Life is tough, but Joni Mitchell is tougher. Joni has been through heartbreaks, tragedies, and feuds that would’ve broken anyone else. Instead, they drove and inspired her to create music that stands the test of time.
In 1954, Roberta Joan “Joni” Anderson woke up one day unable to get out of bed. Polio had come for her—and the consequences were devastating. The young teen was shipped from her Alberta town to a city clinic. There, she not only witnessed suffering, but faced her own mortality…all at the ripe age of nine.
Joni’s limbs remained uncooperative, so her prognosis remained grim. Yet the young girl fought back. Hard.
Over those weeks, she rose from the ashes of her old self. Her parents didn’t visit, but Joni made the best of a bad family. She sang for the other patients and fell in love with performing. At the same time, Joni battled polio “like crazy and amazed them by standing up and walking”.
Her victory sparked a lifetime of defiance—though she doesn’t always direct this energy to the right places.
Joni Mitchell is many things…and too cool for school was one. Joni already knew she was destined for bigger things. So instead of hitting her books, she ended up with a sketchy crowd—and paid the price for it. Joni barely passed high school and barely got into an art school.
Spoiler: she dropped out a year later. The education Joni received in Calgary was a different kind, if you catch my drift.
Joni was the only virgin at her school, and wanted to know what the fuss was all about. Brad MacMath was tall, blonde, dreamy, and easy. They were a match made in convenience. Neither were looking for love. Both found something else entirely.
Enter: the dreaded P word. This time, it wasn’t polio. It was pregnancy. Joni just couldn’t catch a break.
At just 20 years old, Joni moved to Toronto to pursue music—at least that’s what she told people. As it turns out, she omitted some details. She did hustle and struggle as a singer. But Joni also left—with her fling-turned-baby daddy—to hide the out of wedlock pregnancy from their traditional parents.
Sadly, the big city had big heartbreaks in store.
Some find the strength and courage to step up under pressure…but Brad wasn’t one of those people. His reaction was chilling. He fled the country. Joni couldn’t even provide for herself, much less a baby. The more her belly grew, the more terrifying the future looked.
She tried to imagine it, and saw nothing but suffering. Joni knew what she had to do—but this decision still haunts her.
After giving birth to daughter Kelly Dale Anderson, Joni gave her to foster care. Joni’s firsthand experiences with abandonment—the distant parents and that polio ward—exacerbated her agony. But Joni clung onto hope that she’d improve her circumstances and come back.
A few weeks later, Joni found the solution—or so she thought.
Chuck Mitchell was a tall, handsome, older American folk singer—but most importantly, he was Joni’s best chance at getting her daughter back. The plan was to move to Detroit and perform as a duo. Once Joni and Chuck earned enough, they planned to return for Kelly.
Then, they could live happily ever after. But we all know what they say about best laid plans…
Shortly after, Joni and Chuck married—but their differences soon became apparent. Joni was young, creative, vibrant, and wildly talented. Meanwhile, Chuck was older, college-educated, and traditional. At the time, it didn’t matter. After all, Joni saw this as nothing more than a means to an end. But this union, like her first relationship of convenience, was doomed.
Chuck Mitchell was many things, but a good husband wasn’t one of them. She recalled proudly sharing her new song “Both Sides, Now” with him. His response heartbreaking. He made her feel like an idiot—and according to Rolling Stone, it’s one of the best songs ever!
This was his coping mechanism: Joni was more talented and everyone knew it. She might’ve tolerated these digs, but other problems were piling up.
Joni Mitchell dreamed of the day that she could get her baby girl back—only for it all to fall apart. She and Chuck finally returned to Kelly’s foster home. They held her. They marveled at the mother-daughter resemblance. But then Joni made a devastating decision: She finally signed the papers to surrender Kelly to her foster parents. For good.
All Joni left behind was a file with a hint “Mother left Canada for the US to pursue career as folksinger”. Now, Joni could focus on her music—and failing marriage.
Well, she tried to. But Kelly haunted Joni. Music turned out to be a conduit, not an escape. All her experiences—good and bad—found their way into the lyrics. While Joni still technically kept Kelly a secret, her music was an open book.
She pumped out song after song about her daughter, yet no one picked up on these not-so-subtle hints. Joni’s secret was safe. For now.
Two years later, Joni finally saw the light. Specifically, Joni finally saw Chuck as her “first major exploiter”. So she ditched the man, but kept the last name. Joni Mitchell was no longer a wife or half of a duo. She was a solo woman and a solo artist. Her talents only shined brighter. The world became hers for the taking—and boy did she go after it.
By the end of the 1960s, times were changing and Joni loved every second of it. That’s when she had an epiphany. Joni realized “with absolute exhilaration and a little fear—that my life was not going to play out on the same traditional feminine timeline as my mother and grandmothers”.
Her rebellions included new music, new gender roles, and new lovers.
Leonard Cohen’s mother telling Joni “be prepared to bleed” is the reddest of flags. But Joni couldn’t ignore how sparks flew when she met the older singer-songwriter in 1967. This relationship lasted only a few months, but their musical influence on each other lives on.
Joni and Leonard got a happily ever after—but as friends. Sadly, we can’t say the same about Joni’s rebound.
Whoever said that distance makes the heart grow fonder clearly didn’t see Joni Mitchell and David Crosby together. They began their relationship in the summer and in Florida. But apparently what goes in Florida, stays in Florida.
When David visited Joni in New York City, he became “unattractive in every way”. David then did the unforgivable.
As their careers increased, their time spent together decreased—but that doesn’t excuse David’s cruel betrayal. He began seeing other women behind Joni’s back. Even worse, he went back to an ex-girlfriend. When Joni discovered his affairs, she could’ve impulsively lashed out.
Instead, she plotted. Because Joni didn’t just get mad. She got even.
Joni Mitchell had revenge on her mind when she attended a party with David. The guests gathered as she played her new song “The Song About The Midway”. Everyone was so excited…until they realized it was a break up song dedicated to David.
Just in case it wasn’t clear that she was dumping his cheating behind, Joni sang it again. But she didn’t get the reaction she wanted.
Joni didn’t expect it, but David found her stunt “hysterically funny”. On top of that, he wasn’t angry about that embarrassing moment. After all, a little awkwardness pales in comparison to his cheating.
David even admitted that Joni is not only a legend, but a far superior musician than him. Joni’s proven him right. Over and over again.
In 1968, Joni Mitchell released her self-titled debut album, which started a groundbreaking career. Since then, she’s released a whopping 19 albums, sold nearly 10 million copies, and won 11 Grammys. On top of that, Joni’s a critic darling: no list of best artists, best songs, and best albums is complete with her. And she has a secret weapon.
Joni writes her music with not only a pen, but a vulnerability and openness—and some think she goes too far. Country music legend Kris Kristofferson even told her “Oh, Joni. Save something for yourself”.
But fans found comfort in how Joni shares her experiences, especially the sad ones. And there were plenty heading her way.
When Joni sang to Graham Nash in 1969, it was music at first sight. He was a handsome singer-songwriter, but most importantly, he was nice and adored her. Joni suspected that he could be The One. So when he got down on one knee, she accepted. A happily ever after loomed on the horizon.
Well, it did…until Joni started getting cold feet. Turns out, her past was inescapable.
Joni Mitchell has a family curse. Or at least, she claims to feel like it. She’s the victim of her mother’s unhappiness with marriage and motherhood. She knew this because her mother told her. Joni went back another generation and found the same.
Both of her grandmas sacrificed their artistic passions for marriage and motherhood. Joni feared she’ll end up like them: trapped and miserable.
Couples arguing is unsurprising, but the way Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash went about it was shocking. During one argument, Joni dumped a bowl of cornflakes and milk over his head. In front of a maid. Graham confessed: “I put Joni over my knee, and I spanked her. With all due respect, she took it very well”.
No wonder she got rid of him in classic Joni fashion.
Joni’s great at many things, but one underrated thing is dumping people in brutal ways. If texting was around in 1970, Joni probably would’ve dumped Graham by text. Instead, she sent him a telegram “if you hold sand too tightly in your hand, it will run through your fingers. Love, Joan".
But despite this, Joni was not over Graham, which became clear the next time they crossed paths.
Joni Mitchell tries to stay friends with exes (most of them anyways)—but once, this blew up in her face. When an ex invited her on a group boat trip to Panama, she accepted. After all, sailing with friends to beautiful places is the perfect way to get over a failed engagement.
However, when she turned up, she realized too late that Graham was joining them. Oh boy.
Joni Mitchell was expecting a relaxing trip. Instead, she got choppy waters, illnesses, inexperienced sailors, sketchy safety precautions, and screaming matches. Oh, did I mention the ex-fiancé she was still hung up on?
In other words, life handed her boatloads of songwriting material. In true Joni fashion, she worked her magic and transformed her pain.
Joni’s 1971 album Blue isn’t just about the many heartbreaks of her life, including Kelly and Graham. And it isn’t just considered her best album. It’s considered one of the best albums of all time. Other artists would’ve found creating Blue cathartic, but it only worsened Joni’s blues.
That explains what—or rather, who—she did next.
1973 was the year of back-to-back breakups. It started with James Taylor: a famous singer-songwriter, bad boy, and “just a mess”. Substance issues brought him to a dark place—and the consequences were disastrous. He dragged Joni with him.
So, she tried to find comfort in Jackson Browne. But he’s another singer-songwriter who turned out to be a “leering narcissist”. His greatest offense? Breaking up with Joni, which led to wild rumors.
After Jackson Browne dumped Joni Mitchell, the rumor mill whispered that she was becoming self-destructive. Joni never forgot one particular line that claimed she tried to end her life and self-harmed. She responded: “A cutter! A self-mutilator. I thought, Where do they get this garbage from? I’m not that crazy. I’m crazy, but not that kind of crazy”.
Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson have a lot in common. For instance, they’re both actors and Hollywood heartthrobs. Oh, and they wanted Joni. But their approaches couldn’t have been more different. When Joni rejected Jack, he remained her friend and a fan.
Sadly, it turns out that Warren’s depraved reputation is well-earned.
In the 1970s, Warren Beatty dominated not just Hollywood, but its countless women too. Joni’s rejection made no sense to him. So Warren believed that it was only a matter of time until she succumbed to his seduction.
It turns out, Joni wasn’t playing hard to get; she just tried to avoid messy relationships. Naturally, another one soon found her.
Enter, John Guerin. He was a handsome drummer who found the way to Joni’s heart: through music. Soon enough, their professional and personal lives merged into one dangerous union. The couple collaborated musically, and even went on tour together.
But there’s a reason why people say don’t mix business and pleasure—and they were about to find why.
Welcome to the beginning of the end. John had big feelings about Joni hanging out with her exes…particularly, jealousy and suspicion. One night, as Joni chatted with an ex (and another friend, by the way), John barged in. In his fury, he didn’t notice the third person.
In John’s eyes, he just caught Joni in the act. He wanted revenge.
There’s no fury like a scorned ladies’ man. John found a new lady and paraded her in front of Joni—but that wasn’t the worst part. While all this was happening, they were still touring together. Joni couldn’t get away from them.
This led to a meltdown, a canceled tour, and a much needed break. Naturally, Joni made sense of her pain by transforming it into melodies.
In 1977, a new decade approached, but Joni Mitchell battled the same dysfunctional relationships. Joni’s relationships were often psychologically harmful, but percussionist Charles “Don” Alias crossed another line. Joni shared that the drummer—fueled by anger, paranoia, and jealousy—”beat me up pretty badly”.
She called it quits after four years and three beatings. This put her on a collision course with her future husband.
1982 was Joni’s year: she made bold moves with her music and love life. And at the same time! Larry Klein was a bassist 13 years her junior. They ended up not only working together on her music, but they married that same year.
Afterward, the newlyweds rode off into sunset together—just kidding. It was a disaster, and Joni paid the price.
The P word came back to haunt Joni 42 years into her life and 3 years into her marriage. Pregnancy at this age was already risky—but Joni only made things worse for herself. She refused to quit her four-pack-a-day habit, drinking, or anything that would’ve helped.
Sadly, she suffered a physically and mentally painful miscarriage—and Larry was utterly clueless.
Pro-tip: When your wife is hemorrhaging, don’t go about your life as if everything is normal. At least try to comfort her. Also, don’t look into flying abroad for a recording session. And when your wife says “You can go”... don’t actually go. Larry did not get this memo.
You read that right: he basically ignored and abandoned Joni when she needed him the most. It was something that she could not forgive or forget.
It was Thanksgiving 1992, and Joni and Larry didn’t have much to be thankful for. The miscarriage, work arguments, financial stress, and work disappointment finally pushed their marriage to its breaking point. Larry issued an ultimatum: they both needed to change.
Jodi responded: “I’m not going to be changing much at this point”. And just like that, it was over.
In 1995, one of Joni’s oldest secrets came back to haunt her. That year, a “friend” from art school sold a story about her to a tabloid—or, more accurately, a story about the daughter that Joni had given away. Joni clung onto this secret for decades, but when newspapers blared it to the world, she told the truth.
As violating as this betrayal is, there was a silver lining. Joni could now publicly search for her daughter. The hunt was on.
This time, fate was on her side. Her daughter, who goes by Kilauren Gibb, went looking for her birth parents around the same time. In 1997, mother and daughter finally reunited. It was as moving as you’d imagine.
Joni even declared that her life was complete—no more songwriting needed. But it didn’t last. It was a happy reunion, but not a happy ever after.
Kilauren, like her mama, has baggage. A lot of it. It includes dropping out of school, financial struggles, mommy issues, daddy issues, and baby daddy drama. Does anyone else have deja vu? Kilauren and Joni also look alike, but that doesn’t smooth over their many differences.
This led to fight after fight. And one day, Joni went too far.
Joni and Kilauren always managed to patch things up after a fight—but not this time. In 2000, one argument went off the rails. We know this because Kilauren reported to the police that Joni slapped her. The house of cards that was this mother-daughter relationship collapsed.
They didn’t speak for years. Once again, Joni lost her daughter—maybe for good.
Blood really is thicker than water. Since the estrangement in 2000, Joni and Killauren started to work on their relationship. The singer has her fair share of complicated relationships, and this one with Killauren may be her messiest—but most important—one.
Unfortunately, this bond isn’t the only thing in need of healing in Joni’s life.
Health scares define Joni’s life as much as music. These issues include polio, that four-pack-a-day habit, heavy substance use, a rare skin disease, and simply just time. Touring? Out of question. And in 2007, Joni released her last album and called it a day.
Tragically, Joni didn’t enjoy her retirement for long. Her life is many things, but never kind.
In March 2015, someone stopped by Joni’s house and made a horrifying discovery. She was unconscious on the floor. They rushed her to the emergency room, where tests and surgeries revealed it’s even worse than imagined: a brain aneurysm that went untreated for three days.
At 71 years old, Joni once again faced paralysis.
When Joni Mitchell disappeared from the public eye, fans assumed the worst. But once again, she proved that she’s a fighter through and through. In 2022, Joni made the statement of her life and rewrote her legacy. At 79, she made a surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival.
Then, she brought the crowd to tears with a set list of her greatest hits. That’s classic Joni: singer, songwriter, and pure magic.
What’s Joni Mitchell up to today? For starters, she’s working on an anticipated movie about her life. Joni’s also reflecting on her life: heartbreaks, triumphs, tragedies, and everything in between.
And even more impressive is that she’s made peace with all of it: “I would not change anything. I have no doubt that it unfolded as it was supposed to”.
Countless artists cite Joni Mitchell as a defining influence in their work. This list is as long as it is prestigious. It includes familiar names like Prince, Björk, Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan, Annie Lennox, Jewel, and Neil Diamond. The magic of Joni transcends genre, gender, and age. That list, like her life, is still being written.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your time!
Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at email@example.com. Thanks for your help!
The Factinate team
If you like humaverse you may also consider subscribing to these newsletters: