When Janis Joplin failed to show up at Sunset Sound Studios by 6 p.m., Paul Rothschild, her producer, gave in to the strange “flashing” he had been feeling all day and sent John Cooke, a road manager for the Full Tilt Boogie Band, over to the Landmark Motor Hotel to see why she wasn’t answering her phone. “I’d never worried about her before,” Rothschild said, “although she’d been late lots of times. It was usually that she stopped to buy a pair of pants or some chick thing like that.” October 4th was a Sunday however, and there were few places to go, even in Hollywood. Even for Janis.
The Landmark is a big stucco building on Franklin Avenue. It is convenient to the sound studios on Sunset Blvd. and near the offices of the record companies and music publishers. It is painted a garish “sunburst orange” and “bear brown” (according to the man at the desk), and it is the favorite motel for visiting performers. The lobby has large plastic plants and some vaguely psychedelic designs on its walls, but the motel’s attraction is its tolerance. The guy behind the desk remembered, laughing, the time a guest called to complain about the noise from a series of rooms where members of the Jefferson Airplane were having a party. “The guy who complained was thrown out,” he said. It was Janis’ kind of place.
When John Cooke got there it was almost 7 p.m. He noticed Janis’ car in the lot, and that the drapes in her first floor room were drawn. She didn’t answer her door when he knocked, or even when he banged and yelled. He spoke to the manager, Jack Hagy, who agreed that they should go into the room. Janis was lying wedged between the bed and a nightstand, wearing a short nightgown. Her lips were bloody when they turned her over, and her nose was broken. She had $4.50 clutched in one hand.
Cooke called a doctor, then phoned Janis’ attorney, Robert Gordon. Gordon claims he went over the room carefully but found no narcotics or drug paraphernalia. The police were called. When they arrived at around 9 p.m., they too, found no drugs or “works.” But they told reporters Janis had “fresh needle marks on her arm, 10 to 14 of them, on her left arm.”
By the time the 11 p.m. newscaster had finished his brief report, phone calls were already spreading wild rumors – Janis had been killed by some jealous guy, by a dealer, even by the CIA; Janis had done herself in because of some guy, because she thought she was fading, because she’d always been self-destructive. Each new theory had its “informed” proponents, and each was equally groundless.
The confusion was not helped by Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi’s preliminary report, issued the following morning. It said she “died of an overdose of drugs,” but did not specify what drugs – alcohol, sleeping pills or something harder.
Gordon, understandably, tried to counteract many of the bizarre rumors and soften the edge of some of the wilder headlines by saying that he felt the drug inferences were unfounded and that Janis had died in much the way Jimi Hendrix had – from an overdose of sleeping pills, followed, in her case, by a fall from the bed.
By Tuesday, however, Noguchi reported that Janis, who was 27, had in fact injected heroin into her left arm several hours before she died, and that it was an overdose that killed her. He said an inquest will be held, and that “behavioral scientists” would try to determine if the OD was “intentional.”
When questioned about the facial injuries, police said they’d “ruled out the possibility of violence. She could have broken her nose when she collapsed,” one detective said. The odd amount of money in her hand remains a mystery, however, and will feed the imaginations of the people who must account in some tangible way for her death. At present, the explanations range from “it was change for a bag” – a bag of heroin goes for about $15 in Los Angeles these days – to grotesques about “change for a call for help” (but the phone in her room, as in most motel and hotel rooms, did not require change.)
Reports on Janis’ mood in the last weeks of her life do not help much either. They are perhaps appropriately contradictory. Superstars just fade, but culture heroines die hard.
Robert Gordon, the attorney, said Monday that Janis had visited him the previous Thursday (October 1) “on business matters.”
“She seemed very happy. She told me she was thinking of getting married. She’d been going with a guy named Seth Morgan for a couple of months. I don’t believe he is in music. I think he is from Maine.
“She was also very happy about her album. She’d been in town about a month recording it, and she was enthusiastic about the band and about her own singing. She said she ‘felt like a woman.’ The band had a tour scheduled for November.”
When asked about the “business” Janis had come to see him about, Gordon said: “I might as well tell you. She signed her will.” He emphasized however that he didn’t think the signing “meant” anything.
“She was happy,” Gordon said.
Paul Rothschild, who works for Elektra but who was producing the Columbia sessions (Janis released the albums on Columbia) “independently,” at first reported that she was “thrilled and ecstatic.” He said he’d known Janis for a long time, and that she seemed “happier and more turned on than anyone can remember.” He said the album was “80 percent” done. A source at Columbia, however, reported that the recording “had not been going well, that it was “coming slowly,” and that after a month of eight to 10-hour days in the studio, 11 tracks had been cut and only four were considered “good enough.”
When confronted with this, Rothschild became furious. He pointed out that he’d had to “fight all the Columbia people” all through the sessions, “the staff and the executives.” He said the album was the first by an “outside” producer that Columbia allowed, and that “the record may not have been going smoothly for Columbia, but it was for Janis Joplin.”