Gone Too Soon
Sometimes I Still Think About Her
We’ve Only Just Begun
By Jack Coll
February 4, 2016
It was 33 years ago on February 4, 1983 that Karen Carpenter died from heart failure caused by chronic anorexia. Outsiders and fans were shocked by the death of Karen, but insiders were not so shocked when news came of the 32 year old Karen’s death.
In 1975 at the peak of the Carpenters fame, Karen and her brother Richard had been performing since 1963 when Karen was just 13 years old, she could play a mean set of drums, but in 1975 the Carpenters were forced to cancel a European tour because the gaunt Karen was too weak to perform. She was suffering from anorexia nervosa, a mental illness characterized by obsessive dieting to a point of starvation.
At that time the brother and sister singing duo were on a five year run with a string of hits that started in 1970 with “(They Long To Be) Close To You.” The song was originally recorded by Dusty Springfield in 1964, shortly before Dionne Warwick recorded it that same year. “Close To You” became the Carpenters first certified Gold single. The song “We’ve Only Just Begun” still one of the top wedding songs to this day was actually adapted from an insurance commercial jingle and went to number 2 on the pop hits chart in the fall of 1970.
“For All We Know” hit number 3 on the charts in February 1971. The song written by members of the group “Bread” was used as a sound-track for the movie “Lovers and Other Strangers” starring Bea Arthur. The song “Rainy Days and Mondays” was penned for Carpenter by song-writer Paul Williams. The song “Superstar” which bounced to number 2 on the charts in the fall of 1971 was written by Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett (of Delaney & Bonnie).
“Hurting Each Other” and “Yesterday Once More” both hit number 2 on the charts separated by “It’s Going to Take Some Time,” “Goodbye to Love” and “Sing,” a song that was featured on the Sesame Street Show in 1973. Their only other number one song besides “Close to You” was a remake of “Please Mr. Postman” in December of 1974.
“Only Yesterday” was a nice hit for the duo as was a song written by Neil Sedaka called “Solitaire.” “There’s A Kind Of Hush,” (All Over The World) hit number 12 in 1976, the song went to number 4 for the Herman Hermits back in 1967. There were other hits but their last song to hit the charts was “Touch Me When We’re Dancing” back in the summer of 1981. By 1981 the Carpenters had sold more than 55 million albums.
The Carpenters had won three Grammy Awards, performed for President Richard Nixon at the White House in 1972. Peter Cetera of “Chicago” wrote “Making Love in the Afternoon” just for Karen.
Karen found happiness for a brief time in 1980 when she married a real estate developer Thomas J Burris, at the time they met he was 39 years old with an 18 year old son and Karen was 30. The marriage really only lasted less than a year, Karen was to sign the divorce papers on the day she died.
The Carpenters for a short time landed their own TV variety series in 1971, titled “Make Your Own Kind Of Music.”
In 1982 Karen recognized her problems with depression and her eating disorder and spent most of the year in New York City undergoing treatment. By 1983 she was starting to take control of her life and planned on returning to the recording studio and making public appearances.
In February of 1983 she went to her parents’ house to take care of a number of chores including sorting out some clothing they had been storing for her when she collapsed in a walk-in-closet from cardiac arrest. She was 32 years old just weeks from her 33rd birthday. Doctors revealed that her long battle with anorexia nervosa had stressed her heart to the breaking point.
It’s kinda selfish but every time I hear her name or music, it’s one of those times I wish I could go back in time, and make it a point to go witness her perform in concert. Her voice was so soft and smooth, and just so 70’s.
Among her friends attending her funeral were Petula Clark, Olivia Newton-John and Dionne Warwick. Written on Karen’s mausoleum at Westlake Village in California “A Star on Earth—A Star in Heaven.”