The Karen Carpenter Story – Love’s Expression


I believe Karen Carpenter possessed one of the most beautiful voices of all time. But she was troubled. I recently watched the movie of her life for the second time. And this time I got so much more out of it than when I first watched it. Originally it was to bath in the beauty of her voice, singing songs all written by her brother, Richard. Together they were the pop phenomena that became “The Carpenters”.

But Karen died in per prime, at age 33. Her heart failure was due to her psychological and physiological condition known as Anorexia Nervosa. The movie depicted both the history of The Carpenters, and an insight into the cause of Karen’s condition. The movie was produced by Richard Carpenter, so we can assume it was a fairly accurate depiction of not only their musical career but also their upbringing.

Both Karen and Richard had psychological problems. Richard was addicted to prescription medication, initially given to him by his mother. Before Karen died he sought treatment and conquered the addiction. But Karen just continued to starve herself to death. They both finally received psychological counselling. The physician called in their parents, having come to the conclusion that their relationship with them was at the heart of their problems.

The psychologist bluntly told the parents that their children, particularly Karen, had always felt that their “love” for their children was conditional. Conditional not so much on their success, not professionally, but based upon the degree to which they were able to control who they were as people. As with so many parents, unfortunately, their own insecurities, and the way in which they were raised, dictated how they related to their own children.

The parents of Karen and Richard resented being told that there were control issues that they needed to acknowledge. But the facts were overwhelming. All Karens’s clothes were either made or bought by her mother. Her small number of boyfriends were closely monitored, and any disapproval meant Karen walked away. She finally married, against her parent’s wishes, and they worked diligently to destroy the union. As Karen continued to lose weight, because she basically refused to eat, her marriage fell apart. Karen moved back in with her parents at their insistence.

Her counselling continued, albeit unsuccessfully. The psychologist again called in her parents and spoke to them about the manner in which they showed their love for their children. He told them that both Karen and Richard had told him that they could never remember their parents, particularly their mother, telling them that they loved them. It was something that Karen carried with her every day.

Karen’s mother eventually got the message. Two weeks before Karen died of heart failure, her mother raised the courage to simply say to Karen “I love you”. It became, in Richard’s opinion, the best day of Karen’s life. But it was all too late.

At age 33, the most beautiful voice of her time was extinguished. This time after I watched the movie I cried. I realised that I could never remember my parents, particularly my mother who’s acceptance I craved intensely, telling me that that they loved me.

I write this after what was a kind of epiphany in my life. I learned so much from the Karen Carpenter Story. I forgive myself for being who I was. I understand the pain that I felt, the struggle that defined me. But, most of all, I forgive my parents for who they were at the time.  I believe that they went through exactly the same experiences. I could never imagine my mother’s mother or either of my father’s parents telling their children that they loved them. I know they were strict and controlling. And I don’t think they understood unconditional love. I feel sorry for them, and my parents. Thankfully, my mother has only recently started telling me that she loved me. And I think the first time she did was probably the best day of my life.

Kate tells me that I didn’t make the same mistake – that she always felt loved. So it appears I may have broken those chains. Unconditional love, and its expression, is so vital to each and every one of us.

Geoff Mooney.

Listen to Karen's beautiful voice (takes a little time to load) ......