On October 4, 1970 Janis Joplin's Road Manager John Cooke went to the Landmark Hotel (now the Highland Gardens Hotel) in Los Angeles to see why she hadn't shown up at the Sunset Sound Studio. She was recording her latest album Pearl with her new band Full Tilt Boogie. Cooke and producer Paul Rothchild were concerned because Janis was never late for her recording sessions. Yet no one had seen or heard from her in almost 24 hours, not since she had left the studio and went drinking with the band.
Upon entering the room Cooke found Janis, her body cold and lifeless, lying on the floor of her hotel room. He knew as he approached that she was dead. As the massive blast of heroin had hit her brain her body had begun to convulse violently. John Cooke found her where she had fallen, crumpled like a rag doll, her body wedged in the space between the bed and the nightstand. She was partially undressed and the paraphernalia she had used to shoot up was lying out on a table.
Janis had partied with the band and then left the bar alone, heading back to her room at the Landmark. It is assumed that she overdosed shortly after her arrival at the hotel. There is one other interesting and little known fact about her death: On the night that Janis Joplin died of a massive overdose, eight other people also died from overdoses in LA--all from the same batch of heroin that had killed her.
Janis Joplin had been clean for six months when she died of a heroin overdose in 1970. What went wrong?
Questions surrounding the death of Janis Joplin have continued for years. At the time of her death Janis had recently become engaged to Seth Morgan, she was working with her new band, Full Tilt Boogie, and she was excited about the future. She was talking about leaving the music business, settling down, possibly raising a family. More importantly, she had finally kicked the heroin addiction that had plagued her for years. She had been clean for six months when she went into the studio in Hollywood to begin recording what would become her last, and greatest work, the album Pearl.
So how is it that, at a time when she seemed to have so much to live for, Janis Joplin was found dead on the floor of her hotel room from a massive heroin overdose? She had been dead for 18 hours when her body was discovered. She had been alone when she died.
Janis Joplin - Final 24: Her Final Hours, one of the four Final 24 DVDs released by MVD Visual in April, recreates the last 24 hours in the life of Janis Joplin, the first female rock star. It traces her movements: who she met with, who she spoke to on the phone, where she went.
The hour long film tells the story of her rise to the top of the '60s music scene and her descent into alcohol and heroin addiction. Her brother Michael Joplin speaks, adding his insight into her childhood and her relationship with her parents, particularly the difficult relationship with her mother. Interviews with High School and College friends Jim Langdon and Powell St. John unravel her pre-stardom years--the years that seemed to have doomed her. They talk about the abuse and humiliation she suffered as an outcast in her birth town of Port Arthur, Texas and at the University of Texas in Austin.
Through archival concert and television footage (including her legendary appearances on The Dick Cavett Show) and realistic re-enactments, we are introduced to the woman behind the rock star. The small town girl who would come to be known as 'The Wild Woman of Rock' and finally, simply, Pearl. We catch a glimpse of what those who knew her saw: a little girl, tough on the outside, yet broken inside, afraid to be alone.
Her former road manager John Cooke, publicist Myra Friedman, and members of Big Brother and Full Tilt Boogie, David Getz, Sam Andrew and John Till, tell the story of Janis' three years as a rock and roll icon. From Big Brother's soul-shaking debut performance at The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967--the performance that threw Janis into the whirlwind of rock stardom--through her misery in Kozmic Blues Band and finally, her recovery from addiction and her excitement in joining Full Tilt Boogie and recording Pearl.
It covers the most compelling mystery of all. How could Janis Joplin have overdosed on heroin? By all accounts, including Full Tilt Boogie Band members working and hanging out with her literally hours before her death, she was clean. Where had she gotten the heroin? Who was the last person to speak with her on the night she died?
Final 24 is a series of true life stories, each of which documents the life and death of a famous person. By examining the past, and re-creating the events that occurred on the day they died, Producer Nick Godwin is able to capture, through reflection, the tragic end that was always rushing towards them like a head-on train. Some died by accident, others through self-destruction or suicide, and some had their lives cut short by the hand of another.
So far I've seen four of the episodes released by MVD Entertainment Group and I am absolutely hooked. Final 24, part documentary and part biography, is the most fascinating collection of real life, and death, stories I've ever seen. Heart-wrenching. Tragic. Brilliant. Nick Godwin is a genius.
I give Janis Joplin: Her Final Hours my highest recommendation for those who love 60's and 70's rock, and for her fans, of course. That says a lot coming from me--a girl with an extensive background in rock history. It's rare for me to hear a Joplin story that I haven't heard before. What I liked most about this video is that it wasn't the same old re-hashed stories, it was personal, people talking about a girl they knew. A girl they loved.
I've had a Dead Crush on Janis Joplin for years. I've read the biographies, listened to the music, watched the interviews, but this is the first time I've seen the puzzle pieces of her life put together in such a way. Listening to her friends and family talk about her life, and seeing the impact her death had on them, has brought me that much closer to understanding this complicated woman. Sadly, what is revealed in hindsight might well have saved her life, but I think Jim Langdon put it best in the video: "She's still with us. 37 years later, no matter where you are in America, you can flip on your car radio and, at some point or another, you're going to hear Janis Joplin... singing."
Coming next in the Final 24 Review series is Keith Moon: His Final Hours.
You can read the condensed version of my review originally published as DVD Review: Janis Joplin: Her Final Hours on blogcritics.
More on Janis Joplin:
Pearl: The Obsessions and Passions of Janis Joplin
Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin
Living with the myth of Janis Joplin. The History of Big Brother & the Holding Co.1965-2005