5th April 1969: Rock singer Janis Joplin (1943 - 1970). (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Janis Joplin is one of the music icons who never had it easy in life. She shined on stage and even with her short-lived career, her songs became classics. From her distinctive raspy voice to her soulful singing, she knew how to tug on everyone’s heartstrings. Her performances were raw, pure and highly emotional. It was as if she bared her soul to the audience.
She was gone too soon but she left a rich legacy in rock ‘n roll.
As a teen, she struggled with acne problems and her weight. This led to bullying in school and being called hurtful names like “freak” and “creep.” But even if her self-esteem was severely damaged, she was never hateful. She said they “laughed me out of class, out of town and out of the state.” When she attended college at the University of Texas in Austin, it was no different.
It went so far as being voted “Ugliest Man on Campus” by a fraternity.
In the mid 1960s, Janis was becoming a heavy drinker and while she was still an occasional heroin user, her drug habits started to worsen. She tried other drugs too and even injected methamphetamine into her system regularly.
In 1965, she went back to her parents and lived in their Port Arthur home. She stopped using drugs and alcohol. She was also engaged briefly. During this time, she went on regular sessions with Bernard Giarritano, a psychiatric social worker. After Janis’ death, Giarritano said that one of the things that bother Janis was how she can have a successful career in music without being tempted to go back to using drugs.
After joining San Francisco-based psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis tried to stay away from drugs but it was only a matter of weeks before she relapsed. In 1969, she was already using at least $200 worth of heroin per day. Even Kozmic Blues producer Gabriel Mekler was helping her stay away from drugs by letting her stay in his Los Angeles home.
Before her set at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, she shot up some heroin and drank way too much. She wasn’t at her best during her performance – she struggled to maintain her balance and her voice was already hoarse. Pete Townshend wrote in his memoir about that event:
“She had been amazing at Monterey, but tonight she wasn’t at her best, due, probably, to the long delay, and probably, too, to the amount of booze and heroin she’d consumed while she waited. But even Janis on an off-night was incredible.”
There were other performances too when she looked too stoned and out of control.
On October 4, 1970, Janis Joplin was found dead inside her hotel room in Hollywood because of heroin overdose. She was only 27 years old.
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