The unmistakably voice of blues singer Janis Joplin, so filled with raw emotion, was silenced with her demise from a heroin overdose in 1970. Only 27 at death, the Port Arthur, Texas native – who attended school there with t.v. football commentator and former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson and actor G. W. Bailey – had struggled with substance abuse, particularly alcohol, for years. Her addictions became so threatening in 1966 that her friends in San Francisco, where she lived, successfully encouraged her to return to her hometown in Texas to get a better grip on her life. There, she was able to avoid alcohol and other drugs, entered college, and sometimes went to Austin to perform alone. But soon, the appeal of the life she had led in California became too much, and on one trip to Austin, she continued on to San Francisco, one of many episodes that filled her short life as chronicled in Alice Echols’ book Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin.
Upon arriving in California in mid-1966, Joplin wrote to her
parents, in an effort to explain her move to them. Published in the book
Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999, edited by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler, the letter
begins: “Mother & Dad, With a great
deal of trepidation, I bring the news. I’m in San Francisco. Now let me explain
– when I got to Austin, I talked to ... who gave me a spiel about my singing w/
a band out here.” And later,“I’m sure you’re
both concerned about my self-destructive streak has won out again but I’m
really trying. I do plan on coming back to school – unless, I must admit, this
turns out to be a good thing.” And in the final paragraph, “I’m awfully sorry
to be such a disappointment to you. I understand your fears at my coming here
& must admit that I share them, but I really do think there’s an awfully
good chance I won’t blow it this time.” ... "And please believe that you can't possibly want for me to be a winner more than I do."