One of the most infamous drug overdose stories is Janis Joplin’s. She had everything going for her when she overdosed and ultimately died in 1970. She was engaged to be married, she was working with some really exciting collaborators and they were producing her great hits like “Me and Bobby McGee”. Everyone was shocked when she was so suddenly dead at 27 years old from a heroin overdose. Though her friends and traveling partners at the time say that they had heard she had started using again and was drinking a lot at the time. Joplin unwittingly used heroin that night that was 50% – much stronger than the normal street heroin that she got from her dealer. Her body was unable to tolerate the overwhelming substance so, as she sat down to light a cigarette at the edge of her bed, she keeled over into the wall and died.
When celebrities die from drug or alcohol addiction it would be easy for someone to deride their choices, call them ungrateful, or spoiled, but celebrities are people too. They have context outside of their public persona that goes into every choice they make, just like you do. Joplin was no different. She grew up bullied and with need to find a freedom all her own. That’s what lead to her downfall.
If you listen to Joplin’s music, you can feel the grit and burn of the heroin coursing through her veins. The pain of her addiction. Joplin was mercilessly bullied in school because of her weight, her eccentric and creative personality, and her refusal to hate African Americans. You can feel this pain while she sings. “Feelin’ good was easy when you sing the blues” Joplin sings in Bobby McGee. Joplin took all of her pain and inherent achy depression and filtered it into her music. Unfortunately she also self medicated because the pain was too great, and because for some reason, she was not able to get help. Maybe Joplin didn’t really realize she had a problem, but probably Joplin believed “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose”. Joplin was out to have a good time and didn’t care the consequences. Unfortunately the consequences were ultimately her death. We can mourn the fact that Janis Joplin died at the peak of her career. We can wish that her old soul could have made it without the heroin and alcohol that ultimately took her life.
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