“She was the only goddess in a sea of rock gods,” singer Melissa Ethridge once said of Janis Joplin, and she wasn’t wrong. Known for her husky voice and electrifying stage presence, Joplin managed to become an icon in an all too brief life. For the little time she was here, Joplin forever changed the landscape of rock and roll and the 1960s. Here are 40 facts about this legendary rock goddess.
Joplin might be best remembered for her Height-Ashbury years out in California, but this legendary rocker was born in Port Arthur, Texas.
Joplin never graduated from college, but she did attend both Lamar State College of Technology and the University of Texas at Austin. While attending the University of Texas an article was written about her in the school paper titled, “She Dares to Be Different.” The article noted some of the things that Joplin apart from other classmates like, she walked around barefoot and carried an autoharp with her just in case she felt like singing.
During her time at the University of Texas, Joplin often performed with a group called, “The Walter Creek Boys.” Guess they had no problems letting a girl in if she had a voice like Joplin’s.
Even before she got famous Joplin was getting a reputation as a drug user. She was known in the San Francisco area for using speed, heroin, and drinking.
Joplin’s favorite brand of whiskey was Southern Comfort.
In 1965, Joplin’s health was rapidly deteriorating due to her drug use. She was severely underweight to the point that her friends thought she looked skeletal. They really thought it was best that she go home to recover and hopefully get clean. They even threw her a bus fare party so she could afford the trip back to Texas.
When Joplin first returned to Texas from San Francisco in 1965 she did actually get clean. She stopped using drugs and alcohol and enrolled in school again—this time studying Anthropology at Lamar University. Even though she’d given up drugs and alcohol for the time being, Joplin hadn’t given up singing. She’d still travel out to Austin, Texas to sing and play guitar.
Joplin was engaged once to a man she’d met in San Francisco—Peter de Blanc. He’d asked for her father’s permission to marry her, and Joplin and her mother had already started planning the wedding when he broke it off. Why? We don’t know, but maybe it’s for the best. Joplin expressed some disinterest later a few years later in just being a secretary or being a wife like all the other women she knew at the time.
Every decade since Joplin passed—up through the 1990s—her record sales went up, despite the fact that she was no longer alive to make more music.
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According to Peggy Caserta—a former girlfriend and best friend of Joplin—the legendary rocker was bisexual.
According to one interview on “The Dick Cavett Show,” Joplin was a big fan of Tina Turner! The two legendary icons even got to perform together once, in 1969, when Turner was performing at Madison Square Garden and Joplin joined her on stage.
Joplin was never shy about telling people that she was inspired by blues singer Bessie Smith. Smith had been laid to rest in an unmarked grave, and when Joplin found out about it, it simply would not stand. Joplin and Juanita Green—who worked for the Smith family—split the cost of a headstone for the singer. Joplin made sure everyone could pay respect to the Empress of Blues.
According to Joplin’s biography Piece of My Heart: A Portrait of Janis Joplin, Joplin carried around a lot of stuff in her purse. Author David Dalton, who traveled with Janis for several months, wrote. “Janis has a bag lady’s compulsion to carry her whole life with her.” Reportedly, Joplin once dumped the contents of her purse onto the floor of her limo while with Dalton.
Wonder what the legendary musician had in there? According to Dalton it was, “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 make up cases (in addition to a bunch of eyebrow pencils held together with a rubber band), an address book, dozens of bits of paper, business cards, match box covers with phone numbers written in near-legible barroom scrawls, guitar picks, a bottle of Southern Comfort (empty), a hip flask, an opened package of complementary macadamia nuts from American Airlines, 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.” That’s a lot to carry in one bag, it must have been a huge purse.
During Joplin’s heyday Southern Comfort became synonymous with the star who would sometimes take a fifth of the whiskey onto stage with her during performances. As a way of saying thanks for all the free advertising, Southern Comfort gave her a fur coat in return.
In 1969 while performing in Tampa to a restless crowd, the police asked Joplin if she would help them calm down the crowd. Joplin instead shouted at the police, cursing at them, and the crowd did actually calm down. The police decided they actually didn’t really like being yelled at and arrested Joplin after the show was done. She spent the night in jail, but all charges were dropped when a judge decided she was just practicing her freedom of speech.
Joplin’s Porsche 365 was sold for $1.76 million in 2015. That’s the most a Porsche 356 has ever sold for at an auction. Maybe it was the groovy paint job that covered the car, maybe it was the fact that it was owned by Joplin, the buyer didn’t say.
Joplin is a member of the infamous “27 Club” a group of artists—mostly musicians—who’ve died tragically at 27. The club includes more recent members like Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain. Joplin died of a heroin overdose October 4th, 1970. Even eerier than being one of the tragic artists who didn’t live past 27, was that Janis died only weeks after Jimi Hendrix died of a drug overdose—also at 27. Less than a year after Joplin’s death, Jim Morrison lead singer of the Doors was also found dead, at age 27.
In the summer of 1969 Joplin performed at this little music festival—Woodstock—maybe you’ve heard of it? There was a documentary crew at the festival, it seems someone figured that it might become one of the defining events of the era of love. Joplin didn’t feel her performance at Woodstock was good enough to be preserved for future generations, and refused to let her performance be part of the documentary.
Joplin only performed once as a solo artist in the UK, in a performance at Royal Albert Hall. The Telegraph had only this to say about her performance, “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.”
Joplin was a big fan of wearing patchouli oil. Well known as the hippie’s perfume of choice, producer John Simon once said, “Janis coated her outside with patchouli and her inside with Southern Comfort.”
While it might seem like Joplin’s raw vocal outbursts were improvised, they were actually planned! Simon once recalled a recording session saying, “She practiced. I remember her trying out different screams on us.”
John Simon figured part of Joplin’s popularity was that she wasn’t pretty. During the up-and-coming women’s movement, she was a champion for every woman who didn’t look a supermodel. He said, “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. For those young women, her sudden, enormous, universal popularity seemed to be like a violent eruption blasting out from their cosmetic frustration: ‘Yay! Now we’ve got a champion!’”
Maybe he’s onto something, historian Tom McAffery has wondered that since MTV and the requirement of glamour in music if Joplin’s enormous talent would have been recognized at all.
Joplin didn’t want a big fussy funeral after she died. In fact, she left money in her will for a party. According to party-goers, everyone got as drunk as possible, which might have been the best way to honor Joplin so long—as the drinks were Southern Comfort.
In 2013, Joplin was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Among her list of affairs is the rumor that she slept with talk show Dick Cavett. While he never confirmed anything, when he was asked if they were involved he replied, "I would hope so!" Guess you should make your own conclusions.
Joplin’s ex-boyfriend sent her a telegram that said, "Love you Mama, more than you know…" but it never reached Joplin. She died before being able to read it. The sender was David Niehaus, who met Joplin on a trip to Brazil. At the time he helped her get off drugs, but she started using again when she went back to San Francisco, ending their relationship. It seemed he still had feelings for Joplin, and sadly she’d never know.
The very last thing Joplin recorded was a birthday song for fellow rock legend John Lennon.
Joplin wanted her friends to throw a party for her wake, but her funeral service was much more understated. It was only attended by three people—her parents and her aunt, and then her ashes were scattered into the Pacific ocean along Stinson Beach.
Joplin had a couple tattoos—the woman’s liberation symbol on her wrist, and a heart on her left breast. Reportedly, of her tattoos, she said, "I wanted some decoration. See, the one on my wrist is for everybody; the one on my tit is for me and my friends."
Before she performed at Woodstock, or even in little bars in Austin, Joplin sang first in her church choir when she was just a little girl.
Joplin’s longtime friend Chet Helms got her an audition with Big Brother and the Holding Company, the band that helped launch Joplin into stardom. The band’s first album, Cheap Thrills included classic Joplin songs like “Piece of My Heart” and “Summertime.”
Joplin’s completed her album Pearl before her tragic death in October, 1970, but the album wasn’t released until after she died. She wouldn’t ever know that it would go on to be her best-selling album, and include her first number one song—“Me and Bobby McGee.” With all the pressure Joplin was feeling to succeed in an industry where she was one of few women rockers, surely part of her tragedy is that she never knew how impactful she would be.
Joplin was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, 25 years after her death.
Joplin has inspired several female artists after her, including Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame, and pop star Pink.
While several biopics for Joplin have been rumored, none have actually made it to production yet. Over the years many actresses have been ready to play Joplin including: Amy Adams, Courtney Love, Reese Witherspoon, Zooey Deschanel, Renee Zellweger, Laura Theodore, Lili Taylor, Brittany Murphy, and singer Melissa Etheridge. As of 2017, Michelle Williams is supposedly going to be playing the singer in a biopic. Maybe in this day and age with films like Straight Out of Compton, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Rocket Man doing so well Joplin’s biopic will finally make it to the big screen.
During her time at the University of Texas, some mean spirited boys started a campaign—and succeeded—to get Joplin named “Ugliest Man on Campus.”
Joplin wasn’t a very popular kid growing up, and was often picked on in her school. Her hair was too frizzy, she had bad acne that caused facial scarring, she was overweight, and unlike most of the kids in her 50s Texas school she got along with Black people. The students would 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.” It’s clear Joplin was more of a free thinker from the start!
Joplin loved her family and her parents a lot, she wrote them letters while she lived in San Francisco. Despite the fact that her parents were loving and supportive—though not of her drug use—Joplin felt like a family disappointment. In one of her letters she wrote, "Weak as it is, I apologise for being just so plain bad in the family."
Joplin hung around a lot of other rockers—some that even also tragically died young like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. Morrison was reportedly so enamored with Joplin he just had to get a date with her. Joplin, on the other hand, wasn’t interested, and Morrison was pretty sure he could turn that no into a yes with time. He kept bothering her and bothering her until Joplin took a bottle of her trademark Southern Comfort and broke it over his head, knocking Morrison out.
That never changed Morrison’s opinion of Joplin though, even after the incident he was quoted as saying, “What a great woman! She’s terrific!” Though maybe with the blow to the head he couldn’t remember what happened.
Joplin had a one night stand with folk singer Leonard Cohen, who penned the song “Chelsea Hotel #2” about her. He once told Rolling Stone about that night, saying, “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.” Now he feels a bit bad about connecting Joplin with the song, feeling like it was rather un-gentlemen-like to have kissed and told.
In that same interview, he told Rolling Stone, “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.” Though he apologizes to Joplin’s ghost, he also believes Joplin wouldn’t have minded being connected to the song.
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