The Tortured, Painful Life of Janis Joplin, The Baddest Woman In Rock History

Long before Amy Winehouse mesmerized people with her voice, abused alcohol and drugs, and died at a very young age, there was Janis Joplin, to whom Winehouse was often compared. While Joplin only put out three albums during her life (and a few posthumously) and only one Top 40 hit, she still became one of the biggest American music stars of the 1960s, and her music continues to influence musicians today. 

Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company first made a name for themselves at the 1967 Monterey Music Festival where she emerged a bright and talented star. Unfortunately, the lifestyle of a hard-partying rock star in the ’60s soon took its toll. Her love of Southern Comfort became as well known as her voice, just like other hard partying bands like Led Zeppelin or eccentric personalities like Ozzy Osbourne. The Janis Joplin death story was a sad end to her tragic life, but underneath her music star persona was a sensitive soul who had been damaged by bullying, hurt by lovers, and wanted to be loved simply because she couldn’t do it herself.

Being Voted ‘Ugliest Man On Campus’ At The University Of Texas Left Her With Emotional Scars For The Rest Of Her Life

Janis Joplin was not considered by many to be conventionally pretty and her self-esteem was affected by this for her entire life. Growing up, she was slightly overweight and had problems with acne that left her with low feelings about herself. Joplin was bullied as a child for her looks and being different, and this abuse continued all the way up to her one year of college at the University of Texas in Austin. A fraternity voted her “Ugliest Man on Campus” which rightfully hurt her deeply and she never forgot it. Joplin dropped out of college and left Texas for San Francisco to escape the “angry men who liked to pick on her.”

She Loved Southern Comfort So Much, The Company Gave Her A Fur Coat In Return For The Publicity

Joplin’s fashion sense, along with her voice, was uniquely her own and was often loud and mismatched. Someone at the University of Texas once said, “She goes barefooted 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.” One accessory she never was without though, was a bottle of the sweet, whiskey-flavored liqueur Southern Comfort. It came in handy to fight off the lead singer of The Doors, and it even earned her a free coat. The Southern Comfort company was allegedly so pleased with all the free product placement, they gifted Joplin a lynx fur coat. It went pretty well with her psychedelic custom-painted Porsche, and all the booze, of course.

She Changed Her Will Two Days Before Her Death, Setting Aside $2,500 So Her Friends Could Party

Perhaps in some morose premonition, Joplin changed her will just two days before she died and made a few requests to take care of her friends and family. She gave her estate mostly to her parents, with some additional wealth going to her siblings. She also asked for $2,500 to be set aside and used for her friends to throw a party. The request allowed 200 people to hold an all-night gathering at the Lion’s Share, her favorite San Anselmo bar, “so my friends can get blasted after I’m gone.” Hash brownies were (supposedly unknowingly) shared in her honor as her friends and family mourned. Joplin was cremated and her ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean as well as along Stinson Beach in northern California.

Jim Morrison Was Fascinated By Her But She Was So Disinterested, She Broke A Bottle Over His Head

As two of the biggest music stars of the 1960s, it was inevitable that Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison would get together. Producer Paul Rothchild invited them both to a party and since they both liked to drink and have sex, they hit it off when they were sober. But while Joplin was a pleasant drunk, the obnoxious and often violent behavior Morrison exhibited when he was drinking came out. Joplin was so turned off, she left. After being rejected, Morrison became even more interested and followed her until Joplin hit him over the head with a bottle of Southern Comfort and knocked him out. Despite her disinterest, Morrison was still determined to win her over, asking Rothchild for her phone number and saying, “What a great woman! She’s terrific!” Joplin still said no.

Despite Her Self-Esteem Issues, Joplin Loved Ditching Clothes In Photos And Performing Without Underwear

Photographer Bob Seidemann wanted to use a picture of Joplin to make a statement about the idealism of hippie culture and asked her if she’d pose topless. Joplin decided she’d rather pose completely naked, despite Seidemann telling her she didn’t have to. “That’s the way she was. She wanted to take her clothes off real bad,” he remembers. The photo was published in 1972, a few years after her death. Joplin also had no problem taking her clothes off in front of crowds of people. A concert promoter at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena who was already leery of what kind of show she’d put on, remembers her being late to the stage since she was having sex in her dressing room. When she finally emerged, he was horrified by her outfit. “When I got there, Janis was finally walking up to the stage. She wore a sheer netted skirt with no underwear. When the spotlight hit her, you could see everything,” he noted.

Joplin Was Arrested After A Concert For Swearing On Stage

In March of 1969, Jim Morrison was arrested during a concert in Miami for allegedly exposing himself on stage. Following this historic incident, the conservative people of Florida were understandably worried when Janis Joplin came to Tampa the following November. As she was performing for a rowdy crowd at Curtis Hixon Hall, the lights in the auditorium were turned on and the show stopped in order to get the audience to calm down. A few police officers climbed on stage and asked Joplin to help them quiet the crowd. She refused and instead screamed obscenities at the cops. Eventually, the crowd quieted enough that the show could go on and Joplin was allowed to finish, unlike Morrison who was arrested in the middle of the show. Joplin was arrested in her dressing room and spent the night in jail, but the charges were eventually dropped when a judge felt she was simply exercising her freedom of speech.

Joplin Was Stood Up For A Three-Way The Night She Died

There are many stories about Janis Joplin’s experiences with men and how often she was hurt by them, but Joplin was also bisexual and had troubled relationships with women as well. She had an on-again/off-again relationship with Peggy Caserta that, when added up, lasted longer than the combined relationships Joplin had with men. Considering she grew up during the 1950s when any type of non-heterosexuality was considered evil, Joplin’s sexual preferences probably caused her lots of anguish as well. At the time of her death, she was engaged to Berkeley student Seth Morgan, apparently having finally met the right man. The night she died, a three-way was scheduled between Joplin, Morgan, and Caserta, but both of them failed to show. It was quite possibly Joplin’s final heartbreak.

She Always Had Billie Holiday’s Autobiography With Her And Bought A Gravestone For Bessie Smith

Although she spent a number of years playing folk music, the blues was Joplin’s passion. “I want to be the first black-white person,” she once said. Billie Holiday, one of the most beloved voices of the blues genre, was considered a hero of Joplin’s. Joplin cherished Holiday’s autobiography Lady Sings The Blues, her entire life, almost like a bible. Also interesting to note is Holiday also had many relationship problems with men, struggled with drug use, and died from a heroin overdose.

Joplin had a devotion to Bessie Smith that was even bigger than her love for Holiday. She claimed Smith was her biggest influence and inspiration to begin singing and felt such a connection to Smith that she even believed she might be her reincarnation. Smith died in a car accident at age 43 and was buried in an unmarked grave because her family refused to pay for a grave marker. Joplin was angered when she discovered this years after the fact and paid for a tombstone along with the daughter of one of Smith’s employees. They wrote this epitaph for Smith’s headstone: “The Greatest Blues Singer in the World Will Never Stop Singing.”

Leonard Cohen Wrote ‘Chelsea Hotel No. 2’ About Joplin, Chronicling A Fling They Had After Meeting In An Elevator

Perhaps as a result of her struggle with self-acceptance, Joplin wasn’t all that picky about who she slept with. She even admitted, “I live pretty loose. You know, balling with strangers and stuff.” Although she was very open about who she loved physically, she was constantly feeling that lovers let her down. Joplin ran into musician Leonard Cohen in the Chelsea Hotel elevator in 1968 and the two spent the night together. She added him to her list of heartbreaks saying,

“Really heavy, like slam-in-the-face it happened. Twice. Jim Morrison and Leonard Cohen. And it’s strange ’cause they were the only two that I can think of, like prominent people, that I tried to…without really liking them up front, just because I knew who they were and wanted to know them. And then they both gave me nothing.”

Cohen wrote about the encounter in his classic song “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” but didn’t admit it was about Joplin until many years after she had died. “She wasn’t looking for me, she was looking for Kris Kristofferson,” he recalled.

Joplin Was Ostracized In School For Her Belief In Desegregation

During the time Joplin grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, the town was racially segregated. She took after her parents who were more interested in art, culture, and intellectual pursuits than religious tent revivals or food festivals. These differences, in addition to Joplin’s strong belief in desegregation, set her apart from other students and they made fun of her for it. She would be called names when she walked to class and thanks to a particularly loud group of football players, Joplin skipped classes and only attended as many as she needed to successfully graduate. “They laughed me out of class, out of town, out of the state,” she said after moving to California. Her proud stances against segregation also came from a love of folk and blues music which she later adopted as her own.

Despite Her Rebellious Antics And Lifestyle, Joplin Received Good Grades And Was Close With Her Parents

Although Joplin is remembered for her rebelliousness and free living lifestyle, she had a softer, intellectual side as well. She loved to read, paint, write poetry, and did well in school. Her love of books continued throughout her life and when they both appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, Joplin even attempted to promote F. Scott Fitzgerald to Raquel Welch. Joplin’s relationship with her family after growing up with a business college registrar mother and oil engineer father displayed her softer side as well. She maintained correspondence with her parents throughout her life, writing them eloquent letters about what was going on both in reality and in her head. Despite her participation in 1960s counterculture, she looked for their approval, showing yet another vulnerable side that ended up causing her pain.

She Died Of A Heroin Overdose And Became A Member Of The 27 Club

When a doctor told her she wouldn’t live to 24 if she continued her lifestyle, she was proud when he turned out to be wrong. While many people around her were indulging in psychedelic drugs such as LSD, Joplin stuck to alcohol and also developed an addiction to heroin in the mid-1960s. Her drug usage and drinking steadily grew worse and by 1969, she was allegedly shooting up about $200 worth of heroin a day. Some of Joplin’s friends tried to intervene and she eventually managed to quit the habit, only to relapse later. On October 4, 1970, she was scheduled to record vocals for a track called “Buried Alive in the Blues” that was going to appear on her upcoming solo album, Pearl. Instead, she was found dead in her hotel room, killed by an apparent heroin overdose. Joplin’s death at the age of 27 made her a member of the “27 Club,” which contains other tortured artists who passed away at the same age, including Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix (who died only 16 days after Joplin), Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.