Singer Karen Carpenter could serenade anyone just by the sound of her voice, but what most fans didn’t know was that she struggled with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder. 

“She loved food, but she was afraid of food,” her close friend Cristina Ferrare, exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “That disease is so insidious and it makes you hide things and do things that you normally wouldn’t do.”

Karen Carpenter

Karen’s skinny frame made people worry about her well-being. By 1975, it was deeply affecting her career. “That year we had to cancel a European and Japanese tour because her weight was way down,” her brother, Richard, recalled to People in 1983. “She lived on salads, maybe dry toast for breakfast.”

Richard and Karen were a duo. When the brunette beauty would sing her heart out on the mic, her brother was always there beside her playing the keyboard. Together, they were known as The Carpenters. However, the pair’s mother, Agnes, only thought her son had talent.

“The family’s goal was that he become a piano superstar; Karen, from a very young age, was groomed to support him,” explains Randy L. Schmidt, author of Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter.

Due to Karen’s mother not giving her the love she so desperately wanted, Karen’s weight got even worse and it didn’t help that her marriage to commercial real estate developer Thomas Burris was beginning to fail. The couple separated just 14 months after their 1980 wedding. By 1983, they were officially divorced. 

Karen Carpenter and her brother Richard

Due to those setbacks, Karen was hospitalized in New York where she underwent therapy and intravenous feedings. “Her therapist said he never heard from anyone in the family asking about her well-being,” says Schmidt. “There was almost this sense of ‘Karen is just being stubborn’ from the family.” 

The singer’s days were numbered. In February 1983, she collapsed at her parents’ house. It wasn’t until she was rushed to the hospital that Karen was pronounced dead from heart failure. She was only 32 years old. “The shock was tremendous,” Richard admitted. “I knew she was ill, but not that ill.” 

“She had so much more to live for,” Cristina adds. “She was kind, thoughtful and funny and her music was the most important thing to her.” 

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