They say the brightest stars burn out the fastest. 25 years ago today, one of the brightest stars the world has ever known went dark.

I usually don’t do the whole heartfelt tribute bit, but I think for someone as brilliant as Karen Carpenter was, I can make an exception.

And, in the process, I’ll try not to be further saddened by the fact that her memorial was held the day before I was born.

You’re probably wondering who Karen Carpenter was right about now. (I’m not surprised.) Well, allow me to enlighten you. And if you already know…stop laughing at me. This ain’t no satire; I’m being earnest here.

The Carpenters were 70s pop stars– superstars, to be precise. Karen and her brother Richard took the world by storm. Surely you’ve heard “We’ve Only Just Begun”. No? How about “Superstar”? “Close to You”? Perhaps “Top of the World”? Uh…okay, well, your parents have probably heard of them.

They don’t get much respect these days, and even in their heyday were dismissed by critics as “saccharine”. If you ask me, that’s a damn shame, because they had talent coming out their ears. Or rather, their mouths. Especially in Karen’s case.

No doubt about it, this woman had one of the most impeccable voices of the 20th century. She had great breath control, perfect pitch, and yet was warm, soulful and could make every note glow with sincerity.

She was also a talented drummer, playing the drums on-stage way before female drummers were “cool”.

Unfortunately, she also suffered from anorexia nervosa before anyone really knew what it was. She began treatment for the disease in the early 1980s, and thus gained a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. Things were looking up, but not for long. The sudden weight gain strained her already-weak heart, and on February 4, 1983, she went into cardiac arrest. They rushed her to the hospital, but it was too late.

She was only 32 years old.

The only good thing to come of Karen’s death was that the disease quickly became well-recognized and they are now better able to help those who are afflicted by it.

So, now you’re probably wondering how I came to be a such a devoted fan of someone who has been gone as long as I’ve been on this earth. Well, I guess I can tell you that story too.

My mom’s first remarriage (yeah, I know) happened not long before I started seventh grade, which would have been around 1995. My then-stepfather’s oldest daughter moved in with us, and they brought with them a collection of old VHS tapes.

One of those tapes was a recording of “The Karen Carpenter Story”, a made-for-TV biopic aired on CBS in 1989. My stepsister, who was a couple of years older than me, said it was her favorite movie, so one afternoon, we watched it together.

I instantly fell in love with the soundtrack, comprised of most of the Carpenters’ biggest hits and some album tracks. I watched that tape so many times that my stepfather told me to stop; he said it was getting worn out. (That’s what he gets for recording it on EP speed.)

I watched it so much not because it was a great film– in fact, it’s not that great at all –but because I was so hooked on the music. I was fascinated by that amazing singing, most of all.

Since I wasn’t allowed to watch the tape anymore, my obsession did wane a bit, but was revived when I was working with my stepfather at a local grocery store over the summer of 2000. I decided I’d finally do what I’d been wanting to do for a long time: buy a Carpenters CD. I picked up a copy of The Singles: 1969-1981, and listened to it religiously, even through my punk-goth-raver phase.

The CD’s long gone by now, which infuriates me, but I’ve still got the whole thing ripped to file and I still listen to it regularly. Ever want to get on my good side? Buy me more Carpenters albums.

Anyway, I took great care not to let anybody but my mom and dad in on this secret until I finally confessed it to my wonderful fiance. I recently made him listen to “We’ve Only Just Begun”, and I fell in love with him all over again when he said it was an amazing song.

So, I finally decided to come clean, and pay tribute at the same time. Laugh if you want to, but it won’t change a thing.

I leave you with this video— one fan’s tribute to Karen. It’s painful to look at photos and video of her after anorexia tightened its deadly grip on her, but her voice more than makes up for it. So ignore the video if you want, but please listen to the song, entitled “A Song For You”.

Too bad you had to leave us, Karen. We could really use a great voice like yours in the bland musical landscape of the 21st century.

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