Before she performed at the most iconic music festival in the world or even in little Austin bars, Joplin got her start in her church choir as a little girl. She was an insecure little girl, but she was born with a gift. Her captivating, raspy voice and electrifying stage presence made Janis Joplin a rock & roll icon. But the talented singer met her untimely death at age 27, making her a notable member of the 27 Club.
However, there is a lot you may not know about this tragic star. According to her best friend Peggy Caserta, Joplin was bisexual, and the two dated at one point. She was often made fun of, rejected Jim Morrison, and her favorite drink was Southern Comfort. Joplin changed the music industry forever, but, sadly, she didn’t live to see how significant she would become.
This is the short life and tragic death of the Goddess of Rock.
Joplin is remembered for her Haight-Ashbury years in California, but the legendary rock star was actually born in Port Arthur, Texas as Janis Lyn Joplin, on January 19th, 1943, to parents Dorothy Bonita East and Seth Ward Joplin. She also had two little siblings, Michael and Laura.
From a young age, it was clear that Janis needed a little more attention than other kids. Although she was destined to be a star, her natural-born talent didn’t give her the confidence she needed. She had plenty of insecurities and ultimately turned to drugs.
Growing up, Janis Joplin wasn’t what you would call a popular kid. She got picked on at school all the time. She had frizzy hair, she was overweight and had acne that led to facial scarring. And unlike most ‘50s kids in Texas, she liked hanging out with Black people.
The students would constantly taunt and tease her, calling her a “freak” or a “pig.” Joplin once said: “I was a misfit. I read, I painted, I thought. I didn’t hate Black people.” Joplin was a free thinker from the start.
Joplin was no stranger to bullies, and, sadly, it didn’t get much better in college. The aspiring singer attended Lamar State College of Technology and the University of Texas but never graduated. While attending the University of Texas, Joplin performed with a group called The Walter Creek Boys.
When she was a student at the University of Texas, some mean boys dubbed Joplin the “Ugliest Man on Campus.” Talk about mean kids. You would think the bullying stops after high school.
Her time at the University of Texas didn’t get better. An article in the school paper was written about her entitled “She Dares to be Different.” The article described things that made Joplin stand out among her peers, like walking around without shoes and keeping instruments on hand in case she felt like singing.
The article started off, “She goes barefoot when she feels like it, wears Levis to class because they’re more comfortable, and carries her autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song, it will be handy. Her name is Janis Joplin.”
Joplin’s reputation as a drug user started before she was famous. She was known in the San Francisco area for drinking and using drugs like speed and heroin. Southern Comfort was Joplin’s favorite brand of whiskey.
By 1965, Joplin’s health was deteriorating due to her substance abuse. She was extremely underweight. It got to the point where her friends even described her as looking “skeletal.” They thought she should go home and hopefully get sober. They even paid for her bus fare so she could afford the trip to Texas.
Believe it or not, in 1965, when Joplin returned to Texas from San Francisco, she did actually get clean. Not only did she stop using substances, but she even enrolled in school again—this time at Lamar University, where she studied Anthropology.
Although she gave up drugs and alcohol, the one thing she never gave up on was music. She was always so passionate about singing, and you can hear the emotion in her voice. So, while in school, she often traveled to Austin, Texas, where she could sing and play guitar.
At one point, Joplin was engaged to a man she met in San Francisco – Peter de Blanc. Not only did he ask for her father’s permission to marry her, but Joplin and her mom were already planning the wedding. But, unfortunately, the wedding was called off.
The real reason for the breakup is unclear, but it may have been for the best. Joplin later expressed that she was disinterested in just being some secretary or a wife like all the other women she was surrounded by. She gave her life to music and never got the chance to marry or have children.
Even after her death, her record sales kept going up. Twenty-five years after her death, in 1995, Joplin was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as she deserved.
Janis Joplin was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2013… which also comes as no surprise. The last song Janis Joplin recorded before her death was a birthday song for fellow rock star John Lennon.
During her heyday, Southern Comfort was associated with the star who would sometimes take a fifth of whiskey on stage during her performances. That’s one way to prepare for a show. But as a thank you for all the free advertising, Southern Comfort gave her a fur coat.
Fitting her ‘60s rock star image, Joplin got a couple of tattoos: a woman’s liberation symbol on her wrist and a heart on her left breast. The star explained, “I wanted some decoration. See, the one on my wrist is for everybody; the one on my tit is for me and my friends.”
Joplin was a huge Tina Turner fan, according to an interview on The Dick Cavett Show. The iconic singers got to perform together one time in 1969. Turner asked Joplin to join her on stage during her performance at Madison Square Garden.
Joplin also often spoke about how blues singer Bessie Smith inspired her. Smith was put to rest in an unmarked grave, and when Joplin found out about this, she wasn’t having it. Joplin and Juanita Green, who worked for the Smith family, split the cost for a headstone. Joplin wanted to ensure that everyone could pay their respects to the blues star.
While performing to a restless crowd in Tampa in 1969, police asked Joplin if she would help calm down the audience. Joplin yelled at the police, cursed at them, and it ended up actually calming everyone down.
However, the police weren’t amused with her behavior and didn’t appreciate being screamed at. So, they decided to arrest her after the show. She spent a night in the slammer, but all charges were dropped when a judge said that she was just practicing her freedom of speech. Although it wasn’t very nice, it also wasn’t violent, so they couldn’t hold her.
In 2015, Joplin’s Porsche 356 was sold for $1.76 million. That’s the most anyone has ever spent on a Porsche 356 at an auction. Maybe it was the cool, hippy-style, graffiti-looking design on the car, or maybe it was the fact that the legendary Janis Joplin owned it. The buyer didn’t say.
Joplin loved to wear patchouli oil. It is known as the hippie’s perfume of choice, according to producer John Simon: “Janis coated her outside with patchouli and her inside with Southern Comfort.” That’s one way to put it.
Joplin is a key member of the infamous “27 Club,” a group of artists (mainly musicians) who tragically met their untimely demise at the age of 27. More recent members include Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain. On October 4th, 1970, Joplin died of a heroin overdose.
What’s even more chilling than being one of the tragic artists who didn’t live past 27, Joplin’s death came just weeks after Jimi Hendrix joined the 27 Club – also from a drug overdose. Less than a year after Joplin passed away, the lead singer of the Doors, Jim Morrison, was also found dead at age 27.
In the summer of 1969, Joplin performed at this little music festival you may have heard of, Woodstock. There was a documentary crew at the festival since someone assumed that it might become one of the defining events of the era of love.
But Joplin wasn’t happy with her Woodstock performance. Although audiences enjoyed it, the singer didn’t think it was good enough to be preserved for future generations, so she refused to let them put her performance in the documentary. But she still got to sing at the now-iconic festival.
It may appear as though Joplin’s raw vocal outbursts were improvised, but that’s not the case. They were actually planned. Looking back at a recording session with the singer, Simon said, “She practiced. I remember her trying out different screams on us.”
Janis Joplin only performed as a solo artist once, in a show at Royal Albert Hall in the U.K. The Telegraph described her performance writing, “Here, in fact, was the comfortingly embodied voice of love, pain, yearning, freedom and ecstatic experience, a fire that speaks from the heart of warm, rounded flesh.”
John Simon thought a big part of Joplin’s popularity was that she wasn’t particularly pretty. During the up-and-coming women’s movement, she represented every woman who didn’t look like a supermodel. He explained, “I’ve always thought that Janis was a symbol of liberation for every “plain girl” who had about given up trying to look like those gussied up, coiffured young singers of the time.”
He went on, “For those young women, her sudden, enormous, universal popularity seemed like a violent eruption blasting out from their cosmetic frustration: ‘Yay! Now we’ve got a champion!’” Historian Tom McAffery thinks he might be on to something. He wondered if Joplin’s enormous talent would have been recognized in a world where glamour is required in the music industry.
Janis Joplin didn’t want or expect a fussy funeral after she died. In fact, she left money in her will for a party. That’s right, a celebration. Reportedly, the partygoers got as drunk as possible, which was perhaps the best way to honor Janis Joplin, as long as they were drinking Southern Comfort, of course.
Although Joplin wanted her friends to throw a party for her death, her funeral service was actually much more understated. Only three people attended: her parents and her aunt. And, then, they scattered her ashes into the Pacific Ocean along Stinson Beach.
Chet Helms, one of Joplin’s longtime friends, got her an audition with Big Brother and the Holding Company, the band that ended up launching her into stardom! The band’s first album, Cheap Thrills, contained classic Joplin jams like Piece of My Heart and Summertime.
There is a rumor that she slept with former talk show host Dick Cavett. While he never confirmed the speculation, when he was asked if they were ever intimate, he replied, “I would hope so!” So, you can make your own conclusions about what you think that means.
Janis Joplin’s ex-boyfriend, David Niehaus, sent her a telegram that said: “Love you, Mama, more than you know.” Sadly, it never reached the singer. She died before she was able to read it. Niehaus and Joplin met on a trip to Brazil, and he even helped her get clean from drugs at the time.
Unfortunately, Joplin fell right back into her bad habits and started using again when she returned to San Francisco. Her drug use ultimately ended the relationship. He clearly still had feelings for her, and maybe they could have reconciled. I guess we’ll never know.
Before her tragic death in October 1970, Janis Joplin finished her album Pearl. However, the album didn’t come out after she died. She would never get to see it become her best-selling album with her first number one song, Me and Bobby McGee.
It’s no secret that Joplin was feeling the pressure to succeed in the male-dominated industry of rock & roll. She was one of the very few women rockers, and part of her tragedy is that she was never able to see how impactful and significant she became. Joplin was also an inspiration for various female artists, including Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame, Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, and pop star Pink.
While there have been plenty of biopic rumors about Joplin, none of them has made it into production. Over the years, plenty of actresses have wanted to play the role of Janis Joplin, including Amy Adams, Courtney Love, Zooey Deschanel, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Theodore, Renee Zellweger, Lili Taylor, Britney Murphy, and Melissa Etheridge.
In 2017, Michelle Williams was apparently going to play Joplin in a biopic; however, there is no confirmation. But with many film projects like this being made in recent years, hopefully we can see a Joplin biopic hit the big screen soon.
Joplin loved her parents and family more than anything. She always wrote to them when she lived in San Francisco, and they were always loving and supportive. Well, obviously, they didn’t support her drug use, but they believed in their daughter’s talent and wanted to watch her succeed.
Unfortunately, Janis felt like she was the family disappointment. In one of those letters, Joplin confessed, “Weak as it is, I apologize for being just so plain bad in the family.” If only she had realized how loved she was and that all her family wanted was for her to get clean and lead a happy life.
Janis Joplin’s circle included other rock stars – some of whom also died young, like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. Reportedly, Morrison was captivated by the singer and wanted to go on a date with her, but Joplin wasn’t interested.
However, Morrison thought he could change her answer. He kept bothering her until she broke a bottle of Southern Comfort over his head, knocking Morrison out. Despite all that, Morrison’s opinion of Joplin never changed. Even after her violent outburst, Morrison said of the singer, “What a great woman! She’s terrific!”
One of Joplin’s one-night stands was with folk singer Leonard Cohen. He actually wrote the song Chelsea Hotel #2 about her. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Cohen said, “She wasn’t looking for me, she was looking for Kris Kristofferson; I wasn’t looking for her, I was looking for Brigitte Bardot. But we fell into each other’s arms through some process of elimination.”
Apparently, felt like it wasn’t very gentlemen-like to kiss and tell and would apologize to Joplin if he had the chance.
In that same Rolling Stone interview, Cohen explained: “I don’t know when it started, but I connected her name with the song, and I’ve been feeling very bad about that ever since. It’s an indiscretion for which I’m very sorry, and if there is some way of apologizing to the ghost, I want to apologize now for having committed that indiscretion.”
Even though he apologized to Joplin’s ghost, he doesn’t think it would have bothered Joplin to be connected to the song. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that he feels bad about it.
According to the singer’s biography, Piece of My Heart: A Portrait of Janis Joplin, the rock star carried a bunch of stuff in her purse. Author David Dalton traveled with Janis for months and explained, “Janis has a bag lady’s compulsion to carry her whole life with her.”
Apparently, during one of their limo rides together, Joplin dumped everything in her purse onto the floor. I bet you’re wondering what the legendary musician had in there. A wallet? Lip gloss? Maybe a journal to jot down lyrics? Not exactly…
Dalton said her purse contained: “Two movie stubs, a pack of cigarettes, an antique cigarette holder, several motel and hotel room keys, a box of Kleenex, a compact and various makeup cases (in addition to a bunch of eyebrow pencils held together by a rubber band), an address book, dozens of bits of paper, business cards, matchbox covers with phone numbers written in near-legible barroom scrawls…
Guitar pics, a bottle of Southern Comfort, cassettes of Johnny Cash and Otis Redding, gum, sunglasses, credit cards, aspirin, assorted pens and writing pad, a corkscrew, an alarm clock, a copy of Time, and two hefty books – Nancy Milford’s biography of Zelda Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel.” Wow, that’s a lot for one person to carry.
It’s no secret that by the mid- ‘60s, Joplin was frequently using amphetamines as well as other drugs. We mentioned how at a certain point, her San Francisco friends got extremely concerned and helped her get home to Texas.
At first, Joplin really tried to get her life on track and stayed sober for a little while. She took a break from the music scene to lead a more conservative life. She even dressed more conservatively and kept her hair in a bun. But, as we know, this lifestyle change was short-lived.
The temptation of the music scene was too much for Joplin to resist. By 1966, she was back in San Francisco and had joined the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. This was around the time she was supposed to get married. Supposedly, she called off the wedding to join the band.
The band performed at the 1967 Monterey Pop festival, and the crowd loved them. They did an incredible job and earned stellar reviews. Their album Cheap Thrills was released in 1968 and was a huge success!
As the band’s frontwoman, Joplin had an exceptionally powerful voice. However, it was her drug and alcohol-fueled performances that got the most attention. I mean, she would literally drink booze straight from the bottle on stage, and her behavior eventually caused tension between Joplin and her bandmates.
But Janis felt like the band was actually holding her back professionally; so, she made the decision to leave the group and go solo. Her last show with Big Brother and the Holding Company was in December 1968. She was right and turned out to find even more success on her own.
Joplin comes across as a heavy-drinking, outspoken rock star rebel, but she also had a softer side to her. Like many artists, her creativity went way beyond music. Despite her tough exterior, Janis loved to paint, read, and write poetry. When she was featured on The Dick Cavett Show with Raquel Welch, she suggested that the actress read F. Scott Fitzgerald.
But she really had a knack for art, especially when she was getting bullied as a kid and used painting as a source of escapism. In fact, in 1991, an oil painting by 13-year-old Joplin was found in a cabinet at her old church and was donated to the Museum of the Gulf Coast.
Joplin was asked by photographer Bob Seidmann if she would pose topless for him to make a show of the true idealism of the hippie culture. The singer said she would prefer to pose completely naked. But the photo wasn’t published until 1972, two years after her death.
Joplin wasn’t shy about showing off her body to audiences either. According to a concert promoter at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena, the singer was late to the show because she was busy in her dressing room having sex. Under the stage lights, it was obvious that she wasn’t wearing any underwear.
On May 26, 1969, Joplin appeared on the cover of Newsweek with the headline “Rebirth of the Blues.” She was initially set to be the April cover girl, but her issue got bumped when former president Dwight Eisenhower passed away.
During and after her life, Joplin appeared on various other covers such as Rolling Stone Jukebox and Mojo. It only proves that you should be yourself. In no way, shape, or form did Joplin fit the mold of what a singer should be. She didn’t need glitz or glamour to be recognized for her amazing voice.
There is no biopic on Joplin’s life in the works right now, but the 1979 film, The Rose, starring Bette Midler, was loosely based on her life. It was originally called “Pearl,” after the singer’s nickname and the title of her last album.
The movie was fictionalized since her family wouldn’t give producers the right to her story. Movies that feature Joplin include Janis, Festival, and Petulia. In 2017, Amy Adams was rumored to play her in a biopic, but the project was ultimately shelved. All we can do is wait.
Joplin met with her attorney, Robert Gordon, in October 1970 to sign her will. Interestingly, Gordon told Rollin Stone that the singer seemed “happy” about her potential marriage to Seth Morgan, her music, and the album she was recording. Three days later, she was dead.
Her sister Laura wrote Janis’s biography, Love Janis, which was published in 1992. When Joplin was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Laura and her brother Michael went to the ceremony. “One of our goals is trying to keep Janis in the forefront,” Michael said. “Everything just seems to be aligning by accident more than by design, which is a fabulous thing.”