Forty-five years after her death by heroin overdose, Janis Joplin remains one of rock music’s most iconic voices, beloved for her style and emotional honesty — all of which are on full display in Janis: Little Girl Blue, the new documentary by Amy Berg that premiered Sunday night as part of the DOC NYC film festival. Joplin’s last boyfriend before her death, David Niehaus, was on hand from Hawaii for the panel discussion afterwards, where he shared a story that demonstrated just how fearless the singer could be. “One night we’re sound asleep in Marin County and we hear all this noise in the living room and she goes, ‘Honey, go see what that is,’ and I go out there and there’s five Hell’s Angels in the living room,” he said to Berg and Dick Cavett. “Two of them have guns in their belts, and they got the fridge open and all the food out. I go back in and she said, ‘Get rid of those boys, honey.’ I said, ‘Hey, babe, I don’t know, these guys have got guns, there’s five of them. I’m sort of skinny right now.’”
So Joplin took matters into her own hands. “She went out there and told each one of them — called them by name — she told each one of them where they were at, so to speak, and they left, and I thought, ‘God, thank God I didn’t have to try to do that,’” Niehaus continued.
Appropriately chastised, the biker gang then went on to do something perhaps only Joplin could have gotten them to do: household chores. “An hour-and-a-half later, they came back. They had a station wagon. They weren’t on their bikes, it was the middle of the night,” Niehaus recalled. “They came back and they brought ten bags of groceries, filled up the refrigerator, and they cleaned the house. They wiped the counters down and they left. So she had the power. Sometimes she was a little girl and sometimes she was a giant.”