Remembering Myra Friedman, Publicist to Janis Joplin

Posted October 23rd, 2010
Myra Friedman, Janis Joplin’s publicist and one of her closest friends, passed away on Saturday, October 16, 2010, forty years to the month after Janis’s death. Myra’s passing creates silence in a world that was once filled with the beat of her humor and the harmony of her intellect and generous spirit.

Over the past few years, Myra shared that generous spirit with many, regaling us all with tales of her life as the publicist for the first queen of rock and roll. When I began work on Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing, I phoned Myra, whose number I had gotten through my editor. I explained that I was writing a young adult biography of the famous rocker and asked if I could interview Myra about her years working for Janis. I expected Myra to give me a few brief anecdotes and that would be it. But she was excited by the idea of sharing her friend’s life and music with a new generation, and willingly gave me hours of her time. What began as a series of formal interviews soon became a friendship. Myra told such vivid stories of Janis, her voice adding italics to moments of drama or hilarity, that I felt I was witnessing these times alongside her. Myra adored Janis, and spoke of her brilliant intellect, her keen business acumen, her wit and, of course, her talent.

Myra was a brilliant woman, too, knowledgeable about history and music, especially classical and jazz. She sometimes wished she’d had a husband and children, but never wanted a do-over in her career as a publicist, or in her friendship with Janis. Still, she always wished she could have prevented the tragedy that ended Janis’s life; she often wondered if there was something she could have done to change that story’s end.

Myra was a true friend to Janis, patient with her excesses but willing to call her on her occasional “phoniness” and constant drug use. It seemed she tried harder than anyone to save Janis. After she died, Myra shared her broken heart with the world in her critically-acclaimed biography, Buried Alive, an insightful portrait of Janis that was unflinchingly honest about the inner demons and bad influences that destroyed her, while also celebrating her as a woman far ahead of her time.

Myra was ahead of her time, too. Working in the male-dominated world of rock when it wasn’t any easier for women to be backstage (unless they were groupies), than it was to be center stage.

Myra’s strength and heart shone through in our unusual telephone/e-mail friendship. Her first bout with cancer had left Myra with nerve damage, so she typed with just two fingers. We talked at length about whether voice recognition software might help – she said she couldn’t be bothered training it to understand her New York accent – which was classic by the way.

This past summer I made plans to visit Myra at the end of October. I imagined proudly handing her a copy of my finished book, inscribed to the friend I’d come to adore. But that visit would never come to pass. By September, Myra grew weaker, and our calls grew shorter. We realized we might never meet face-to-face. When we talked in mid-September, Myra knew she wasn’t going to beat the beast called cancer.

She told me that she really hoped she’d be around when I showed up in October but, she warned, “I might be dead by then.” Then she laughed as if she was kidding. I suspect she feared any talk like this would sound like complaining, and Myra couldn’t abide complaint. Later, she emailed and said she was half-joking; she said she’d look forward to our visit. Unfortunately, the death joke wasn’t even half a joke. The next time I called, Myra’s breathing was so labored we could talk only as long as it took for her to tell me she was returning to the hospital. Late last week was the last time I heard her voice.

She died in the midst of friends with Janis playing in the background, singing Myra out of this life and into the next. I hope Janis was there smiling and laughing that trademark cackle as she waited in the wings for Myra. I imagine the heavens grew raucous with their shared banter.

It seems odd that I never saw Myra’s face except in photos, because I felt I knew her so well. I never held onto her hand or hugged her, but we were friends. I was honored to be her friend. I have no doubt that there are countless others who can say the same, because Myra was so interested in life. She so loved people. And we loved her in return.

17 Responses to “Remembering Myra Friedman, Publicist to Janis Joplin”

  1. Dear Ann, Just wanted to thank you so much for your beautiful, beautiful tribute to Myra. You capture her so well — it’s hard to believe you never met face to face! Myra would have loved your impressions — and appreciation — of her! She became one of my closest friends in the late Seventies when I was living in New York and we remained close after I left New York in 1985, mostly via marathon phone conversations — but also lots of visits. I loved her and I will miss her more than I can say. She was funny, kind, endlessly curious, generous, a total original — well, in a word, irreplaceable! I remember her telling me how excited she was about your book, which I am now going to read knowing that somewhere, somehow Myra is reading it, too, and smiling because through you and your writing, Janis lives on. And so does Myra. All the best to you — Elin

  2. Dear Ann, Just wanted to thank you so much for your beautiful, beautiful tribute to Myra. You capture her so well — it’s hard to believe you never met face to face! Myra would have loved your impressions — and appreciation — of her! She became one of my closest friends in the late Seventies when I was living in New York and we remained close after I left New York in 1985, mostly via marathon phone conversations — but also lots of visits. I loved her and I will miss her more than I can say. She was funny, kind, endlessly curious, generous, a total original — well, in a word, irreplaceable! I remember her telling me how excited she was about your book, which I am now going to read knowing that somewhere, somehow Myra is reading it, too, and smiling because through you and your writing, Janis lives on. And so does Myra. All the best to you — Elin

  3. Janet says:

    I am so sad to hear about this loss! I am a huge Janis fan and admirer. I have BURIED ALIVE and read Janis’ sister’s book too, as well as every article and interview I can find. I know what an intense friendship Janis and Myra had. I can imagine them reuniting now 🙂
    I came here after reading your guest post to tell you how much I want to read your book. Having Myra Friedman’s insight and approval only makes it sound better!

  4. Peter Albin says:

    Thank you for your informative and moving comments about Myra. Members of Big Brother had a close association with Ms. Friedman over the years. We are saddened by her loss. I will no longer get phone calls that went on forever, concerning all of the proposed movies about Janis, her strong opinions about film makers, her strong & witty opinions about almost everything, usually ending with negative comments about the Joplin Estate. The last time I spoke to Myra was probably July. She complained of this ailment and that ailment, and that she was on her way to a medical appointment. She seemed out of breath and out of energy. She didn’t want to email me due to her condition in her hands. But she did mention you, and your upcoming release. I would love to read it one of these days. I have already started to miss Myra. There will never be someone like her again. She was one of a kind.

    • AAngel says:

      Myra’s and my phone calls were generally Sunday afternoons. I find that’s when I miss her most. I truly appreciated Myra’s friendship. Thanks for adding to her lovely memory here.
      My book only became reality because Myra thought it was so valuable to bring the music of the 60s to a new generation of young adults. She was so amazingly generous with her time.

  5. Even though I am not very impressed by “Buried Alive,” I am very sorry to learn that its author Myra Friedman suffered for so many years and now has died. It is very touching to hear that Big Brother’s bassist Peter Albin kept in touch with Myra until almost forty years had passed since Janis died.

    I now realize that the reason “Buried Alive” includes so many of Myra’s angry rants (about inaccurate newspaper profiles of Janis, about rock and roll groupies, about the Hells Angels, about the alcoholic camaraderie of John Cooke and Bobby Neuwirth, etc.) is that she felt a lot of pain watching her friend get hurt by all of that. Janis chose to drink with all those people — even with some of the reporters who misunderstood her — and Myra was furious at Janis for making those bad choices. It is appropriate that Janis, whose emotions ran very deep, had a publicist whose emotions ran very deep.

  6. Scott Merrell says:

    Ann, I was a very close friend of Myra’s, but had little communication with her in the last 2 years. The last time I saw her was at a Big Brother performance at BB King’s. It is sad that I was not informed of her death, and happened to find out just yesterday (Dec 1st) when I happened to look at the official Janis site. We laughed and argued, went to countless concerts together, from Carmen McRae to Van Cliburn to Bob Dylan and k.d.lang. She was indeed a one of a kind person. Thank you for writing this piece about her.

    • AAngel says:

      I’m so sorry, Scott. Sometimes I think Myra was here to connect people — it’s so odd to have known her without ever having come face-to-face with her. Even though I know she’s gone, I listen for the phone to ring on Sunday afternoons and I miss her voice in the silence more than I could have imagined.

    • AAngel says:

      PS — I do recall Myra mentioning your name a few times and saying you were a close friend who attended concerts with her. I amaze at the way she connected to people — we were hers in some mysterious way. I keep wondering what it means to have met her without ever having been there with her. The last time I called, I was trying to make reservations to get out there and finally see her in person. I wasn’t able to ever see her face-to-face but she became such a presence in my life. I’m still waiting to figure it all out. Again, I’m sorry for your loss and I’m glad you liked the piece I wrote about her.

      • Scott Merrell says:

        More than 20 years ago, when I first met Myra, I expressed to her that I wished she had dealt more with Janis’ music in Buried Alive, and she subsequently did that in her 1991 introduction in the re-published edition of her Janis biography. It was one of the best descriptions of Janis musically that I’ve read. She made mention of me in that introduction. We had alot in common in terms of Classical music and Jazz, and when she showed me the introduction, she sweetly asked, “Did you like hte part about Mahler?” She was really a dear person.

  7. I lived in Courtney House for 20 plus years and Myra was my good friend. I can’t believe she is gone. Her intelligence and enthusiasm was so brilliant. She saw Joplin and the time in our history that created and supported her in a way no one else could have appreciated. Myra was one of a kind.

  8. Scott Fleisher says:

    I lived in the Courtney House two floors above Myra. Without fail, everytime I saw her, she would engage me in some friendly banter. Mind you, I was 27 and she was much older than me so I enjoyed picking her brain her experiences of the past. When I moved out of the Courtney House, I purchased Myra’s book and had her sign it for me. She wrote such a kind inscription even though her hands were failing her at that point. I stopped by the Courtney House yesterday only to hear the sad news from Sharon. Rest in peace Myra!

  9. steve banks says:

    Sad!!! I met Myra at Albert B. Grossmans management office
    around June 1968. She had helped me with Bill Grahams press person at The Fillmore East so I could photograph Jimi Hendrix and Sly and The Family Stone (May 1968). We stayed in touch and in December 1969 she secured a press pass for me to photograph Janis (backstage and in concert)at Madison Square Garden. All of you have said it much better than anything I can add. Unique. You bet. Fun. Yep. And when she wanted to up date her book and wanted to add photographs of my I was flattered. I tried to contact her and now I know why she didn’t get back to me, :-(((((( My book JANIS’ GARDEN PARTY would not have been born without her support!! Thanks for the wonderful tribute!!! Xxxxxxxxxx

  10. ri hard lowy says:

    I was lucky enough from about a1987 to 1993 to know myra..i was only her hairdreasser, but she was always so kind to me…at first i was at the salon at barneys new york on 17 th st..then she wanted me to do he at the house .she had a great apt on w 14 th at…she was alway so kind and funny.and sharing a story or two about ms joplin….and of course at that time she was a vital witness to the bernard goetz cas in nyc. So her plate was full , i am sorry to hear of her passing may she rest in piece.

  11. Len Marry says:

    Hello Ann, I hadn’t realized you had written this, and just wanted to thank you for it. Like you, I was more the long distance pen pal via e-mails mostly, less frequent calls as long distance from NYC to Vancouver Canada, as she contacted me in way back in about 1994, stunned that I had identified her on a post as the woman in the limousine with Janis Joplin in a photo. I had made plans on visiting in October 2010, to meet finally with both Myra, and Scott(who also wrote here) but lost my younger brother the same month, so never did make it. I did want you to know, if you were getting from Myra the same thing i was “It’s just a cold, but I’ll shake it!” (being that stubborn streak that certainly was her as well),had mentioned her plan to meet up with you, was extremely excited that you were a young author, and releasing a book on Janis, (she was about as giddy about that, as if she was releasing it herself), and did state she had talked excessively with you, and was so looking forward to meeting “…if it wasn’t for this damn cold!” Sadly it seems most of us, including Myra didn’t see this as pneumonia until it was far too late. so do know, you were a very big part of her excitement at that time, and was one thing she definitely wanted to have happen! I just thought you’d like to know this! And thanks again for such a wonderful review an a lady who was not too appreciated by the overall public for telling what had happened, though it was a promise to Janis to do this, and she did keep it. I had all the admiration in the world for her, and she also thought of you as a fine writer. Nothing could have made her happier than this! All the best, and thank you, too….for your book. I do have it!

  12. AAngel says:

    Thank you. Myra and I had many Sunday afternoon phone conversations and I often think of her. I do wish I’d been able to meet her in person but I cherish our phone calls.

    It wasn’t pnemonia when she talked to me – it was allergies and dust she complained were making her hoarse. My kids learned early on that, if Myra was on the phone, I’d be busy for at least a few hours. She became a distant good friend. And it truly warms my heart to know she looked forward to the possibility of meeting me as much as I looked forward to meeting her.

    The last time I spoke to Myra, she was very sick and our conversation was short. I was calling to tell her that I planned to come to NYC over the upcoming weekend to see her. She died before I could do that.

    She also mentioned your name to me, asking if I knew you! I had to tell her I’m sorry I didn’t.

    Thank you, again, for reaching out and for buying the biography. It continues to reach young adults and adults and I hope it keeps her music alive.

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