Hailed as the female Bruce Springsteen when she broke into the music industry with her powerful vocals and songwriting, Melissa Etheridge was nominated for a Best Rock Vocal Performance Grammy in 1988 for “Bring Me Some Water,” the lead single from her first, self-titled album. In 1993, the year she publicly came out as a lesbian, she grabbed her first Grammy for her single “Ain’t It Heavy” and hit the Top 30 with her songs “I’m the Only One” and “Come to My Window,” the latter winning her a second Best Vocal Grammy. She has received 15 Grammy nominations in her career.
Born on May 29, 1961 in Leavenworth, Kansas, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. In a daring-for-its-time Dateline NBC interview in 2005, she revealed she smoked medicinal marijuana to help with the side effects of chemotherapy during her treatment. “Instead of taking five or six of the prescriptions, I decided to go a natural route and smoke marijuana,” Etheridge said, adding that she smoked every day for her pain and symptoms. When asked how her doctors reacted, she said, “Every single one was, ‘Oh, yeah. That's the best help for the effects of chemotherapy.’”
Earlier that year at the Grammys, Etheridge wowed the crowd performing “Piece of My Heart” while sporting a bald head during a Janis Joplin tribute. In 2007, she won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “I Need to Move,” the theme song to Al Gore’s climate-change film An Inconvenient Truth.
Etheridge went beyond advocacy for medical marijuana when she appeared at a Los Angeles press conference in October 2010 in support of Prop 19, a measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California. “I don’t want to look like a criminal to my children anymore,” she said. “I want them to know this is a choice that you make as a responsible adult.” Etheridge famously used marijuana-friendly singer/songwriter David Crosby as the sperm donor for her two children with Julie Cypher.
In 2013, Etheridge penned an op-ed, “Pot Got Me Through” for CNN and shortly thereafter announced she was developing a cannabis-infused wine.
Etheridge donated proceeds from the 2011 film 1 a Minute about breast cancer to Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and in 2014 traveled to Albany, New York to lobby for medical-marijuana legislation. She’s appeared at the ASA conference in Washington, DC, the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo in Los Angeles and the Women Grow conference in Denver, and performed Brandy Clark’s “Get High” and Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” at the Concert for Social Justice in 2015.
After being caught carrying a vape pen in her tour bus at the U.S.-Canada border entering into North Dakota on Aug. 17, 2017, she said, “I’m mad at myself. I was careless. It’s an international border, I should’ve known better. But I hope this can move the issue forward, shed some light on how many people use cannabis as a medicine.” She pled guilty and paid a $1,000 fine on November 14.
A big Kanas City Chiefs fan, Etheridge tweeted on October 2019, “Wow...there is not enough legal #cannabis in California to help me get through this @Chiefs @packers game.” To her delight, the Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2, 2020.
She's married to Linda Wallem.