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Whatever Happened to Janis Joplin?

by Legacy Staff

Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin were three of the biggest rock icons of the 1960s, and they died within a year of each other. Decades later, only Joplin’s star has begun to fade.

Jim Morrison. Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin. They were three of the biggest rock icons of the 1960s, and they died within a year of each other of drug overdoses. Forty years later, only Joplin’s star has begun to fade.

This, at least, is the thrust of a New York Times article published Oct. 1, 2010. Citing the wealth of product being offered by the Jimi Hendrix estate in the wake of his death, the article contrasts the posthumous output typical of other rock legends with that of Joplin, who died of a heroin overdose at 27.


Since Hendrix died, his estate has released no fewer than 11 albums consisting of live performances and (mostly) new material. With a reputed 300 hours of unreleased recordings completed when Hendrix died, they won’t be running out anytime soon.

In 1978, seven years after the death of Jim Morrison, The Doors released “An American Prayer,” which featured the band playing behind older spoken word tracks Morrison had recorded. The album went platinum. In 1997 there was four CD box set of archive material. In 1999 a complete recordings box set. Then in 2000 The Doors formed a label through which a staggering 36 albums and 90 hours of previously unavailable Morrison-era recordings would be released. Countless posthumous biographies about Jim Morrison and The Doors, the 1991 Oliver Stone film, and the recent Tom DiCillio documentary have kept the Lizard King a part of the cultural landscape for nearly four decades.

And then of course, there’s the toppermost of posthumous marketing, the Beatles. Though both John Lennon and George Harrison have gone on to that great band in the sky, you can play along with them on 2009’s million-selling “The Beatles: Rock Band” video game, or listen to them working out the kinks in the studio on the three volume “Beatles Anthology,” which was accompanied by books and a multi-part BBC documentary.

But Joplin’s short career and limited songwriting credits mean her estate has less raw material to work with. She recorded three albums with Big Brother and the Holding Company, an outfit her heirs have often been at odds with. She released one record in 1969 with the Kozmic Blues Band, since re-issued in 1999 with three extra tracks, and another with the Full Tilt Boogie Band. Though there have been a couple live records and various repackagings of previously released material, since 1999 nothing new has been unearthed.

Then there is her tangled cinematic legacy. A bio-pic called “Pearl” was in the works in the ’70s, but when the Joplin family declined to grant the filmmakers rights, the project took another direction and became “The Rose” (1979). Sony secured the rights to several of Joplin’s most popular songs in the 1990s, and since then actresses and singers including Renee Zellweger, Melissa Etheridge, Lily Taylor, the late Brittany Murphy, Zooey Deschanel, and Pink have been attached to star. As recently as June 2010, Amy Adams entered the fray.

If no films come to fruition and no new recordings are released, perhaps Janis Joplin won’t reach a new generation of fans in the way that many of her sixties counterparts have, but it’s safe to say that those who’ve heard her powerful voice won’t be forgetting her anytime soon.

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