Comedian found dead

Joanie Mcgowan 1956-2005

By Jennifer Squires
Ashland Daily Tidings

A body discovered on the Bear Creek Greenway near Eagle Mill and Valley View roads has been identified as local comedian and actress Joanie McGowan. She had been missing for five days.

Joanie McGowan is pictured in this December 2003 photo during the Idea Awards at Ashland High School. File photo | Ashland Daily Tidings
The death has been ruled a suicide, according to Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters.

McGowan’s body was found on Tuesday afternoon off the path in a hollowed-out space by an unidentified homeless person, who alerted Ashland resident and freelance writer John Darling and asked Darling to call the police.

“She was obviously dead,” said Darling, who had been walking on the path and actually passed by the body once without noticing it. “I didn’t recognize her and she’s been a friend of mine for 30 years.”

McGowan, 48, had a slashes on both of her forearms, including several “hesitation” marks, according to Jackson County Deputy Medical Examiner Tim Pike. However, following an autopsy on Wednesday evening, the Jackson County forensic pathologist Dr. James Olson does not believe the inflicted wounds were fatal, Pike reported.

“What we are suspecting now is a combination of overdose and hypothermia,” Pike said. “She had several prescription medicine bottles with her and they were empty.”

No one had heard from her since she checked herself out of Rogue Valley Medical Center’s Two North on Jan. 6. Friends report McGowan had been suffering from depression.

“Initially we were treating it as a homicide,” Pike said. “We were certain when we saw the scene what we had [was a suicide]. We believe she’d been out there for several days.”

McGowan was dressed in jeans and a bra, and her clothing was not ripped or torn. Her shoes and top were found near the body, an indication she suffered from hypothermia.

“What we’ve found in the past cases of people who’ve been found in the woods, they’ll be partially disrobed,” Pike said. “It’s party of hypothermia. When it’s taking over, I believe the person feels very warm, so they will start taking their clothes off because they’re very warm.”

Results of a toxicology test will not be available for three to four weeks.

McGowan, who moved to Ashland in the 1970s from Massachusetts, worked as a fundraiser in the development department of Jefferson Public Radio until the spring of 2004. In April, she quit her job to go on a national tour with her acting troupe, Superhero Theatre. The group’s “2004 Vote, Dang It Tour” was to go up and down the West Coast before taking off on a multi-city, cross-country trip to Washington, D.C., and, on Election Day, the group was to perform its show “It’s Never Too Late to Save the World” in the nation’s capitol. The tour was cut short when finances ran out.

In the Ashland community, McGowan was a prominent presence as a volunteer, a fundraiser and an advocate. She volunteered to emcee the first live showing of the Ashland Fourth of July parade on RVTV in 2003 and was a founding member of the Hamazons in summer 1999, a seven-member, all-female comedy act.

In 2001, McGowan helped to raise $2,000 to fund area parks and the Bear Creek Greenway with her one-woman production of “FEAR, Our Top Ten Fears and How I Got Rid of Them.” In 2003, she also helped to raise awareness for domestic issues and hosted an awards ceremony for high school students who entered a Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library essay contest.

McGowan was chosen to be a Dennis Kucinich delegate at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where she voted for John Kerry. She had also been an advocate for victims of violent crime following a June 2004 assault by a Southern Oregon University student that left McGowan with a skull fracture and severe facial wounds.

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