Karen Carpenter Tried to Beat Anorexia With Radical Treatments Before She Died

The Carpenters, from left: Karen Carpenter, Richard Carpenter, 1971.
Raphael/TV Guide/Courtesy Everett Collection

Karen Carpenter and her brother Richard were famous as part of the 1970s duo The Carpenters. Unfortunately, behind closed doors, Carpenter dealt with the eating disorder anorexia and ultimately passed away in 1983 from heart failure due to anorexia. Months before her death, she was seeking some radical treatments to try to beat her eating disorder. A new book is exploring her final months.

LOS ANGELES - 1977: Singers  Carpenters poses for a portrait in 1977 in Los Angeles, California.

Harry Langdon/Getty Images

“Lead Sister: The Story of Karen Carpenter” by music journalist Lucy O’Brien details Carpenter’s career, life, and struggles. Excerpts from the book discuss Carpenter’s anorexia treatments and how she cut her treatments short because she felt she was cured, just a short time before her untimely death. In 1982, she moved to New York in hopes of finding some relief from her disease and sought treatments from psychotherapist Steven Levenkron.

The Carpenters: Karen Carpenter, 1971

Everett Collection

Under his care, O’Brien wrote, “Karen would be dependent on him in order to override the authority of the disease until she established her own separate identity. He would become a father figure, guiding and navigating her through the process.” Carpenter revealed to Levenkron that she would often take 90 laxatives at once or 10 thyroid pills a day to increase her metabolism.

LOS ANGELES - 1981: Singer Karen Carpenter of the Carpenters poses for a portrait in 1981 in Los Angeles, California

Harry Langdon/Getty Images

O’Brien continued, “Levenkron was horrified. Overdosage of thyroid medication could lead to coma, convulsions and heart attacks.” He took away her medications and tried radical treatments including forcing her to stand in front of a mirror in a bikini to look at what her body had become. After a brief stint in the hospital where she weighed only 77 pounds and had a life-threatening low level of blood potassium, she started gaining weight. She was making progress but Levenkron knew that she still had things to work on. However, Carpenter said she was healed and moved back to her life in Los Angeles. After a few months of returning to work on her music, she sadly died on February 3, 1983.

Purchase “Lead Sister: The Story of Karen Carpenter” on Amazon.

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