On This Gay Day: Rock icon Janis Joplin died on this day in 1970

Singer Janis Joplin died in 1970 at just 27 years of age 

Singer Janis Joplin is remembered for her powerful voice and the hard partying which lead to her early death at the age of just twenty-seven.

In the years since her passing, it’s also been recognised that Joplin was bisexual and had many relationships with both men and women.

Born in Texas in 1943, Joplin suffered bullying during her school years and found solace in the music of blues greats including Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Lead Belly. She began performing blues numbers with school friends, and when she went to college, she joined a folk trio.

In 1962 she dropped out of college and hitchhiked to San Francisco. She began recording music, but also struggled with addiction to methamphetamine, heroin and psychogenic substances. Friends banded together to buy her a bus fare home to Texas where with the help of her family she returned to good health.

By 1966 she had returned to San Francisco where she joined psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. The band toured the west coast of America and began building up a loyal fanbase and the following year released their debut album. Soon the band was being billed with Joplin’s name out the front.

In 1968 the band covered the song Piece of My Heart, which was originally recorded the previous year by Erma Franklin, the older sister of soul singer Aretha Franklin. The song became Joplin’s signature tune.

Joplin had gone solo by the time she appeared at the legendary Woodstock Music Festival in 1969. By this stage the singer’s drinking and drug taking was growing again and at times it seriously affected her ability to perform. The singer continued to tour and spend time in the studio working on her next album, but she was increasingly reliant on alcohol and drugs.

Joplin was found dead on the floor of her hotel room at the Landmark Motel in Los Angeles on this day in 1970, her body discovered by her road manager and close friend John Byrne Clarke. The coroner later ruled her death was a heroin overdose and that alcohol was also a factor, describing in her passing as an accidental death.

In 1970 the posthumous album Pearl became the biggest of her career and included her take on Me and Bobby McGee, a song written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, that had first been performed by Roger Miller.

Joplin’s death at 27 shocked music fans and followed just a month after the death of Canned Heat singer Alan Wilson. Just sixteen days after Joplin’s death, guitarist Jimi Hendrix also passed away. All three were 27 years old at the time of their passing.

The collective deaths are often referred to as the 27-club, an informal list of actors, artists and musicians who have died from overdoses. The following year The Doors’ Jim Morrison would overdose at the same age, and the Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones would also be added to the list. In later years Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, artist Jean Michel Basquiat and singer Amy Winehouse would also be 27 years old at the time of their passing.

Joplin left behind four studio albums, two with Big Brother and the Holding Company, and two solo records. Over the years a number of live recordings have also been released. She is remembered as one of the best rock singers of all time.

Gore Vidal was a prolific author and commentator

Author Gore Vidal was born on this day in 1925.

Author Gore Vidal disliked the word gay to describe homosexuals, friends have recounted he always used the descriptor ‘fags’. He’s not remembered as being an advocate for the LGBTIQA+ communities, but his creative output and public comments certainly had an effect on challenging homophobic attitudes.

He wrote about homosexuality describing it as something that was completely natural, but Vidal’s viewpoint was everyone is bisexual. He shared his thoughts in an essay published in a 1969 edition of Esquire magazine.

“We are all bisexual to begin with. That is a fact of our condition. And we are all responsive to sexual stimuli from our own as well as from the opposite sex. Certain societies at certain times, usually in the interest of maintaining the baby supply, have discouraged homosexuality.

“Other societies, particularly militaristic ones, have exalted it. But regardless of tribal taboos, homosexuality is a constant fact of the human condition and it is not a sickness, not a sin, not a crime … despite the best efforts of our puritan tribe to make it all three. Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Notice I use the word ‘natural,’ not normal.”

The author was interviewed in the groundbreaking 1967 television documentary The Homosexuals which is recognised as one of the first US television reports to challenge beliefs that homosexuality was immoral.  Speaking of his life and work, Vidal said it was about “Knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”

Vidal’s debut novel was released in 1946 when he was just nineteen years old. He would go on to publish over 30 novels, just as many non-fiction works, as well as many plays and a significant number of screenplays.

Notable was his third novel The City and The Pillar which was released in 1948, it tells the story of a young man who is coming of age and discovers his homosexuality. The release of the book created a public scandal, and the author was forced to release his next few books under a pseudonym. Today it is recognised as an important milestone in queer literature.

In 1968’s Myra Beckinridge Vidal shared a satirical story that tackled themes of femininity and transsexuality. It is recognised as the first novel that features a character who undergoes gender reassignment. Australian critic and intellectual Dennis Altman later described the work as “part of a major cultural assault on the assumed norms of gender and sexuality which swept the western world in the late 1960s and early 1970s”.

The novel was turned into a film, which its author was not a fan of. The movie adaptation starred Raquel Welch, and featured John Huston, Mae West and Farrah Fawcett. It was also the screen debut of Tom Selleck who appears in a small role.

In 1974 Vidal published a sequel to the book titled Myron, where the central character enters an alternative reality and is transformed back to their birth gender. The novel was released not long after the US Supreme Court handed down a controversial ruling on which words would be considered pornographic. Vidal responded by replacing words which may have fallen under the ruling with the names of the justices who voted in favour of it.

Through these works Vidal is remembered as a champion as sexual liberation, and an author who challenged society’s stance on homosexuality being immoral.  While Vidal published many novels, he is primarily remembered as an essayist and public commentator who displayed a great deal of wit.


During his life Vidal had many long running feuds, he sued author Truman Capote after Capote claimed that Vidal was once thrown out of the White House for putting his arm around first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and insulting her mother. The suit was settled in Vidal’s favour.

He also had a long running feud with conservative writer William F. Buckley. In a television debate in 1968 the pair argued about freedom of speech with Vidal labeling Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” and Buckley calling Vidal a “queer” and threatening to punch him in the face. Their disagreements which each other lasted until Buckley’s death in 2008 and included essays disparaging each other and lawsuits.

In 1971 during an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show novelist Norman Mailer allegedly headbutted Vidal backstage. During the recording of the show the two authors argued with Mailer saying, “I’ve had to smell your works from time to time.” Asked later by a reporter why Mailer had headbutted him Vidal responded, “Once again, words failed Norman Mailer.”

The book Pink Triangle: The Feuds and Private Lives of Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote & Famous Members of Their Entourages by Darwin Porter and Dansforth Prince published in 2014 provided a deep dive into the many disagreements Vidal had with other prominent people in society, and also lifted the lid on his active sex life.

Author Anaïs Nin claimed to have a love affair with Vidal, she made the claim in her multi-volume memoir. Vidal denied it, but letters unearthed after his death indicate she was probably telling the truth.

In his own memoir Vidal recalled that in his youth he would cruise the streets of New York, and claimed to have had over a thousand sexual encounters by the time he was twenty-five. He also noted he’d been briefly engaged to actor Joanne Woodward before she wed Paul Newman, and also indicated he’d enjoyed an intermittent romance with actor Diana Lynn.

Vidal used to tell tales of his sexual exploits to his friends and claimed to have had liaisons with Dennis Hopper and Fred Astaire. In 1950 he met Howard Austen who became his partner for 53 years until Austen’s death in 2003. Vidal claimed the secret to their long relationship was that it was not a sexual relationship, saying they were “Two men who decided to spend their lives together”.

In 2010 Vidal began to suffer from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a neurological condition brought on by years of heavy drinking. He died on 31st July 2012 at his home in Hollywood after suffering a bout of pneumonia. He left his entire estate, valued at USD$37 million to Harvard University.

In 2017 Netflix filmed a biopic titled Gore with actor Kevin Spacey in the lead role. The film remains unreleased following accusations of allegedly inappropriate sexual behaviour leveled against Spacey.

OIP Staff, Image: Janis Joplin – Publicity photo public domain. 

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