheduled in 1974 that not enough time had been set aside to record an album, much to the record company’s dismay, as a Carpenters album following the tremendous successes of “Now and Then” and “The Singles 1969-1973” would have been a monumental seller; witness the success of “Horizon” two years later. Clearly the time had come for a change in management and, in early 1976, that is precisely what happened.
At about the same time, Karen and Richard were working on their seventh studio album, “A Kind Of Hush.” Included were a remake of There’s A Kind Of Hush (All Over The World), the 1967 Herman’s Hermits’ hit, which did reach No.12 in the U.S., but was not an object of Richard’s affection for very long, and a lovely Carpenter/ Bettis/ Hammond ballad, I Need To Be In Love, that would reach No.24 in America, but would vindicate Richard’s belief in its hit potential some years later.
As the album was being recorded, a deal was being finalized which would procure for Karen and Richard a prime-time network television special, an achievement that had eluded them since the “Make Your Own Kind Of Music” chapter, five years before. Richard and Karen rightfully felt that an act of their stature should have at least one special; after all, every major record act from Barry Manilow to Olivia Newton-John had headlined theirs.
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Last Updated June 4, 2008
May 2004 © Richard Carpenter