Powerhouse rock and blues singer, Janis Joplin, is infamously a member of the “27 Club,” the unofficial term for long list of stars who died tragically young at just 27. In Joplin’s case, she turned that age in January of 1970 and would not see another birthday. Her body was discovered in her Los Angeles apartment on the morning of October 4 later that year.
Because we have the advantage of hindsight, today Joplin could be seen somewhat as a predecessor to Amy Winehouse — both were gifted singers whose vocal prowess riveted audiences, but whose personal lives were a blur of partying, drugs, and alcohol. According to The New York Times, a 2019 biography on Joplin’s life said by the age of 22 she was addicted to meth, and her basic attitude was regarding drugs was open-minded and down for whatever.
To be fair, the ’60s were a time when drug use was pretty normalized among a certain set of the youth, so maybe her behavior wasn’t really that radical for the time. Still, Joplin’s autopsy report would reveal that it didn’t take long for her enthusiasm for drugs to be just the thing to cut the party short.
Joplin was ridiculed in her teen years and never forgot it
Janis Joplin’s transformed into the hard-living soulful blues-rock singer she is remembered as after getting out of the small Texas town of Port Arthur where she grew up and was regularly ridiculed by other teens, who called her names like “pig” and threw pennies at her, according to Texas Monthly. Joplin went to her ten-year high school reunion in 1970 just a couple of months before she died, telling a reporter that it was to “see all those kids who are still working in gas stations and driving dry cleaning trucks while I’m making $50,000 a night,” Texas Monthly reported. She said she went to the reunion “just to jam it up their asses.”
Joplin may have been rejected by the mainstream kids in her hometown, but she found a group of like-minded male friends while she still lived in Port Arthur, according to Biography, which would become somewhat of a precursor to the rest of her short life, when as a woman in rock ‘n’ roll, she navigated a world dominated by men and was often surrounded by them, partying and being sexually adventurous in ways that were atypical of most women at that time.
Joplin was a trailblazer for women in rock, but she never stopped needing acceptance
Berg said of Joplin, “She was breaking boundaries but she was doing it in a man’s world. As a blues singer in the rock world, she was given a huge forum to go on stage, wail, and share her innermost secrets with tens of thousands of people. But she was left constantly needing more attention and adoration.”
She got some attention at her high school reunion, but Texas Monthly reported it was more of her former classmates “gawking at her” in her rock star regalia — feathers and big sunglasses, loads of bangles and fluorescent orange toenail polish, or making snide comments about the hometown girl turned national rock icon. She drank through the situation, then when she got home she called her publicist and friend, Myra Friedman, and said, “Well, I guess you can’t go home again, right?,” according to Texas Monthly.
Even though Joplin had been on stage with and rubbed elbows and more with lots of the big names in music of the day, we learned via her autopsy report that despite her fame, money, success, and acceptance as the reigning queen of rock ‘n’ roll, she still went home alone to shoot up drugs, a vice that would cost Joplin her life.
Janis Joplin had 'numerous' needle marks in her arms
According to a hand-written narrative in her autopsy report posted on Autopsy Files, in Janis Joplin’s last hours, she recorded some music on October 3 at a recording studio, then had a couple of drinks with a friend at a bar before going back to her residence around 1 a.m. On the morning of October 4, a friend noticed her car wasn’t in the garage and became “concerned.” The friend couldn’t reach her by phone after several tries, so he got the manager of the building to give him a key. That’s when he found Joplin lying on the floor on her left side between a chair and the bed. The “Piece of My Heart” singer was already dead.
Joplin’s autopsy report said investigators found paraphernalia like gauze with dried blood in the garbage, a “hype kit” — a set-up for shooting up drugs that included a syringe and needle — and a teaspoon with the tell-tale black smudge on the bottom where a lighter is held to cook drugs before pulling them into the syringe and injecting them. They also found powdered drugs, pills, and suspected marijuana.
The autopsy report would confirm that Joplin died of acute heroin-morphine intoxication due to an “injection of overdose.” The medical examiner noted there were “numerous” needle marks on her arms, described as “old needle marks and some are of relatively recent origin.”
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