December 8, 1943 – James Douglas Morrison:
“Some of the worst mistakes in my life were haircuts.”
The Paris police said Jim Morrison became ill at the apartment he shared with his girlfriend, 25-year-old Pamela Courson. Courson told police that Morrison had not been feeling well. He asked her to draw him a bath. He went in the bathroom, but not hearing any noise, Courson opened the door and found Morrison lying unconscious in the bathtub.
A Paris doctor attributed the death to a heart attack. But, it was just as likely that he was taken by a heroin overdose. His dealer was Jean De Breteuil, supplier for Keith Richards and Janis Joplin. He fled to Morocco with Marianne Faithfull the day after Morrison was found dead.
Morrison is buried in historic Pere Lachaise Cemetery. There was a private ceremony arranged by Courson and attended by only a few close friends. De Breteuil died of a massive heroin overdose later that same year. He was 22.
Morrison’s father told the press:
“I grew up in a different era. I didn’t like all of their loud music. But I consider Jim a great writer and I like some of his songs.”
His mother added that she had seen him perform once in the Washington DC area: “We were proud of him”.
Morrison co-founded The Doors during the summer of 1965 in Venice, California. The band spent two years in obscurity until suddenly and surprisingly, their single, Light My Fire, from their self-titled debut album, became Number One in USA. Morrison recorded six studio albums with The Doors, all sold well and received critical acclaim. The Doors recorded two more albums after his death, but the loss of Morrison was too much for the band, and they broke up in 1973.
Ray Manzarek‘s sharp electric organ, the hard drumming of John Densmore and Robby Krieger‘s tough guitar provided the sound of The Doors, but it was Morrison’s show.
The Doors concerts had Morrison, in his tight leather outfits, screaming, running around the stage, or swaying hypnotically. It was rock/sexual/violent theatre. Morrison was this country’s Mick Jagger; The Doors, were the USA’s Rolling Stones.
Morrison was arrested on stage in New Haven, during a performance in 1967. In March 1969, he was charged with indecent exposure after a concert in Miami during which witnesses said he whipped it out. But, Morrison was more than a bad boy, he was also one of the best rock lyricists, offering haunting poetry against the hard rock sound of his band.
Although he was not a good student, Morrison had a deep love of literature, poetry, religion, philosophy and psychology. While still in his teens, he was drawn to the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, William Blake, and gay poets Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud.
Morrison’s rock poem, Horse Latitudes, tells of Spanish ships sailing to the New World trapped in dead seas. They lightened their loads by tossing dead horses overboard. Soft Parade, a song with changing beats and melodies, with lyrics about snakes, saxophones, and shootouts on Western streets, starts with a scream: “When I was back there in seminary school, there was a person there who put forth the proposition you cannot petition the Lord with prayer”, and ends with Morrison chanting: “You cannot petition the Lord with prayer”.
Morrison was a former Eagle Scout who he gave himself the titles “The Lizard King” and “The King of Orgasmic Rock”. On The Doors’ third album, Waiting For The Sun, Morrison, at his most sensual swaggering, sings The Celebration Of The Lizard: “Not to touch the earth, not to see the sun; nothing left to do but run, run, run. C’mon, baby, run with me.”
The Doors were full of contradictions. They released single records for AM radio, yet the band’s albums always included some 12-minute song featuring Morrison’s flamboyant shrieks and sensuous whispers.
Light My Fire is a seven-minute song that was cut to two and half minutes for radio airplay. The song was that rare thing among hard rock songs; it was covered by many other artists in all sorts of genres: the José Feliciano version went to Number One in 1968, plus versions by Shirley Bassey, The Lettermen, Johnny Mathis, Jack Jones, BJ Thomas, Stevie Wonder, Julie London, Al Green, Massive Attack, UB40, The Cramps, The Residents, Frank Sinatra, Mae West and The Del Rubio Triplets.
Real fans usually skipped the radio hits to listen to Morrison perform his poetry, such as The End an 11-minute number that includes the line: “Father, I want to kill you. Mother, I want to…” and ends with a Morrison scream.
Morrison died in 1971, a member of the 27 Club, along with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, “Pigpen” McKernan (Grateful Dead), Dave Alexander (The Stooges) and Kristen Pfaff (Hole), all gone at 27 years old.
When in 1981, Rolling Stone put Morrison on the cover with the headline: He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, He’s Dead. I thought, no kidding.
The magazine made mention of how many women Morrison fucked before his heavy drinking prevented him from being able to perform, and I don’t mean sing. But, in fact, Morrison was very bisexual.
I heard gossip that Morrison had a thing for dudes around the time that he hung around Andy Warhol‘s Factory. It was known that Morrison had an affair with a hustler in 1968. The hustler tried to extort money by threatening to expose Morrison’s secret sex life. His lawyer, Max Fink, arranged a meeting between the hustler and an intermediary, who was a private detective. The hustler was beaten in alley behind a motel near the LAX and the blackmail attempt was over.
Elliot Tiber, the fabulous gay man who helped form Woodstock (Ang Lee‘s messy film Taking Woodstock (2007) is based on Tiber’s memoirs), met Morrison at a Manhattan party. He writes:
“Morrison was stoned and he and I messed around a bit. He definitely strayed.”
Maybe Morrison’s alcohol abuse and drug use, along with his anger, fueled his inability to deal with his bisexuality.
Since his death, Morrison’s fame has only grown. He has endured as one of pop culture’s most rebellious and most merchandised icons.
I count at least 25 biographies about Morrison, including Manzarek’s Light My Fire (1998), and 18 films, the most famous is Oliver Stone‘s The Doors (1991) starring Val Kilmer as Morrison. Kilmer’s performance is utterly convincing. The film is heavy on the trippy and slight on the storytelling, but it’s worth watching.
In 2013, a fossil of an unidentified large lizard was discovered in Myanmar. The extinct reptile was given the moniker Barbaturex Morrisoni in honor of Morrison. Jason Head, the paleontologist who made the discovery said: “This is a king lizard, and he was the lizard king, so it just fit”.
In January 2017, exactly 50 years after the release of The Doors debut album, the city of Los Angeles declared it Day Of The Doors, a public event at venues related to the band all around the city. Founding Doors members, Densmore and Krieger were on hand for the event along with family members of the late Manzarek and Morrison. It all started in Venice Beach where one beautiful summer day in 1965, fate brought together Morrison and Manzarek as they strolled on the beach. The event ended at the Alta Cienega Motel on La Cienega jut off the Sunset Strip. The Alta Cienega was Morrison’s primary residence from 1968-1970. Room 32 is now known as the “Jim Morrison Room”. The walls are covered with fan graffiti, poetry, messages and Doors lyrics. Periodically, the owners will paint over everything, and fans will start writing the graffiti all over again.