Janis Joplin: Find out how the rock legend lived fast and died young in 1970

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

Miss Janis Joplin-laughing

Janis Joplin was the ‘superhypermost’ (1970)

Dead at 27 of a drug overdose, Janis Joplin once said, “Man, I’d rather have 10 years of superhypermost than live to be 70 sitting in some chair watching TV.”

By Robert Hilburn – Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, New York) October 6, 1970

They come out of nowhere, fight to the top, live hard and fast and die young, burnt out by their own lifestyles. Singer Janis Joplin followed the script.

Her death Sunday of a drug overdose, just 16 days after guitarist Jimi Hendrix died in his blonde girl friend’s London flat after taking nine sleeping pills, was part of a tradition that stretches back beyond rock music — back to jazz, back to the blues, the beginning of it all.

Janis Joplin Kozmic Blues

Police said Miss Joplin’s arms were punctured by numerous hypodermic needle marks. The marks on her left arm were fresh, they said, but no drugs were found in her room.

There were quantities of tequila, vodka and wine.

Police said Miss Joplin had been dead about two hours when she was found by John Cooke, a member of her singing group, “Janis Joplin Full Tilt.”

Her body was wedged between a bed and a nightstand.

“It didn’t look like foul play,” said an ambulance attendant who removed the nightgown-clad body. ‘It looked like she had just fallen over.”

The coroner also said there will be a psychological autopsy, in which a team of behavioral scientists examines the subject’s personal life to determine whether a drug overdose was accidental or intentional.

Miss Joplin’s press representative, Myra Friedman, said in a telephone interview from New York that the singing star was “very happy with her voice, very happy with her group.”

Miss Joplin had come to Los Angeles in August from her home in the San Francisco suburb of Larkspur to record with her group for Columbia Records.

When her doctor told her recently that she should slow down her pace, she replied, “Man, I’d rather have 10 years of superhypermost, than Hive to be sitting in some goddam chair watching TV. Right mw is where you are. How can you wait?”

Miss Joplin, like Hendrix, was 27.

“Well I get scared and worried,” she once said, “I tell myself, ‘Janis, just have a good time.’ So I juice up real good and that’s just what I have.”

Remembering Janis Joplin (2)

Performers such as these live life to the hilt, perhaps knowing that the unpredictable whim of rock music fans could send them tumbling from the highs of instant fame, prodigious adulation and the shower of gold their performances being.

Off stage and on, it’s like a game of erasing a dreary past and storing up glittering memories.

Often, their forebodings fulfilled, they come to early ends — Al Wilson, Brian Jones, Brian Epstein, Frankie Lyman, Otis Redding, Booker Ervin, John Coltrane…

Wilson, guitarist with the rock group Canned Heat, died in September, apparently from an overdose of sleeping pills.

Jones, guitarist with the Rolling Stones, drowned last year in the swimming pool of his home in England. A coroner said he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

Lyman, lead singer of once-popular ”Teenagers,” rock group died several years ago, a victim of drugs. Epstein, brilliant manager of the Beatles, died young. So did Redding, a blues singer who became more famous in his American homeland after death than in life.

Ervin and Coltrane, jazz saxophonists, died in their 30s, Ervin last month, Coltrane several years ago.

ALSO SEE: How famed rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix died – and lived (1970)

Further back in 1959, the great blues singer Billie Holiday, after a pain-wracked career, died in a New York City hospital while facing narcotics charges. Just before the end, a court order removed a police guard from her death bed.

Miss Joplin’s idol was Bessie Smith, “the Empress of Blues” who died in 1937 following an auto crash. She bled to death reportedly after being refused admission to a Mississippi hospital because she was black.

Just last Aug. 8, Miss Joplin helped buy a tombstone for Miss Smith, whose grave had gone unmarked for 33 years.

Before the rock music phenomenon, performers worked long hours for modest wages. Jazz and blues singers received limited recognition.

Rock was different. It skyrocketed over the music world, and high-powered record industry publicity machines catapulted performers into the limelight. Records sold by the millions and built fees for live concerts to $50,000 a night.

The high-pressure struggle to hold the top, produce hit after hit or plunge into oblivion weighs on rock performers.

Like the Bessie Smiths and Billie Holidays of the blues era, the Joplins and the Hendrixes of today are constant pilgrims. Life consists of a series of one-night stands, of plane and car rides to far-off places and multitudes of unseen faces.

Remembering Janis Joplin (1)

The greatest comfort is to meet a fellow performer on the circuit. The greatest joy is to perform.

Miss Joplin recalled her first appearance at the Avalon, a San Francisco ballroom:

“I couldn’t believe it, all that rhythm and power. I got stone just feeling it like it was the best dope in the world. It loud, crazy. I couldn’t stay was so sensual, so vibrant, still; I had never danced when I sang, but there I was moving and jumping. I couldn’t hear myself, So I sang louder and louder. By the end I was wild.”

Her two biggest hits, ”Piece of My Heart” and ‘Ball and Chain,’ came while she was with Big Brother and the Holding Company, a San Francisco Rock group. She formed her own group in 1968.

Rock had begun receiving wider recognition. Downbeat, a jazz magazine included a rock section for the first time. The Boston Pops performed Beatles tunes. The U. S. State Department sent the Blood, Sweat and Tears group on an Iron Curtain tour.

Miss Joplin wore the hippie garb, but she called herself a beatnik. Hippies, she said, believed the world could be a better place.

“Beatniks believe things aren’t going to get better and say hell with it, stay stone and have a good time,” Miss Joplin said.

Publicly she renounced drugs, often appearing on stage with a bottle of Southern Comfort, a cordial.

“The people who make Southern Comfort, they ought to send me free whisky,” she would say ”because I’m such a good advertisement for them.’ The company sent her a fur coat instead.

Miss Joplin’s singing style was a piercing wail, a cry that seemed to come from a lonely despairing soul. Her friends worried her vocal cords would wear out and urged her to ease off.

“Why should I hold back and sound mediocre just so I can sound mediocre 20 years from now?” she asked.


Rock star Janis Joplin found dead in Hollywood home

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania) October 6, 1970

Rock singer Janis Joplin was found dead in her Hollywood home on October 4. The coroner’s office said Monday that an autopsy showed that the rock superstar died from an overdose of drugs.

An autopsy on the body of the 27-year-old Miss Joplin, whose writing, wailing, and sometimes profane, performances electrified the music world, disclosed numerous needle marks on both arms, with several fresh ones on the left arm, the coroner said. He said further tests would be needed to identify the type of drugs involved.

Miss Joplin was found dead in her apartment Sunday night, clad in a nightgown. The coroner said there was no evidence of violence of foul play.

A team will conduct a psychological autopsy, in which a team of behavioral scientists examines the subject’s personal life to determine whether a drug overdose was accidental or intentional, will be conducted.

Found in her hotel apartment

Miss Joplin had come here from her San Francisco home to record for Columbia, which had sold millions of her singles, “Piece of My Heart,” “Maybe,” “One Good Man” and albums “Cheap Thrills,” “I Got Them Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again, Mama.”

Her body was found by her guitarist, John Cooke, who wondered why the singer had not emerged from her hotel apartment all day Sunday, and borrowed a key to enter. He summoned police.

Janis Joplin had been dead approximately 12 hours, police said. Bottles of tequila, vodka and wine were found in the apartment, but no drugs.

Miss Joplin followed in death another member of the rock pantheon, Jimi Hendrix, 27, who was found in a London apartment last month, having suffocated on vomit while unconscious.

Smiling Janis Joplin

“People seem to have a high sense of drama about me,” Janis Joplin once told an interviewer. “Maybe they can enjoy my music more if they think I’m destroying myself.

“I got into this because of something inside me. I’m not one of those people with a learned skill. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it for real. I cannot just go out on stage and fake it. I have got to let loose with what is inside.”

Her galvanic style brought her the title “the Judy Garland of rock.” She bore a resemblance to the previous star in her full-voiced style, her complete openness with an audience, and talk of self-destruction. Miss Garland died in a London apartment in 1969, apparently from a drug overdose.

MORE: Autographs from 11 lost music legends

The Janis Joplin story

Born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1943, Janis Joplin was a rebel at an early age. She left home at 17, drifted across the country, taking odd jobs and occasional college courses.

She came to admire beatniks because they “believe things are not going to get better and say the hell with it, stay stoned, and have a good time.”

Fame overtook her at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. She had been singing in small clubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles, developing a mournful blues style that harked back to her early idols, Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter and Bessie Smith.

At Monterey, she astounded the huge audience with her vibrant style and depth of feeling on “Love is Like a Ball and Chain.” Her success was made.

Once she analyzed her style:

“Black people have the blues because they cannot have this and they cannot have that. Me, I was brought up in a middle-class family; I could have had anything. But you need something more in your gut, man.”

Crowds, celebrity and constant travel

After Monterey came the trappings of super-crowds, constant travel, occasional brushes with the law over obscene language on stage. Janis Joplin was rich, but she still lived like a hippie in a cluttered San Francisco apartment.

Although she seemed totally fulfilled as an artist before the audience, she admitted that the rest of her life was wanting.

“The worst thing is the loneliness,” she told an interviewer last year. “Somehow you lost all the old friends. The travel circumstances pull them away.

“It is hard to make new ones. When we are not onstage, we rehearse, lay around in bed, check in and out of motels, watch television. It really is lonely.

“I live for that one hour on stage. It is full of feeling. It is more exciting than you would expect in a lifetime. It is a rush, honey.”

MORE: How singer Janis Joplin changed the blues (1968)

If you liked this, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest, plus see retro-inspired products in our shop. Thanks for visiting!

More stories you might like

Check out our books!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Because the fun never ends:

Join the fun

Don’t miss out on the latest and greatest vintage stuff!

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter here.