Janis Joplin’s Drug-Related Death Isn’t as Cut-and-Dry as You Think

Janis Joplin was one of the most gifted and talented singer-songwriters of the 1960s. With a powerhouse voice and understated, no-frills look, Janis commanded every crowd she was in front of, from her early days as the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company to her breakthrough solo career; hits like “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder),” “Maybe,” and “Piece of My Heart” skyrocketed her to fame and landed her a spot in the lineup at Woodstock in August 1969 – but just a year later, Janis’s intense flame would burn out.

Janis was a habitual drug user and heavy drinker throughout her career; it was widely known that she took methamphetamine and occasionally used heroin along with other psychoactive drugs. While she did have bouts of sobriety, her addiction ultimately ended her life. After Janis failed to show up for a recording session in LA on Oct. 4, 1970, her road manager, John Cooke, drove to the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood, where she was staying, and saw her distinctively painted Porsche in the parking lot. He entered Janis’s room and found her lying dead on the floor next to the bed. Her official cause of death was a heroin overdose, “possibly compounded by alcohol” (Janis’s drink of choice was Southern Comfort). Though Janis was heavily into heroin at that point, those close to her believed that she was given a dose that was more potent than normal that accidentally killed her, especially since several of her dealer’s other customers overdosed that same week.

Her death hit the music community hard; rock legend Jimi Hendrix had died just 16 days earlier, and they both happened to be 27 years old when they passed. The last song Janis ever recorded was “Mercedes Benz,” which would go on to be included on her posthumous album Pearl in 1971. It became the biggest-selling album of her career and also featured her biggest hit single, “Me and Bobby McGee.”

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