Friday, February 04, 2011

Pop History Moment: The Death of Karen Carpenter

For the most part our expectations of cultural figures - models, actors, singers - are quite low; we like them to do their job, make a good job of it when they do, be consistent (even if their thing is being inconsistent), and most importantly keep a sense of humour about themselves. All the rest - the cockamamie health and beauty regimens, the ill-considered political opinions and religious practices, in fact the whole parcel of their inevitable tabloid travails - are all well and good but are just as likely to drive the public away as to evoke widespread empathy...

PhotobucketEvery so often, of course, the life of a celebrity (because it is lived so famously) can teach the world a lesson or two in a way that an ordinary life cannot*. Such is the case with the sad demise of Karen Carpenter...

Apart from statistics nobody can say for sure how many women (or men, for that matter) starved themselves to death because of anorexia nervosa before Carpenter herself succumbed to the ravages of the disease herself on this day in 1983; the problem with statistics, of course, is that even when the numbers represent people they are not people. Karen Carpenter, however, was not just a person but a person whose soul seemed to shine through her delivery of a lyric. By endearing herself to great numbers of the public throughout the Seventies as both vocalist and drummer with The Carpenters, she may have inadvertantly helped those same people to understand a disease they might have previously thought was neurotic or self-inflicted or whatever** - that is, if they thought (or even knew) about it at all.

Of course, what makes the case of Karen Carpenter so sad is that she'd actually turned a corner on her disease, and may have in fact eventually made a full recovery, if only anorexia weren't so hard on all the body's systems, including the heart. Ultimately, it was a cardiac arrest that claimed her, although anorexia had weakened her to such an extent that even if her heart hadn't failed her her liver or kidneys might have anyway. She was 32.

*Which may just be the greatest value of celebrity culture.
**A fairly judgemental stance utterly lacking in compassion, in this blogger's view.
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1 comment:

Wynn Kozak said...

I still feel sad thinking of this loss of a great star and a brave woman. If only we'd known back then about the ravages of this disease maybe she could have been saved earlier. I love her music and still play it from time to time. She'll never be forgotten!