March 2, 1950 – February 4, 1983
“We came out right in the middle of the hard-rock period… it was hard-rock everywhere! But we were ready to make our music, you know? And it was such a turnaround, I guess it caught people by surprise.”
Karen and Richard Carpenter were one of the most successful singing duos in music history. The Carpenters had 23 hit singles including Top of the World, and We’ve Only Just Begun, and sold over 80 million albums. I think Goodbye to Love is one of the greatest songs ever written. What an awesome, awesome record. I understand that the Carpenters got a lot of hate mail, because they supposedly sold out to “hard rock” with the guitar solo at the end. Heh. Oh those Carpenters! They are on the edge!
With the duo’s first big money, Richard and Karen spent some of their money building a house for their parents in Downey, where they had lived since 1964. The house is located on Newville Street.
How do I know this? Because here I am,
on the front porch. And what did I do? I took a rock.
Wouldn’t you? The house was featured on the Now and Then album.
I rang the bell and spoke to Evelyn Wallace. Nice lady. She gave us Karen and Richard literature to take away, and she spoke to us for about 20 minutes. I got to peek in the house, and saw an old drum trophy that Karen won in band, and the piano that Richard used to play. Another time Karen’s mom Agnes came to the door. She was nice and polite, but as we know from Louise Fletcher’s Oscar worthy portrayal, she had difficulty displaying warmth.
A Downey perspective:
July 2001, Findadeath.com friend Sharon sends us this testament about living in Downey:
“Hi. My name is Sharon and I grew up in Downey, Ca the home of the Carpenters. I am 33. A few friend’s parents & aunts/uncles went to school at Downey High with Richard & Karen and they all have stories. Everybody was very secretive about them. Growing up in Downey was weird in itself. It has changed now, but it was a real “white” living in the 1950’s attitude, Republican (not that there’s anything wrong with that – S) haven. You kept to your own problems and there was always a “what would the neighbors think” attitude. When I went to Cerritos College in neighboring Norwalk, CA, I had a music professor who was a past teacher of Richard and Karen. He would always touch on the subject of them and he always said that there was a lot more going on in that family than people knew. He always would cut short by saying that Karen is dead and that past secrets should die with her.
I have run into Richard a few times from when I was a little kid thru just a few years ago. He always gave me this really creepy feel. I was the ice cream girl at the local Savon Drugs Store in high school in 1983/1984. He would come in now and then. They also owned a small mini mall on Florence Avenue @ Tecum Road. I’m not sure if they own that – it was rumored to be a real “dog” of an investment at one time.[Funeral wise] I have heard that the Carpenter family did not like the work they did on Karen. That has been reported a number of places. It is now an Asian mortuary. For a number of years after Utter McKinley went out of business, it was an abandoned building – the for sale sign was out there for the longest time and the place looked terrible.
Thanks for the viewpoint of Carpenterland.
They also invested in apartment buildings across from one another in Downey, California, where they went to school.
They decided to name the buildings by their first big hits, Only Just Begun and Close To You.
Richard no longer owns them, but they still have those names on them. I would love to live there. Such a happy place… Until that day in February of 1983.
At the time, Richard was living in a home near his parents, in Downey.
Karen GTFO and was living in a condominium in LA at 2222 Avenue of the Stars.
Here are the buildings, though I don’t know which one she lived in.
Here is a shot of the inside of the condo.
I think she had lovely sinks. In fact I know she did. Here is one of them, which is now mine. Thanks Frosty!
On February 3, 1983 Karen had her last supper with her parents, at the local Bob’s Big Boy in Downey. She had a Caesar salad. It’s no longer a Big Boy, but a Carrow’s.
I ate there in August 2007 and met a waitress that claimed she knew the Carpenters, and that Karen preferred booth 25 and often ordered bean broth. Mmm.
That night Karen spent the night in her parents house, in her old bedroom on the second floor.
Sometime the next morning, Karen got up, and donned a red jogging suit with a vial of Ativan in the pocket. As you do. She went down to the kitchen around quarter to 9 in the morning. At 8:50, her mother (immortalized by Louise Fletcher in the film, The Karen Carpenter Story) ((Honestly, if Louise Fletcher is in ANY film, it’s gonna be good.)) entered the kitchen, and found Karen unconscious on the floor. The kitchen, NOT the upstairs closet. This is from a report filed by the Paramedics who were there. They arrived, took Karen out this door to the ambulance,
tried CPR and the lot, and got her to the Downey Community Hospital where she was pronounced dead at 9:51 am.
Cardiac arrest. She was only 32, and weighed 108 pounds. If anyone has been living in a hole for the last 20 years, Karen suffered from Anorexia Nervosa, the eating disorder. It had finally taken its toll. Just when Karen was supposedly recovering, the toll on her heart was too much.
She was given an autopsy later that day, and the findings were: She wore clear nail polish on her toes, and red on her fingers. The jogging suit was given to Evelyn Wallace, the Carpenters secretary. That’s the woman I met when I rang the doorbell of the house. Karen’s stomach contained 50cc of dark green dry and hydrous material which is consistent with dried tea leaves. No solid material or identifiable food is seen. They also described her bone marrow as red-brown and juicy.
The next morning at 9:10 am, Karen was taken to the Utter McKinley funeral home, to prepare for the funeral. There was a closed casket (it was cream colored) visitation at the local branch of Forest Lawn, on the following Sunday the 6th. Richard had set up a photograph of Karen on top. The next Tuesday, there was a ceremony at the United Methodist Church, also in Downey. 1000 mourners attended, 600 were invited.
Findadeath.com friend Keenan provides the funeral program for us. Here is page one,
and page three.
The service was broadcast outside so the fans could hear it as well. The service was preceded by an instrumental rendering of a Carpenters medley including Rainy Days and Mondays, Close To You, and We’ve Only Just Begun. Pallbearers were Herb Alpert, Steven Alpert, John Bettis, Warren Wolfen, Gary Sims, Eddie Sulzer, David Alley and Ed Lefler. You would think she was heavier than 108. Honorary pallbearers were Karen’s close friend Olivia Newton John, Burt Bacharach, Dorothy Hamill and Cubby O’Brien, (the Mousketeer and Carpenters drummer).
Something a lot of people don’t know is that Karen was married when she died. She was estranged (divorce proceedings began in 1981) from husband Tom Burris. She was supposedly due to sign divorce papers on the day she died. This sounds a bit too Hollywood for me, but it was probably going to happen soon. Burris attended her funeral, took off his wedding ring (he was still wearing it?) and threw it into the casket. He has never spoken publicly about his marriage to Karen.
Karen’s friend Robin sends this personal account of the service: Karen was in an open casket and wearing an off-red-pinkish suit, red nail polish with a “mosquito-like” netting over her. It was actually hard to believe it was Karen. She did not look like herself, but I think everyone had an image of her when she was well and performing.
The second I approached her casket, I wept. I felt like it took me forever to get to her, but when I did, I looked at her very closely. They did an OK job on her, but one must remember the condition she was in at the time. She was thin and looked sickly. Lots of make-up I remember.
Her hair was short, dark and curly. Her face (looking through the mesh) was very old and tired. It was like looking at a 50 year old at the time. Her face was extremely thin and her hands looked skeletal. I do not remember if there were any religious items in her hands. I really don’t think there were, but I remember just sitting there thinking this is not my Karen. I sobbed the whole time. They also had up that theater-like roping to keep people away from the casket (damn Richard) so I could not get as close as I would have liked. I would have kissed her goodbye if I could have gotten that close. But they kept mourners at a distance of about three feet away from her. I had written a letter to her and I wanted to place it in her coffin, but the mesh material stopped me from doing that, so I left it with the one red rose I brought that night.
In many of the articles after her death, when people speak of how many people attended her wake and ‘people left just a red rose’ (I was one of those people)- I was the first one there, sat directly in the front row for the entire wake. Richard, Agnes & Harold were standing in an alcove just to the right of her. There were also many Private or undercover police officers there as not to have any one taking pictures.
There were about maybe 20 chairs for the whole wake. Unlike any wake, where there is a row for family, that was not the case. 10 chairs on the right, 10 on the left. I remember the room being very small, long red curtain like drapes and typical funeral music being played. It just felt so wrong.
I also remember people did not sit for a long time. They walked up to her casket, cried and then left. I thought I was doing something really odd, but I did not want to leave that night.
On Tuesday the 8th, the day of her funeral:
I arrived at the church at 8:00 in the morning. I remember pulling up in my 1976 El Camino and turning heads because the truck made a lot of noise. I introduced myself to the usher and he said to take a seat “Right Over There” – I sat in the 5th pew, first seat on the aisle, (right) opposite the family. After Rev. Neal gave the eulogy and they began to wheel Karen out, I placed my hand on her casket and lost it. I could not believe I was there. That SHE was there. The funeral was beautiful, lots of their music piped in and members from the Long Beach choir singing “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Close to you”.
Richard followed his mom and dad after the ceremony and I remember him being alone. I got in line immediately after Richard and made my way in line to follow the waiting hearse to go to Forest Lawn for the interment.
One day in the Find a Death mailbox, a small package arrived anonymously.
FYI: A burial casket is provided with a capsule which extends from a casket side wall inwardly and contains information regarding the remains contained in the casket.
The capsule is removable from the casket to give access to the information without opening the casket.
Karen was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Cypress, California. Her crypt was located in the Ascension Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Compassion, and it read, “A Star On Earth-A Star In Heaven.” Since then, Mr. and Mrs. Carpenter have died too, and they were buried with Karen.
Richard and Karen had issues dealing with success, work and various professional and personal ups and downs. To battle an addiction Richard entered rehab (Those pills aren’t drugs. They are prescription medicine!). During this time Karen decided to cut a solo album. Richard was pee eye double see dee. Big time. He made her feel so bad about it, that she shelved the project. A few years ago, well after Karen was dead, it got released. Richard supplied the liner notes which say, “Due to scheduling conflicts, (the album) was not delivered until early 1980. Upon completion of the playback, the reaction of A&M execs and others, including me, was, to say the least, ambiguous. The result was that on May 5, 1980, Karen decided to shelve the album.
“As time passes and events unfold, one’s perspective on certain matters can change, as has mine regarding this album. Karen was with us precious little time. She was a great artist. This album represents a certain period and change of approach in her career.
“As such, it deserves to be heard, in its entirety, as originally delivered.”
Just seems to say, “I thought it was crap then, and still do now. But anyway, here.” Yeah, thanks a lot RC.
I’ve visited Karen’s grave many times. It was one of the more pleasant celebrity graves I’ve ever visited. One time there were flowers left for the father and Karen. I choose to believe that Richard sent them. Here is the card.
Yeah, I took it. So what. Forest Lawn was just going to dump it anyway. I’m tired of apologizing for my most interesting (well, to me anyway) hobby. Karen rested comfortably in this crypt until…
December 11, 2003.
Findadeath.com friend Steven writes: Karen and her parents were moved to Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, by her brother Richard on 12/11/03. She remained in her original casket as well as her parents. They were placed in a private family mausoleum in the Tranquility Gardens section of the cemetery. There was no service held the day they were re-interred, her brother and his wife were present at the time, Richard seemed very happy to be that close to his sister again. It was a day that I will never forget. It was a great honor and privilege to be there that day. Thanks, Steven!
Odd thing is that the new mausoleum isn’t nearly as nice as the old one.
This one isn’t that attractive, and although it does say Carpenter on the outside, there are no names on the inside. But Karen’s epitaph has been reproduced.
Nice view of it on the hill tho.
While the Carpenters owned the home on Newville, they also bought the home next door and built a breezeway to get from one to the other.
I believe the other home housed a recording studio. A couple of years ago, there was talk that the Newville house was to be destroyed, so Carpenters’ fans predictably blew a nerve. It was sold, and a garage sale happened. Supposedly there was a lot of Carpenters memorabilia for sale; promo stuff, albums etc. I don’t understand how this can be possible. If you were moving, wouldn’t you make sure everything was gone?
I rang the new owner’s doorbell, and some woman opened the door a few inches and asked what I wanted. In the worst possible fake British accent – I said, “I’ve traveled very far to see this beautiful house, and had heard it was to be destroyed. Is this true?” “We don’t talk about that.” SLAM. hahahahaha. I think it was a big false alarm, it was the house next door – the recording studio one, that was demolished, and this atrocity was erected to replace it.
In Long Beach there is the Richard and Karen Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts.
In the lobby, is a shrine for all pop music fans. Karen’s original drum set,
the original sheet music for We’ve Only Just Begun…
and the greatest item ever, Karen’s Lead Sister shirt. Yes, please.
Trivia: A star on Hollywood’s Walk Of Fame was awarded to the Carpenters on October 12, 1983. Eight months after Karen’s death.
Trivia: When I was a kid, I played clarinet in band. My very first solo of all time was “Top of the World.” Since I never ever throw anything away, I sent the sheet music to Richard a few years ago, for him to sign. He did, and here it is.
Trivia: When Louise Fletcher was asked what is was like to portray Mrs. Carpenter, her reply was, “Very Bizarre. We actually shot in the Carpenter’s house – using the same ambulance and drivers that had picked Karen up the day she died.” Weird huh? Richard produced this flick, and it is amazing. They used Karen’s real clothes and everything. Enter Twilight Zone music.
Thank you Keenan, Gary, and especially Ted at CelebrityCollectables.com . Go there. Buy something.
Regarding the photograph at the top of the story: I swapped some autograph or another to obtain it. It’s signed by both Richard and Karen, to Jerry. Jerry is Jerry Maren, one of the munchkins from The Wizard of Oz. He was the guy that handed over the lollipop to Dorothy. Kewl. A double celeb whammy.
Also in Long Beach – Karen’s gift to Richard, so he could beat off his fans.