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The Tortured, Painful Life of Janis Joplin, The Baddest Woman In Rock History

Updated December 14, 2018 1.0m views12 items

Long before the phenomenon that was Amy Winehouse, whose mesmerizing voice captivated millions, there was Janis Joplin, to whom Winehouse was often compared. While Joplin only released three albums during her lifetime (and a few posthumously) and only one Top 40 hit, she still became one of the biggest American music stars of the 1960s, and her music continues to influence musicians today. 

Joplin and her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, first made a name for themselves at the 1967 Monterey Music Festival where she emerged a bright and talented star. Unfortunately, the lifestyle of a hard-partying '60s rock star soon took its toll. Her love of whiskey brand Southern Comfort became as well known as her voice, just like other hard-partying bands like Led Zeppelin or eccentric personalities like Ozzy Osbourne. While the story of Janis Joplin's passing in 1970 serves as a somber end to her tale, underneath her music-star persona, she was a sensitive soul who had been damaged by bullies and hurt by lovers, and who wanted to be loved simply because she couldn't do it herself.

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  • Leonard Cohen Wrote 'Chelsea Hotel No. 2' About Her

    Video: YouTube

    Joplin once said of her lifestyle, "I live pretty loose. You know, balling with strangers and stuff." Although she was very open about who she loved physically, she often suffered emotionally if she felt that one of her lovers was letting her down.

    Joplin ran into musician Leonard Cohen in the Chelsea Hotel elevator in 1968, culminating in the two spending the night together. The affair was short-lived, however, and for Joplin, it apparently ended in heartbreak:

    "Really heavy, like slam-in-the-face it happened. Twice. Jim Morrison and Leonard Cohen. And it's 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 the encounter in his classic song "Chelsea Hotel No. 2," but didn't admit it was about Joplin until many years after she had died. "She wasn't looking for me, she was looking for Kris Kristofferson," he recalled.

  • Photo: Grossman Glotzer Management Corporation / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She's A Member Of The Infamous '27 Club'

    After a doctor told her she wouldn't reach 24 if she continued her indulgent lifestyle, Joplin was proud to prove him wrong.

    Despite the trend of psychedelics usage popular in the '60s and '70s, Joplin's primary vice was alcohol. She did, however, develop a heroin addiction in the mid-1960s. Her usage steadily worsened, and by 1969, she was allegedly using approximately $200 worth of heroin every day. After some of her friends intervened, she eventually managed to quit the habit, only to relapse later.

    On October 4, 1970, she was scheduled to record vocals for a track called "Buried Alive in the Blues," a song that was slated to appear on her upcoming solo album, Pearl. When she never arrived at the recording studio, she was eventually found deceased in her hotel room from an apparent heroin overdose.

    Joplin's death at the age of 27 made her a member of the "27 Club," a list containing other artists who passed away at the same age, including Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix (who died only 16 days after Joplin), Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.

  • Photo: Ashley Famous Agency / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Being Voted 'Ugliest Man On Campus' In College Left Her With Lasting Emotional Scars

    Janis Joplin was not considered by many to be conventionally pretty, and because of this, in addition to weight and acne issues from her youth, she struggled with her self-esteem for her entire life. 

    As a child, Joplin was bullied for her appearance and "different" behavior, and this abuse continued all the way through college at the University of Texas in Austin. A fraternity voted her "Ugliest Man on Campus," hurting her deeply and leaving scars she never forget. Joplin dropped out of college and left Texas for San Francisco to escape the "angry men who liked to pick on her."

  • Photo: Albert B. Grossman Management / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Bought A Headstone For Bessie Smith

    Although she spent a number of years playing folk music, the blues was the genre for which Joplin had the most passion. "I want to be the first black-white person," she once said. Billie Holiday, one of the most beloved voices of the blues genre, was considered a hero of Joplin's. Joplin cherished Holiday's autobiography, Lady Sings The Blues, her entire life, possibly because of the many parallels between the two artists.

    Perhaps even more noteworthy than her love for Billie Holiday was Joplin's devotion to Bessie Smith. She claimed Smith was her biggest influence and inspiration, and that she felt such a connection to Smith that she even believed she might be her reincarnation. Smith was buried in an unmarked grave because her family refused to pay for a grave-marker. When Joplin discovered this, she was so angered that she paid for a tombstone along with the daughter of one of Smith's employees. They epitaph, "The Greatest Blues Singer in the World Will Never Stop Singing," was engraved on Smith's headstone.