Janis Joplin, often referred to as the “Queen of Rock and Roll,” is best remembered for her rebellious lifestyle, her psychedelic Porsche, her free flowing fashion sense and above all, her distinctive voice.
Rolling Stone ranked her as 46th on their 2004 list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and in 2008 she was ranked number 28. Her songs have withstood the test of time, with over 15.5 million albums sold in the US. In honor of a legend who died at the young age of 27, here are 12 facts about the queen of rock ‘n’ roll.
1. She Was Voted “Ugliest Man on Campus” at the University of Texas Which Left Her With Emotional Scars.
Janis Joplin was not considered by many during that time to be conventionally pretty. It was because of this that her self-esteem was effected for the entirety of her life. Growing up, she had been slightly overweight and had problems with acne that left her with an incredibly negative view of herself. As a child, Joplin was bullied for her looks and for being different.
The bullying continued all the way up until her first year of college at the University of Texas in Austin. A fraternity actually ended up voting her as “Ugliest Man on Campus” which rightfully hurt her deeply and she never forgot about it. Joplin ended up dropping out of college and she left Texas for San Francisco to escape the "angry men who liked to pick on her" as she would say.
2. She Loved Southern Comfort So Much, the Company Gave Her a Fur Coat in Return for the Publicity
Like Joplin’s personality, and voice, her fashion sense was just as unique as her voice which was uniquely her own and was often loud and mismatched. Someone who attended the university with her said, “She goes barefooted when she feels like it, wears Levis to class because they’re more comfortable, and carries her autoharp with her everywhere she goes so that in case she gets the urge to break into song, it will be handy.”
Apparently, one accessory she never went anywhere without was a bottle of the sweet, whiskey-flavored liqueur Southern Comfort. It sure came in handy when she was fighting off the lead singer of The Doors, and it got her a free coat. In fact, the Southern Comfort company was so pleased with all the free product placement, they gave her a lynx fur coat. It seemed to go perfectly with all the booze, and her psychedelic custom-painted Porsche.
3. She Changed Her Will Two Days Before She Died So Her Friends Could Party
It seems almost odd that Joplin would change her will a mere two days before she died. During the change, she made a few requests that would benefit her friends and family, with some additional wealth going to her siblings. She ended up asking for $2,500 to be set aside and used for her friends to throw a party. The request allowed 200 people to have an all-night gathering at the Lion's Share, which was her favorite San Anselmo bar. In her words, she said it was so, "my friends can get blasted after I'm gone." Hash Brownies were (unknowingly) shared in her honor as her friends and family mourned. Joplin ended up being cremated and her ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean as well as along Stinson Beach in Northern California.
4. Jim Morrison Was Fascinated by Her, So She Broke a Bottle Over His Head
Since they were two of the biggest music stars of the 1960s, it seemed almost inevitable that Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison would get together. Producer Paul Rothchild invited them both to a party since they both liked to drink, and they had hit it off even when they were sober.
Janis had been a pleasant drunk, but Morrison often exhibited violent and obnoxious behavior. After he was rejected by Joplin since she was turned off by his behavior. and Morrison only became more interested in her. He followed her around until Joplin hit him over the head with a bottle of Southern Comfort and knocked him out. Since he as disinterested, Morrison was still incredibly set on winning her over, even asking people for her phone number saying, “What a great woman! She’s terrific!” However, Joplin really said no.
5. Despite Her Low Self-esteem, She Still Ditched Most of Her Clothes on Stage
Photographer Bob Seidemann wanted to use a photo of Joplin in order to make a statement about the idealism of hippie culture and so he asked her if she’d pose topless. Joplin decided she would just rather pose completely naked, even though she didn’t have to.
Bob Seidemann recalls, “That’s the way she was. She wanted to take her clothes off real bad.” The photo was published in 1972, a few years after her death. Joplin also had no problem taking her clothes off while performing in front of crowds of people. A concert promoter at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena remembers her being later to the stage because she had been having sex in her dressing room. When she emerged, he said that “When I got there, Janis was finally walking up to the stage. She wore a sheer netted skirt with no underwear. When the spotlight hit her, you could see everything.”
6. Joplin Was Arrested After a Concert for Swearing on Stage
In 1969, Morrison was arrested while doing a concert tin Miami for exposing himself on stage. Following this incident, the people of Florida were incredibly worried when Joplin came to Tampa in November. While she was performing for an incredibly rowdy crowd, the lights were turned on and the show stopped to get the audience to calm down.
Officers then got onto the stage and asked Joplin to help them quiet down the crowd. Instead of assisting them, she decided to refuse and then yell obscenities at the cops. Soon the crowd quieted down enough so that the show could go on and Joplin was allowed to finish. She was then arrested in her dressing room and was asked to spend the night in jail, but the charges were eventually dropped when a judge claimed she was exercising her freedom of speech.
7. On the Night She Died, She Was Stood Up
There are many stories involving Janis Joplin’s experiences with men, and how they caused her emotional distress. But she was also bisexual and had just as troubled relationships with women as well. It was recorded that she had had an on-again/off-again relationship with Peggy Caserta that, when added up, lasted longer than most of the relationships she had with men.
She grew up in the 1950s where any time of non-heterosexuality was considered a sin and a work of evil. Her sexual preferences also caused her a lot of anguish as well. During the time of her death, she had been engaged to Berkeley student Seeth Morgan, apparently having found the right man. On the night she died, she was supposed to be having a threesome with her fiancé and Peggy Caserta but both of them failed to show. It seemed to have been her final heartbreak before her passing.
8. She Always Had Billie Holiday’s Autobiography on Her, and Bought a Gravestone for Bessie Smith
She spent a good amount of years playing folk music, but it was actually the blues that had captured her heart. She once said, “I want to be the first black-white person.” Billie Holiday, who was one of the greatest and most iconic voices of the blues genre, was one of Joplin’s heroes. Joplin cherished Holiday’s autobiography Lady Sings The Blues, her entire life, basically like her bible. Their lives are very much identical in the ay that Holiday also had many problems with men, struggled with drug use, and also died from a heroin overdose.
Joplin also admired Bessie Smith, even bigger than her love for Holiday. She said that Smith had been her biggest influence and inspiration to begin singing and felt such a great connection with her that she believed she was her reincarnation. Smith died in a car accident at the age of 43 and was buried in a grave left unmarked because her family refused to pay for a grave marker. When Joplin discovered this, she was outraged, and paid for a tombstone along with the daughter of one of Smith's employees. They wrote this epitaph, “The Greatest Blues Singer in the World Will Never Stop Singing.”
9. Leonard Cohen Wrote “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” About Joplin, After a Fling They Had After Meeting in an Elevator
Joplin was a firm believer in free love, and she seemed to have many flings with many different men throughout her life. She even said, “I live pretty loose. You know, balling with strangers and stuff.” She was very open about who she loved physically, but she often felt like her lovers let her down. Joplin once ran into musician Leonard Cohen in the Chelsea Hotel elevator in 1968 and the two spent the night together.
She added him to her list of heartbreaks saying, “Really heavy, like slam-in-the-face it happened. Twice. Jim Morrison and Leonard Cohen. And it’s really strange ’cause they were the only two that I can think of, like prominent people, that I tried to... without really liking them up front, just because I knew who they were and wanted to know them. And then they both gave me nothing.”
Cohen wrote about their fling in his classic song “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” but he didn’t admit it was about Joplin until years after she had died. He recalled, “She wasn’t looking for me, she was looking for Kris Kristofferson.”
10. She Was Ostracized in School for Believing in Desegregation
While Joplin was growing up in port Rather, Texas, the town itself was racially segregated. Her parents, who were more interested in intellectual pursuits such as art, and culture. These traits in addition to Joplin’s strong belief in desegregation, set her apart from the other students and residents of Texas, and they often made fun of her for it. She would often be called names when she walked to class and thanks to a group of football players, Joplin often skipped classes and only attended the ones she needed to graduate. She said, “They laughed me out of class, out of town, and out of state.” Her proud stance on segregation also stemmed from her love of folk and blues music which she eventually adopted as her own.
11. Despite Her Rebellious Lifestyle, She Got Good Grades and Was Close With Her Parents
She is often remembered for her rebelliousness and free living lifestyle, but she also had a softer, sensitive and intellectual side as well. She was interested in reading, painting, writing poetry, and was interested in her studies at school. Her love of books continued throughout her life and she even attempted to promote F.Scott Fitzgerald to Raquel Welch when they appeared on the Dick Cavett Show.
Joplin’s relationship with her family after growing up with a business college mother and an oil engineer father displayed her sensitive side as well. She stayed in contact with her parents throughout her life, and wrote them eloquent letters about the things going on inside her head and the realities. Despite her participation in the 1960s counterculture, she often looked for their approval, which ended up causing her pain when they rejected her lifestyle.
12. She Died of a Heroin Overdose and Became a Member of the 27 Club
A doctor once told her that if she continued with her current lifestyle, she wouldn’t live until the age of 24. She was insanely proud when she proved him wrong. Many people around her during this time were enduring in psychedelic drugs such as LSD, but Joplin stuck mainly to her alcohol, and then she developed an addiction to heroin in the mid 1960s. Her drug usage and drinking grew worse and by 1969, she was apparently shooting up to $200 worth of heroin a day. Some of her friends tried to intervene and she managed to quit the habit, only to relapse later on.
On October 4th, 1970, she was scheduled to record vocals for a track called “Buried Alive in the Blues” that was going to appear on her upcoming solo album entitled, Pearl. Instead, she was found dead in her hotel room, killed by an overdose. Her death at the age of 27 puts her in the “27 club” which contains other artists who passed away at the same age including, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.