It's now been 31 years since Karen Carpenter left us, and trust me when I tell you, I remember it like yesterday. This was one celebrity death that came soooo left field. The Carpenters, who were the rage in the early 1970s, were seemingly clean-cut, and had no real shadows on their lives. But like the rest of us, well, of course things weren't what they appeared to be.
As just about everybody now knows, Karen's means of self destruction stood out from the rest. Instead of drugs or alcohol, her's was a disorder that was only then becoming familiar with people, and that was the eating disorder known as Anorexia Nervosa. When the affects of her disease were very obvious, many people thought she was fighting cancer. It did not occur to anybody that she had any eating disorder cause that was not really heard of yet. When I heard of her death at age 32, I simply could not believe it - it seemed so unreal. Her? THAT Karen Carpenter? That just didn't seem possible.
Randy L. Schmidt has done a remarkable job of bringing Karen back to life to the point where you almost forget she has died. The Karen presented here is way more complex than that clean image would ever lead you to believe. She was funny, earthy at times, always polite, but could be temperamental and stubborn. Where she was known for being upfront and honest, she lied big time over her disorder. But ultimately she is a tragic character. Her mother, who comes off the most unflattering than any person in this book, is obsessive-compulsive, is a nag, and a bigot to boot, while her father is gentle and hen-pecked. All along it was her older brother who was beng groomed to be the superstar, then Karen joins the band. She has this remarkable voice nobody knew she had. They scrounge for work like any other band for a short period of time before being signed by A & M. Their first album is a very very modest success, but their first single "Close To You" explodes, putting The Carpenters into a level of success that nobody predicted. They are the hottest act at that time. Richard picks the songs and arranges them, but it's Karen's singing that gets all the attention, causing some amount of resentment. They are hated by the critics, they are made fun of for their image. In other words, fame was NOT what they thought it would be. Only when The Carpenters have peaked, THEN things really get bad.
Richard Carpenter would not cooperate with Schmidt, but he made it clear he wasn't going to stop him from writing the book either. So as of right now, this is the most definitive account of Karen's life we'll get for a while. And it's a compelling and unputdownable work. Highly recommended.