Karen and Richard Carpenter were quite a sister/brother act during the 1970s. Sadly, Karen died on February 4, 1983 of complications from anorexia nervosa . She was only 32 years old at the time of her passing. The story of Karen's tragic death is well documented, but her brother Richard has battled his own demons.
The Carpenters' hectic concert schedule took its toll on both siblings. In his 2010 book Rock Obituaries - Knocking on Heaven's Door (2010), author Nick Talevski wrote:"Constantly on the road since 1970 with their Vegas-style act, both Karen and Richard Carpenter were in ill health by late 1975. With Karen's weight down to 80 pounds (36.3 kilograms), sold-out tours to Japan and the United Kingdom had to be cancelled. Richard, meanwhile, had become addicted to a prescription drug, Quaalude."
The pressure on the duo was overwhelming. Something had to give and it did. Karen became obsessed with her weight and Richard suffered from depression and insomnia. He turned to Quaaludes (a sedative) for relief. In January of 1979, while in a semi-comatose state, he fell down a flight of stairs backstage. Finally, in an effort to deal with his dependency on the drug, Richard checked himself in to a treatment program at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. He also decided to take the rest of 1979 off for the sake of his health and well being.
Richard Lynn Carpenter was born on October 15, 1946 in New Haven, Connecticut. His father, Harold Bertram Carpenter (November 8, 1908 – October 15, 1988), worked in the printing business. His mother, Agnes Reuwer (née Tatum) (March 5, 1915 – November 10, 1996), was a housewife. Richard's only sibling, Karen Anne Carpenter, was also born in New Haven, on March 2, 1950. In 1963, the family moved to Downey, California, a suburb of Los Angeles.
|Karen and Richard with their parents|
Richard Carpenter developed an interest in music early in life. As a child, he listened to the 78s in his father's extensive record collection. He listened to everything from the classics to big band music. Soon he began asking his parents to buy him some of the records he had heard on the radio. Among his favourites were Nat King Cole and Perry Como.
Not surprisingly, Richard started to play music himself. His first instrument was the accordion, but he soon gravitated toward the piano. As a youngster, he began studying classical piano and eventually pursued his studies at Yale University's Music School. While a teenager, he performed with a jazz trio at various nightclubs in the New Haven area.
When the Carpenter family moved to southern California, Richard attended Downey High School. During his senior year, he studied music at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and later at California State College at Long Beach (USCLB). In 1965, he formed an instrumental group, the Richard Carpenter Trio, with his sister Karen on the drums and a friend, Wes Jacobs, on tuba and bass. In 1966, the group won the "Battle of the Bands" contest at the Hollywood Bowl after performing "Iced "The Girl from Ipanema" and "Iced Tea," (a jazz waltz written by Richard Carpenter).
Following the Hollywood Bowl competition, the Richard Carpenter Trio signed with RCA and cut 11 tracks at RCA Studios, including the Beatles' "Every Little Thing," "Strangers in the Night," and "Flat Baroque," an original. The record company decided that the jazz trio did not have commercial potential and decided not to release their recordings. This lack of confidence prompted Richard, Karen and Wes to accept RCA,s offer to buy out their contract.
In early 1968,Wes Jacobs left the band. After his departure, Karen and Richard formed a new group called Spectrum, a sextet which included Richard's college friend John Bettis, three other students from Calfornia State University at Long Beach and Karen. Spectrum was short-lived, but the Carpenters continued performing and recording demos. It was Herb Alpert, then head of A&M Records, who signed them to a contract in early April of 1969. The Carpenters' first album, Offering, was released in November of that year. The time was all wrong. Offering made little impact during an era when psychedelic rock predominated. However, the album's accompanying single, a cover of the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride," was well-received by critics. It also impressed songwriter Burt Bacharach who was to provide Richard and Karen with their first blockbuster hit.
In 1970, the Capenters released a second studio album "Close to You." The title track, "(They Long to Be) Close to You," written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, became the duo's breakthrough song. Originally released as a single by actor Richard Chamberlain of Dr. Kildare fame in 1963, "Close to You," had also been recorded by Dionne Warwick and released on her 1964 album Make Way for Dionne Warwick. Bacharch himself released his own version in 1968. However, it was the Carpenters' version that became a huge hit single, climbing to number one on the Billboard Top 100 and remaining there for four weeks. Richard and Karen followed the success of (They Long to Be) Close to you with another big hit single, "We've Only Just Begun."
"We've Only Just Begun" was originally composed by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols for a Crocker Bank television commercial. The ad for the San Francisco bank, featured a montage of a couple getting married set to the jingle. Its tag line was "You've got a long way to go. We'd like to help you get there." In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Williams said that "Roger and I expanded it as a complete song and never in our wildest dreams imagined it would be a hit. And then an angel sang it. When Karen Carpenter sings your songs, you are blessed."
The Carpenters went on to become one of the most successful bands of the early 1970s with Karen on the drums and lead vocals. Richard played the piano and sang backup vocals. For five years, they released hit after hit, including "Rainy Days and Mondays," "Superstar," "Hurting Each Other," "Goodbye to Love," "Yesterday Once More," "Top of the World" and "Only Yesterday." During that time, they were one of the most popular recording artists in the world. By 1976, however, their popularity had declined, as had their record sales. They were plagued with health problems and their singles were not even reaching the Top 40.
On December 3, 1978, the Carpenters delivered their final public performance. It was a Winter Festival benefit concert at the Pacific Terrace Theatre at California State University in Long Beach.
In 1979 and early 1980, while Richard was taking time off to overcome his dependency on Quaaludes, Karen recorded a solo album in New York with producer Phil Ramone and she was back by Billy Joel's band. Simply titled Karen Carpenter, the album was shelved until its release on CD by A&M Records in 1996.
On August 31, 1980, Karen Carpenter married real estate developer Thomas James Burris in the Crystal Room of the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. During the ceremony, "Because We're in Love," an original song sung by Karen, was played. Unfortunately, however, the union was not a happy one and the couple separated after 14 months.
In June of 1981, the Carpenters released Made in America, their last album together. The album included "Touch Me When We're Dancing,"the last of the Carpenters' singles to reach the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. Karen and Richard promoted Made in America on TV shows such as Good Morning America and The Merv Griffin Show, performing "(Want You) "Back in My Life Again," another song from the album. In 1985, Richard told talk show host Larry King that Made in America was Karen's favourite album and is mine, out of all our projects."
In January of 1982, Karen went to New York City to undergo treatment for her eating disorder. She spent most of the next 11 months in the Big Apple, returning to Los Angeles briefly in April to record some rhythm tracks. After many therapy sessions and a hospital procedure, she returned to L.A, in November, hoping to move forward with her life and her career. On the morning of February 4, 1983, the day she had planned to finalize her divorce, Karen collapsed at her parents' home in Downey. She was rushed to hospital, but her heart had gone into full cardiac arrest and she died.
Although Karen Carpenter was a talented percussionist, she will always be remembered for her distinctive vocals. She was a contralto and her voice was rich and hauntingly beautiful. Carnie Wilson, daughter of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, wrote the following tribute to Karen and Richard in her book Gut Feelings: From Fear and Despair to Health and Hope: “I knew I wanted to be a singer when I heard voices like Barbara Streisand and Karen Carpenter. My parents loved the Carpenters, and we played their records all the time at home. It didn’t matter whether you liked that style of music or not. It was the magic in Karen’s voice that was so soothing, and the lushness of the layered harmonies that were like soft clouds of sound.”
While Karen Carpenter was indeed a superb vocalist, her brother Richard displayed a genius for arranging and producing music. He made the most of Karen's unique voice. The siblings were a team and they complimented each other.
On May 19, 1984, more than a year after Karen's passing, Richard Carpenter married Mary Rudolph, in Downey, California. Mary is Richard's first cousin, the daughter of his mother's sister, Bernice. There have been reports that Mary is Bernice's adopted daughter and not biologically related to Richard. However, some maintain that this is story is not true and was used to cover up the truth.. Mary's brother, Mark Rudolph, was the Carpenters' road manager. According to an October 26, 1987 article by Jim Calio in People magazine, the couple met in 1975 when Mark brought Mary backstage in Las Vegas. According to the article, she and Richard hit it off at their first meeting, so she decided to move from her home in Baltimore to Downey, where he lived.
"I got a job in a bank," Mary old People, "and we stayed together. He wanted to get married when we first met, but I didn't because I was only 18, and I wasn't ready. Then when I was ready, he wasn't. We went back and forth like that for quite a while." Nine years passed. When Mary eventually returned to Baltimore to live with her parents, Richard visited at Christmastime and proposed.
At the age of 40, Richard Carpenter became a father for the first time. He and Mary are the parents of five children (four daughters and a son): Kristi Lynn Carpenter (born August 17, 1987), Traci Tatum Carpenter (born July 25, 1989), Mindi Karen Carpenter (born July 7, 1992), Colin Paul Carpenter (Born 1998) and Taylor Mary Carpenter.(born 2000). Richard and his offspring perform at various events.
|Richard and his wife Mary|
|Richard and Mary with son, Colin Paul Carpenter and daughter Mindi|
|Mindi Carpener singing, accompanied by Richard|
Editor's Note: the photo below was tagged "Mindi Carpenter." (I can't remove the tag). However, some readers have claimed that it is in fact a photo of Kristi Carpenter.
After Karen's death, a heartbroken Richard worked diligently to preserve the Carpenters' legacy. He focused on production work and putting together compilations of the Carpenters' recordings. In 1987, A&M Records released his first solo album. The album, entitled Time, also featured Dionne Warwick and British soul legend Dusty Springfield. A single from the album, "Something In Your Eyes," with Springfield on vocals, reached the Top 40 on Adult Contemporary charts.
It was difficult for Richard to record without Karen for the first time. He explained to People magazine how much his sister's absence upset him. "Here I was," he said, "working alone when we had always been a team, working with the same engineer, the same musicians and in the same studios, and no Karen."
In 1997, ten years after his solo debut with Time, Richard released a second solo album. Entitled Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Conductor, the album is a compilation of instrumental music. It contains a variety of the Carpenters' best-loved songs ("Yesterday Once More," "Bless the Beasts and Children," "Top of the World," "We've Only Just Begun") and some new material too, including "Karen's Theme," Richard's tribute to his late sister.
On October 15, 2008, the day he turned 62 years old, Richard Carpenter announced the relaunch of his music career at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Tokyo, Japan. It was called "Richard Carpenter Strikes Back." His plans included re-release of a Carpenters Christmas album and a tribute album featuring cover versions of Carpenters songs."
* In 1971, the Carpenters had a hit song with a cover of "For All We Know," from the 1970 film Lovers and Other Strangers. The song, originally performed by Larry Meredith, won an Oscar for Best Original Song. British singer Petuala Clark, rather than the Carpenters, was chosen to sing the tune at the Academy Awards ceremony in 1971 because the Academy preferred to spotlight people associated with film. On February 6, 1983, three days after Karen Carpenter's death, Clark performed the song in concert as a tribute to Karen.
* The Carpenters met twice with Richard Nixon at the White House, once in 1972 and again in 1973. On May 1, 1973, at Nixon's request, Karen and Richard performed for visiting West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. The former U.S. president introduced Karen and Richard to the White House audience as "young America at its very best." When Karen died, Nixon sent a letter to the family expressing his condolences.
|The Carpenters with former U.S. president Richard Nixon in 1972|
* On December 8, 1976, The Carpenters Very First Television Special aired on the ABC network. The special, featuring John Denver and Victor Borge, received high ratings. By 1980, Richard and Karen had completed five specials for ABC.
* John Bettis, Richard's good friend and former Spectrum member, wrote the lyrics for several of the Carpenters' hit songs, including "Yesterday Once More" and "Goodbye to Love."
* In 1994, the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center was built on the campus of California State University, Long Beach, where the duo performed their last public concert. The Carpenter Center has a 1,074-seat capacity. It accommodates concerts, special events, conferences and the screening of films. It also contains the Richard and Karen Carpenter Exhibit, a permanent display of the Carpenters' awards and memorabilia. The centre's website states that Richard Carpenter is a benefactor but is not involved in the facility's day-to-day activity.
* Richard Carpenter and his family currently reside in Thousand Oaks, California. He and Mary do philanthropic work in Thousand Oaks and are recognized as "Distinguished Grand Patrons of the Arts."
Thank you Richard and Karen. I have always been a fan. And when I had to have chemo your music went with me during all of my treatments.ReplyDelete
Yeh...I have always dug their mellow sounds. I remember them on top 40 radio stations back in the day, and thinking that voice...who is behind that voice?Delete
They were wonderful.ReplyDelete
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Thanks Joanne for this. I had the pleasure of meeting the entire family in 1984 and they were all very nice to me. I wish Karen would have been able to be here today to see her nieces and nephew.ReplyDelete
Full of great information and all in one place. Thank you for listing this. Karen left us too soon. I do believe there is a rock and roll heaven.ReplyDelete
Hello Richard....I always loved the, "The Carpenters." I remember the day Karen passed away....I was driving home from school when the Radio station I was listening to announced her passing. I was so shocked and distraught that I had to pull on the side of the road and cry.ReplyDelete
Fantastic duo. Karen Carpenter's voice was just flawless. No-one will ever come close to her.ReplyDelete
As some of you might know, Karen would have been 67 today. Millions of her fans continue to miss Karen; and the wonderful music that Richard, Karen, and their band members produced.ReplyDelete
"Sadly missed along life's way, quietly remembered every day......
No longer in our lives to share, but in our hearts you're always there"
Thank you Karen & Richard
Happy Birthday Karen. You'll always be in my heart. Have you on Pandora as we speak.ReplyDelete
"On the day that that you were born the angels got together and decided to create a dream come true."
I have written to RICHARD CARPENTER A FEW TIMES OVER THE YEARS AND HE WAS VERY GRACIOUS HE EVEN AUTOGRAPHED MY SONG FOR YOU CD FOR MY BIRTHDAY NICE MAN GOOD FAMILY I AGREE KDDelete
04/22/2017: 48 years to the day/date (1969) that Karen & Richard signed with A & M. Thank you Karen, Richard, and band members for all the wonderful music you created. Many thanks also to Herb A. & Jerry M. for giving The Carpenter's the opportunity. Missing you terribly today Karen, and I am planning to play/listen to all of your singing and music today.ReplyDelete
Like most 12 year old boys at the time,(circa 1972) I was in love with Karen and her voice. As a retiree I have gotten reacquainted with the Carpenters by listening to their gold album non-stop. God bless them both and thank you Richard. You were/are truly special and have blessed so many.ReplyDelete
What a talented pair! Her voice is flawless...it still makes me very sad to think the world lost her at such a young age. Thank you both for your contributions to music and to our lives.ReplyDelete
I have two of their CD's and listen faithfully while driving. My favorites! Such a horrible loss!ReplyDelete
It was in this era that i really appreciated their music. Kare's pleasant and cool voice made me feel i' m in heaven. My dad was also a big fan and i'm sure by this time they've met. Sad but maybe a delighful encounter. The carpenters... long live their music!ReplyDelete
June 24, 1966 - 51 years today (06/24/2017) that Richard, Karen, and Wes J. performed and won at the "Battle of the Bands", Hollywood Bowl. I hope I have the correct date; nonetheless, this helped launch their musical career. Thanks got out to Joe Osborn, Jack Daugherty, and more importantly Herb Alpert & Randy Moss of A & M Records. MOST IMPORTANTLY, to Karen & Richard for all the wonderful music they provided for the world. I continue to miss Karen and her fantastic voice, but listen to "The Carpenter's" music quite regularly.ReplyDelete
Just want to say that because of the movie I dragged myself to the hospital and got myself fixed....I still struggle daily with food but I'm at a steady weight of 120 at 5'2...sorry she is gone but because of her amazing and sad story I'm alive todayReplyDelete
That's wonderful to hear/read about your positive progress, and thank you for sharing your 07/06/17 post.Delete
Isaw the carpenters twice in 1973 and 1978 in las vegas i feel so luckly to have seen them I'll always remember these concerts had pictures but sadly lost them. I've written two poems about karen and Richard one is in my book " windows to my soul" also i sent one poem to Richard and low and behold he wrote to me to let me know how much he liked it!! I felt ten feet tall when i got his letter. Now i have it framed on my wall and i look at it and it makes me feel very special. Thank you RichardDelete
I was in college when the Carpenters started to become popular and famous. I went to a concert at my university and will always remember that wonderful time as I continue to listen to their music. Thanks Richard and Karen!!! I do so miss her!ReplyDelete
As a wild hip-cat I used to hide my Carpenters Lp, Yes I did but late at night .. and the album won me over many beautiful womenReplyDelete
Good article, but I found several errors. Karen's middle name was spelled "Anne". Mary and Richard are in fact biological cousins. The story about meeting backstage in Las Vegas was a cover story they told at first. Then when it came out that they were cousins, they claimed that Mary was adopted. Their son's name is spelled "Colin". The daughter in the 2nd photo is Kristi, not Mindi. The woman in the 5th photo is definitely not Traci Carpenter. I have no clue who she is, but she is not Richard and Mary's daughter.ReplyDelete
Duly noted. Corrections have been made.Delete
Also, the number 78 when referring to LP's is not preceded by an apostrophe, because 78 is the number of revolutions per minute [album playing speed], not a year.Delete
Duly noted. A correction has been made.Delete
I knew right off that it was Kristi and not Mindi. Knew about Colin's spelling also. All good catches. Thank you! We are true Carpenter fans!!!ReplyDelete
when I listen their songs I return to my childhood...ReplyDelete
Happy Birthday Richard (10/15). Enjoy the day with your family & friends.ReplyDelete
The Carpenters will go down as the best brother/sister duo in history. Karen's voice can be matched by non-other. Richard's background vocals and mixing brought it all together into the impact that was "The Carpenters".ReplyDelete
Hope you enjoyed your birthday, Richard.
Here's to your sis. I miss her so.
They are the only Bro. & Sis duo in history.Delete
Love Karen and Richard. The Christmas Album from '84 is the most holiest of them all due to both voice and sound.ReplyDelete
j adore les carpenters et la voix sublime de karen; dans deux mois je vais voir karen au memorial et richard a thousan oaks; le but de mon voyage aux usa! jean danielReplyDelete
Great read. The most beautiful song ever written/recorded is Something in Your Eyes. If you don't know this song, listen to it. It will melt your heart!!ReplyDelete
I had an old 8-track that finally the tape tore up inside but every time I would play it when I was feeling down it really did make you feel better! I always felt there were two voices you couldn't really duplicate and that was theirs and Nat King Cole. I think the story did much to inform the public of how bad and dangerous anorexia is.ReplyDelete
Richard & Karen, thank you for your music. It was that of my youth in the 70’s and is still to this day, the music that i turn to when i want to reminisce of better times.ReplyDelete
As the youngest of nine children, those were some of my best childhood and current memories. Listening to my oldest sister sing along to what I believe the best music ever! I listen to them still! Thank you both very much for sharing your gifts. Much love.ReplyDelete
Every time you hear the song start,it doesn't take many notes to know who is singing. Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
I loved the Carpenters since high school and still do 48 years later! Karen has the most beautiful voice of any female singer. I was heartbroken when she passedReplyDelete
Richard's amazing talent and arrangement skills are only paired best with his sister, Karen. So tragic a loss to loose one so incredibly gifted, so short in her life. I have never heard a voice so absolutely perfect as Karen's paired with Richard's own magic. As I do, many, many of us miss that special sibing mix that made music for the millenia. I still cry at the loss. I was recently reminded of this dynamic duo through documentaries aired on REELZ. And I cried again. Paraphrasing, "In heaven, there may be no beer," but I'm hoping Karen and her voice will be there, singing with the angels doing arrangements from Richard.ReplyDelete
They made beautiful music together. I was so sad when Karen died. Her voice was indeed magical.ReplyDelete
It's Christmastime, and each holiday season I listen to the Carpenters Christmas Portrait over and over again. Karen's voice still brings me to tears. Thank you, Richard and Karen, for being such an important part of my childhood (and of course, my Christmas seasons!) <3 KimReplyDelete
Hello Richard. My Little son who is just 10 month loves your song called "Close to you". Everytime he listens to it, he starts smiling. Your songs are magnificents! Regards from Perú!ReplyDelete
I love there beautiful voices karens voice was a gift from the angels very very sad when she passed anorexia is a horrible thing for anyone to suffer from never let someone say your too fat and dont fit the mould no one is perfect miss you karenReplyDelete
I loved the Carpenters! Their music really spoke to my soul in my early pre-teen and teenage years! Thank you for sharing such beautiful voices and lyrics that still speak to me! I do miss Karen and hope Richard you are doing well. Thank you!ReplyDelete