Kathryn Joosten as Karen McCluskey
|Portrayed by||Kathryn Joosten|
|First appearance||"Love Is in the Air"
1x14, February 13, 2005
|Last appearance||"Finishing the Hat"
8x23, May 13, 2012
|Created by||Marc Cherry|
|Other names||Karen Simonds (maiden name)|
|Residence||4358 Wisteria Lane in Fairview, Eagle State
4347 Wisteria Lane in Fairview, Eagle State - briefly in season 4 right after tornado until she rebuilt her own house
Karen McCluskey was  a fictional character from the ABC television series Desperate Housewives. The role was played by Kathryn Joosten, who won the Primetime Emmy Award twice for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2005 and 2008. In the series finale, Karen succumbs to cancer. This was agreed upon between Marc Cherry and Kathryn, as she was battling cancer in real life, as well. Kathryn Joosten died 23 days after the series finale aired.
Karen Simonds was born in 1943, quickly wed and gave birth to a son in the 1960s. In season six she reveals to Robin Gallagher that she was in the sex trade business, and modeled for Sears Roebuck, which put her through college. She was the second wife to Gilbert McCluskey, who neglected to update his pension files leaving all of his assets to his first wife, to whom he was only very briefly married. For this reason Karen kept his body in a freezer in her basement. She has two sisters: Gale and Roberta and is married to Roy Bender, portrayed by Orson Bean. Throughout the entire show, she is referred to mainly as Mrs. McCluskey rather than Karen.
Karen McCluskey is introduced in the series as a neighborhood nemesis of Lynette Scavo. In the season one episode Live Alone and Like It (episode 19) we learn that she suffers from severe arthritis and how Lynette helped her when she collapsed soon after they became good friends. Known as the bickering old woman of the neighborhood, Mrs. McCluskey can be constantly known for bickering and causing ruckus. However, deep down Mrs. McCluskey is a really good woman full of love. It was revealed that she had a son that died at age twelve. She offered to babysit the Scavo kids only to be sent home because Lynette found her to be 'ancient'.
One time, Mrs. McCluskey accidentally tasered Lynette's co-worker Stu when she believed he was trying to "abduct" Lynette's kids. She was reported to have seen Matthew Applewhite and Danielle Van de Kamp making out at the county park. In episode 15 of season 2, she found Bree passed out on the front lawn. She subsequently alerted Lynette that Bree was drinking while babysitting her kids. Bree's drinking problems inadvertently improved Mrs. McCluskey's relationship with Lynette, as she now frequently babysits the Scavo kids. Towards the end of Season 2 she supported Lynette, who followed Tom Scavo to Atlantic City in a bid to find out the truth behind Tom's supposed infidelity.
She has emerged as a more prominent and visible character in Season 3, often involved in social roles with members of Wisteria Lane and even forming a friendship with Edie Britt. It has also been notable that due to the very separate story that Bree Hodge has this season, Mrs. McCluskey is often seen gathering with the other three main housewives Lynette Scavo, Gabrielle Solis and Susan Mayer. Recently, Mrs. McCluskey gave Mike Delfino his toolbox back (which later got him arrested despite her hiding it), and helped form the protest against the suspected pedophile Art Shephard. In the episode Liaisons, it was revealed that Mrs. McCluskey has her own secret: she has the dead body of her husband, Gilbert, stored in a chest freezer in her basement. In the following episode, God, That's Good Karen breaks her arm, and is taken to hospital. In the mean time, first Parker Scavo, then Ida Greenberg discovers Gilbert's dead body. Karen manages to persuade Parker to keep quiet, but Ida goes to the police, and Karen is later put into jail. Mrs. McCluskey is the talk of the town after the news spreads about her husband's body being found in the freezer. She becomes hassled by local kids, who throw eggs at her house, and paint 'Witch' on her door. Lynette also changes baby sitters to keep her away from her children, but Parker continues to defend her and tells Mrs. McCluskey to just tell the truth to make it stop. She goes to Travers' birthday party while the other Wisteria Lane residents are cleaning up and reveals her actions. She explains that she came home at 2 am from a weekend away to find Gilbert had died. Waiting until morning to call the Funeral Home, she checks his pension plan to see he'd signed everything off to his first wife. Mrs. McCluskey, in fear of losing everything, kept his body in the freezer and kept cashing the checks. Lynette then hires Mrs. McCluskey back as her babysitter. Lynette tells Mrs. McCluskey the family missed her, and Mrs. McCluskey says she missed them too. As she walks into her house Mrs. McCluskey says that she will need a raise as she has a lot of money to pay and holds up bills.
Mrs. McCluskey asks to speak to Carlos and complains to him about the garbage he left out being late and almost foils Edie's fake suicide plan but notices her at the last minute. Later at Katherine Mayfair's barbecue, she questions Katherine as to why she left town twelve years ago without saying any goodbyes to anyone and Katherine is shocked that she remembers so much. It is revealed that Karen used to babysit Dylan Mayfair, and knew something about her father, even though Dylan insists her father left her when she was a baby.
Karen later gives her opinion on new neighbors Bob and Lee's water fountain by saying it's "crap". When Katherine and Lynette both run for the job of the leader of the home owners association Karen casts her vote for Lynette although Katherine wins anyway.
In "Something's Coming", Mrs. McCluskey reluctantly invites Lynette Scavo and her family to take shelter in her house because of a tornado. But when she invites Ida Greenberg and her pet cat Toby to also take shelter, things get complicated as Lynette's husband Tom is allergic to cats. So Lynette tries to smuggle Toby out of the house. When Karen catches Lynette smuggling Toby from the basement, Lynette angrily accuses her of choosing a cat over Tom. Suddenly the door blows open and Toby escapes. As Karen tries to get Toby back into her house, Lynette catches her and then they see the tornado coming. They try to get back into the house, but when things block their way, they enter Lynette's house and take refuge in the bathtub. Later, when the tornado ends, they step outside, only to find Mrs. McCluskey's house in ruins.
In "Welcome to Kanagawa", Mrs. McCluskey sees Lynette's children and husband recovered safely from the ruins of Karen's house. But unfortunately, Ida didn't survive the tornado. As Lynette and Karen pack Ida's belongings, they think of spreading the ashes inside a baseball stadium, but things get complicated as Ida's niece and nephew take the urn back to Omaha, Nebraska, not knowing that Ida's ashes were replaced by dust from a vacuum cleaner inside the urn. Later that night, Mrs. McCluskey and Lynette break into the baseball stadium and spread Ida's ashes around the field, but get caught by the police. The police let Mrs. McCluskey and Lynette off with a warning. Karen almost had her third strike as she and Lynette know that it wouldn't be enough.
In the season finale "Free" the show skips five years later and by this time Karen would be 69.
Karen McCluskey is shown to still be a gossip-loving resident on Wisteria Lane, and is also shown to be very healthy (much to Edie's shock.)
After the five-year leap for the fifth season, Karen is shown to be alive and well. When Edie returns to Fairview with her new husband, Dave Williams, Karen welcomes her back and teases her like they used to do. When Edie gets upset, Dave asks Karen to stop, but she refuses. Later, Toby the cat goes missing. Karen asks Dave to help her look for him, but he won't. When Karen refuses again to apologize to Edie, she suspects that Dave took Toby. Karen apologizes to Edie and asks her to tell Dave she did so. That night, Toby is back. Karen's suspicions of Dave grow, and she enlists the help of Katherine to find out more information.
A few episodes later, it's Karen's 70th birthday and the residents organize a surprise party for her at Susan's house. However, when Dave breaks into Karen's house and moves stuff around in order to annoy her, Karen arrives at the party with a baseball bat and goes to attack Dave but is stopped and taken away in an ambulance. In the hospital, Edie visits her and Karen apologizes, saying her pills had made her attack Dave. After Edie leaves, Karen reveals it was all an act and calls her sister Roberta, asking her to come over. Together they try to find out about Dave's past, and they discover he was a patient of a psychiatrist, Dr. Heller. When they visit, however, the doctor is not there (he was actually killed by Dave the episode before), and Roberta tells Karen she cannot help anymore and leaves. In the eighteenth episode of the season, Karen hangs out with Edie, who tells Karen about how Dave lost his wife and daughter in a car accident. Karen apologizes, saying she wouldn't have done what she did to Dave if she knew that as she lost a child herself and knows what it can do to a person.
In the following episode, Edie dies due to being electrocuted. Karen, along with Susan, Gabrielle, Bree and Lynette, is asked by Dave to take her ashes to her son Travers. When they tell Travers about the death, he is not visibly upset, saying Edie was not a good mom and did not even attempt to raise him. Angry, Karen tells Travers about how some years back, Edie comforted Karen on the anniversary of her son's death and told her that she wanted Travers to be brought up properly and she knew she wouldn't have been a good mother to him. Travers then becomes upset over her death and tells the ladies to take the ashes. Karen, being the closest to Edie, tries to figure out what to do with the ashes when suddenly her front door gently blows open. Karen comes up with the idea to spread Edie's ashes through the neighborhood.
In the fifth season finale, Karen and Roberta again try to find out more information about Dave by breaking into Edie's house after Roberta gets a call from Dr. Heller's receptionist saying he died in the fire. Karen and Roberta are caught by the police and taken to the station, where they discover Dave's ex-wife and daughter were killed in the accident that involved Mike and Susan. Roberta then mentions how freaky it was that Dave changed his name and went to live near the people who were involved with his loved ones' deaths.
Karen is given a love interest this season named Roy Bender. When Gaby offers to collect Karen from the grocery store, Karen spends the whole time in the car talking about her sex life with Roy. She later watches as Julie Mayer fights with her new neighbor Danny Bolen on the street.
The first time Karen McCluskey met Roy Bender she smiled at him to her surprise. The next time they met, Roy smiled back. They then continued to flirt for a week until they decided to sleep together. They went out for weeks until one day Karen decided she needed to know how he felt while they were out for a walk, Karen told Roy that she loved him. Roy didn't respond until Karen urged him on. He was about to tell her he loved her when he noticed Julie Mayer unconscious in a garden. Karen then screamed at the top of her voice, informing Wisteria Lane of Julie's brutal attack.
Later Karen tells Roy that she doesn't know whether she should tell the police that she saw Julie and Danny Bolen fighting on the street a few days previous. She tells him that she doesn't want to point fingers. Roy then tells her she should tell them because she doesn't have to do it alone. He then tells her that he would be sad if Karen got hit by a bus but when Karen says that he will have to shower alone tonight, Roy tells her that he loves her. Karen later watches as Danny is arrested.
She later visits Katherine Mayfair at the mental hospital she is staying to encourage her to come back to Wisteria Lane. She later brings the housewives with her to convince her to come back.
In the sixth season episode, The Chase, Karen gets engaged to Roy, and learns she has lung cancer. However, two episodes later in My Two Young Men we learn that Karen has already beaten cancer, and Roy throws a party for her, which all the neighbors of Wisteria Lane attend.
Karen alerts the women of Paul Young's return in the first episode "Remember Paul?". In the fourth episode, Karen is concerned when Paul asks her to sell him her house because she might die soon. Later Karen tells Beth Young about Martha Huber and how everybody believed Paul had killed her. Roy returns in "A Humiliating Business" where it is revealed that he and Karen have now married, making him her second husband. She is knocked down in the Riot, and is helped up by Lynette. She then lets Porter and Preston live at her house when Lynette tells them to find a place of their own, however their time is short lived as Karen kicks them out after they have a house party.
In "The Lies Ill-Concealed" Karen is visited by Felicia Tilman and is shocked to learn that she has moved next door. Felicia talks about the night she fled from Wisteria Lane and Karen recalls that she saw her and decided to keep the fact that Paul did not actually murder Felicia to herself. Later, Karen visits Felicia where she is surprised to learn that Beth was Felicia's daughter. She agrees to help Felicia keep an eye on Paul.
Karen and Roy have an argument, and she kicks him out of the house, so Roy stays in Gabrielle's house. Soon, both of them realize that they miss each other, but Gabrielle wants to keep Roy in her house because he can control Juanita and CeCelia. Meanwhile, Karen is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and decides not to tell Roy because he has lost a wife before. He eventually finds out and chides her for thinking he wouldn't be strong enough to handle this again, and they reunite. In the series finale, Karen is preparing to head to a hospice, but the women of the Lane insist on taking care of her themselves, making Karen realize how much they care for her. When she overhears Gabrielle and Carlos talking about Carlos killing Gabby's abusive stepfather, Karen decides to pay her friends back. She goes on the stand at Bree's murder trial and confesses to killing Alejandro herself, using details she overheard from Gaby and Carlos to convince the jury. While doubtful of Karen's story, the district attorney realizes the damage is done. The case is thrown out, and no charges are pressed against Karen due to her age and illness. Karen dies at home, listening to the song "Wonderful! Wonderful!" sung by Johnny Mathis. Then her spirit is seen joining those who have died over the years on Wisteria Lane. She is seen in the final scene of the show reunited with her son.
Behind the scenes
- Kathryn Joosten mentioned on the talk show The View and subsequent interviews that Marc Cherry promised her not to kill off her character. Joosten explained that Marc Cherry felt badly about all her previous characters being killed off. In a subsequent interview Kathryn said, "Marc (Cherry) did not vow to not kill Karen because she was 'loved.' He and I made that agreement when I came on the show because I'd just been killed off on a bunch of shows and I didn't want that to happen again." Joosten reported that Cherry came to her and asked her if she minded if he breaks his promise and change her fate for the very last episode of the serie. She did not but mentioned him that she wanted her opinion considered on the way it would be done. Her character, Karen, was eventually killed off but lasted until the series final episode "Finishing the Hat".
- After frequently appearing as a guest star for the first five seasons, Kathryn Joosten was promoted at the start of Season 6, listed as "also-starring", but still is only credited for the episodes that she appears in. Due to a relapse of cancer, Joosten was absent for several episodes during the first half of the sixth season. Kathryn Joosten was promoted yet again, and starting with Season 7 is credited as "starring", but still only in the episodes she appears. For the eighth and final season, Joosten has returned to her previous status as "also-starring".
- Kathryn Joosten was a two-time lung cancer survivor and was the national spokesperson for the Lung Cancer Profiles campaign on behalf of Pfizer.
- Kathryn Joosten herself died of lung cancer just 20 days after the final episode of Desperate Housewives was broadcast. Her character died of the same disease.
- Kathryn Joosten won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2005 and 2008, and received another nomination in 2010. In 2012, Joosten received her first Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series nomination, which was also her last Emmy nomination before she died.
- Season 5 episode 23: Claire called to her and ask "Roberta Simonds?"
- character dies in series finale
- Season 4 episode 1
- Season 4 episode 2
- Season 4 episode 5
- Season 4 episode 9
- Wightman, Catriona (September 16, 2010). "Ten teasers about 'Desperate Housewives'". Digital Spy. Retrieved December 23, 2011.
- "Kathryn Joosten - News and Articles". kathrynjoosten.com. Retrieved 2008-07-17.
- 'Interview with Kathryn Joosten' MetroSeeker.com retrieved March 12, 2012
- Stransky, Tanner (May 15, 2012). "'Desperate Housewives': After that heart-wrenching finale, what's next for Mrs. McCluskey actress Kathryn Joosten?". Entertainment Weekly's.
- 'Interview with Kathryn Joosten' MetroSeeker.com retrieved March 12, 2012.