‘She was no submissive puppet’: how I discovered the real Karen Carpenter’s determination and drive

Since her death 40 years ago, the singer has been cast as a victim. But she had a strong, ambitious side – as I found out

With their rapturous harmonies and lush production, the Carpenters were one of the biggest acts in the 1970s, selling over 100 million records with global hits like Close to You, Only Yesterday and Please Mr Postman. This year marks the 40th anniversary of lead singer Karen Carpenter’s death at the age of 32, as a result of complications from anorexia. Since then, she has been portrayed as a victim, dominated by her family and a ruthless music industry.

With my biography, I wanted to reframe Karen’s life and legacy. The fact that she was an artist at the top of her game suggested to me she was not a submissive puppet. In talking to friends, musicians and former lovers, I discovered a determined, pioneering woman with her own sense of agency. Although her brother Richard has been attributed a Svengali role as the key arranger, Karen early on was an equal driving force in the band. “She was the boss, the one in control of stagecraft and directing the musicians. She was an amazing singer and drummer – real precision work,” recalls DJ/producer Jeff Dexter, who met Karen in 1974 when the Carpenters were rehearsing their Talk of the Town show.

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Category: Mental Health