Jim Morrison - What Happened?
The Doors Lead Singer
Jim Morrison (December 8, 1943 – July 3, 1971) was an American singer, songwriter, musician and poet, who was the lead singer of the rock band the Doors. Due to his wild personality, poetic lyrics, distinctive voice, unpredictable and erratic performances, and the dramatic circumstances surrounding his life and early death, Morrison is regarded by music critics and fans as one of the most iconic and influential frontmen in rock history.
Since his death, his fame has endured as one of popular culture's most rebellious and oft-displayed icons, representing the generation gap and youth counterculture. Morrison was a man who was spectacularly good at being a rock star – a lithe figure in leather trousers, prophesying about death, sex and magic on some of the biggest hits of the 1960s – Light My Fire, Break on Through and Hello, I Love You. But he was catastrophically bad at the rest of life. Like many alcoholics, he could be reckless, selfish and mercurial.
The Doors Members
Jim's father was a career Navy officer, was transferred from base to base during his son's childhood, but, by his Jim's early teens, the family had settled in Alexandria, Virginia. After finishing high school in Alexandria, Morrison took several classes at St. Petersburg Junior College and Florida State University before pulling up roots in 1964 and heading for the West Coast. By 1966 the twenty-two-year-old Morrison was enrolled in film classes at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), but a friendship with fellow student Ray Manzarek would sideline any plans he had of becoming a filmmaker.
The Doors Jim Morrison
While the two young men had known each other only casually as fellow students, they ran into each other one day by accident, on a Venice, California, beach. Manzarek, an organist, along with Morrison, guitarist Robbie Krieger, and drummer John Densmore, decided to form their own rock band to put their songs to music. The young men decided to call their group the Doors, a name inspired by a quote from nineteenth-century English poet William Blake (1757–1827): "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear as it is, infinite." As Morrison was fond of saying, "there are things known and things unknown and in between are the Doors."A long-term gig at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go on Hollywood's Sunset Strip allowed the Doors to develop their stage presence, and it eventually drew the attention of talent scouts searching for new recording acts. Not the least of the group's attractions was Morrison, who sang in a husky baritone, wore skintight pants, and went even further than Elvis Presley had in incorporating sexually suggestive movements into his onstage performances. With lyrics like "Come on baby, light my fire," Morrison drove young women wild.
Soon ‘The Doors’ started gaining popularity as a powerful rock band. The band earned national recognition after signing with ‘Elektra Records’ in 1967. ‘The Doors’ reached the top spot with their hit single ‘Light My Fire’ which peaked at number one on the ‘US Billboard Hot 100.
On September 17th, 1967, The Doors were invited to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. Moments before they were to go live, Ed Sullivan requested that Jim change the lyric in Light My Fire from "Girl we couldn’t get much higher" to “Girl we couldn’t get much better”. Jim agreed to the change however, when he performed the song on national tv, he either forgot out of nervousness or completely dismissed the request, and sang the song with its original lyric. The next six shows which had been planned for The Doors to perform were quickly cancelled by Sullivan.
After the release of their first album, The Doors, the group went back into the studio and cut Strange Days, both of which came out in 1967. Other albums would include Waiting for the Sun (1968), The Soft Parade (1969), Morrison Hotel (1970), Absolutely Live (1970), and L.A. Woman (1971). Morrison, interested in Native American lore and the images of the American deserts, dubbed himself the "Lizard King" and wrote several songs, including "Celebration of the Lizard," in reference to his reptilian alter ego. Caught up in a wave of popularity, the young band found itself carried into a new world, where drugs, alcohol, and sex played a major role. Morrison, whose status as a celebrity had begun almost overnight, found it difficult to handle the change: his growing dependence on alcohol would dim his talent in the years that followed, and the superstar status made him believe he was immune to normal authority.
Jim was no stranger to the law. On September 23rd, 1963 Tallahassee, Florida. Jim Morrison was charged with petty larceny, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, and public drunkenness at a football game. Morrison allegedly got rowdy and made fun of the football players. In addition, he stole an umbrella and a helmet from the open window of a police car. The charges were later dropped.
The New Haven Incident
Morrison became the first ever rock artist to be arrested while performing on stage. On December 9, 1967, Morrison was found by a police officer with a girl in a shower stall before his performance at the New Haven Arena, in New Haven Connecticut. The officer told Morrison “To beat it”, to which Morrison replied “Eat it”. Morrison was maced by the officer. The show was delayed while Morrison recovered
.Later, halfway through the set, Morrison decided to recount the story to the audience. His version was laden with obscenities and belittled the New Haven police. Morrison was promptly arrested and was taken to the local police station where he was booked on charges of indecency and public obscenity. The charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence.
January 28th, 1968. At the Pussycat a’ Go Go in Las Vegas, Morrison was charged with public drunkenness and vagrancy. It was reported that Morrison was smoking a cigarette like a joint which caught the attention of some heavy hitting bouncers. He was in knocked on the head by one of the bouncers and chaos soon followed. Morrison was promptly arrested. On November 9th, 1969, Phoenix, Arizona. Morrison was booked into a city jail for drunk and disorderly conduct and for interfering with flight crew and attendants on a Continental Airlines flight. Jim and his friend Tom Baker were on their way to Phoenix to watch a Rolling Stones concert. Morrison had previously been blacklisted from performing in Phoenix in 1968 after almost causing a riot during one of his shows.
On March 1, 1969, at the Dinner Key Auditorium in the Coconut Grove neighbourhood of Miami, the Doors gave the most controversial performance of their career, one that nearly "derailed the band". The auditorium was a converted seaplane hangar that had no air conditioning on that hot night, and the seats had been removed by the promoter to boost ticket sales.
Morrison had been drinking all day and had missed connecting flights to Miami. By the time he arrived, drunk, the concert was over an hour late. The restless crowd of 12,000 packed into a facility designed to hold only 7,000 was subjected to undue silences in Morrison's singing, which strained the music from the beginning of the performance.
Morrison had recently attended a play by an experimental theater group the Living Theatre and was inspired by their "antagonistic" style of performance art. Morrison taunted the crowd with messages of both love and hate, saying, "Love me. I can't take it no more without no good love. I want some lovin'. Ain't nobody gonna love my ass?" and alternately, "You're all a bunch of fuckin' idiots!" and screaming "What are you gonna do about it?" over and over again.
As the band began their second song, "Touch Me", Morrison started shouting in protest, forcing the band to a halt. At one point, Morrison removed the hat of an onstage police officer and threw it into the crowd; the officer removed Morrison's hat and threw it. Manager Bill Siddons recalled, "The gig was a bizarre, circus-like thing, there was this guy carrying a sheep and the wildest people that I'd ever seen.
Equipment chief Vince Treanor said, "Somebody jumped up and poured champagne on Jim so he took his shirt off, he was soaking wet. 'Let's see a little skin, let's get naked,' he said, and the audience started taking their clothes off." Having removed his shirt, Morrison held it in front of his groin area and started to make hand movements behind it. On March 5, the Dade County Sheriff's office issued a warrant for Morrison's arrest, claiming Morrison had exposed his penis while on stage, shouted obscenities to the crowd, simulated oral sex on guitarist Robby Krieger, and was drunk at the time of his performance.
Morrison turned down a plea bargain that required the Doors to perform a free Miami concert. He was convicted and sentenced to six months in jail with hard labor, and ordered to pay a $500 fine. Morrison remained free, pending an appeal of his conviction, and died before the matter was legally resolved. Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek have denied the allegation that Morrison exposed himself on stage that night.
Pressure from disgusted Miami-area residents forced local police to issue a warrant for Morrison's arrest. The singer, who had been vacationing out of the country, turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and returned to Miami, where he went on trial on August 12, 1970.
Found guilty of a misdemeanor (a minor crime) for profanity (vulgar language or behavior) and drunkenness, he was sentenced to six months hard labor, although the sentence was stayed (postponed) while his attorney appealed the conviction. Morrison would not live to see the outcome of that appeal.
After the trial in Miami, Morrison's life grew more chaotic, his relationships with band members more strained. Searching to recover a sense of himself, he went back to the poetry that he had loved while a college student. In 1970 he published his first book of verse, The Lords [and] The New Creatures, which had been privately printed the year before.
How Jim Morrison Died
Jim Morrison's future with the Doors was clouded in uncertainty as 1970 faded into 1971, but all involved knew things couldn't continue the way they'd been going. Seeking a change and hoping to reorient himself emotionally and creatively, he left the U.S. for a sabbatical in Paris on March 11.
As tended to be the case with some of Morrison's more memorable decisions, the timing came at an inconvenient time for the Doors. The band had been ensconced in the studio since late 1970, working in the tracks for what would become their L.A. Woman album — and although sessions had been completed by the spring of 1971, the record was still being mixed when Morrison departed for Paris.
While his bandmates might have wished he'd waited for the project to be finished, they knew he was unwell.
"In that photo on the album cover you can see the impending demise of Jim Morrison," Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek later said of the L.A. Woman cover shoot. "He was sitting down because he was drunk. A psychic would have known that guy is on the way out. There was a great weight on him. He wasn’t the youthful poet I met on the beach at Venice."
Morrison's drinking had indeed gotten out of control during the L.A. Woman sessions — he was said to consume dozens of beers in a day, and was having problems completing lyrics and vocal tracks — and at first, it seemed like Paris might be part of the cure for what ailed him. After meeting up with longtime companion Pamela Courson at an apartment they'd rented in the city, he underwent at least a partial lifestyle change, walking the streets and losing some of the excess weight he'd put on in recent months.
Old habits die hard, however, and while Paris may have offered Morrison a somewhat quieter environment and idyllic scenery, the city was also in the midst of a headline-grabbing heroin epidemic in the early '70s — and by most accounts, he soon fell into a downward spiral, alternating between periods of creativity and substance abuse. Reportedly dogged by health problems that were exacerbated by the climate, Morrison embarked on a vacation within a vacation with Courson, visiting Toulouse and an assortment of cities along the way. But soon after returning in brighter spirits, he fell back into the Parisian nightlife.
The conflicting desires reflected in Morrison's behavior were borne out on a smaller scale in front of those who later professed to know him. "When he was sober he just looked like an American student on holiday. Very quiet and shy," Parisian acquaintance Gilles Yepremian later claimed. "Once he became drunk, he was a madman." Much of what transpired during Morrison's stay in the city has been shrouded in uncertainty over the years, with opposing accounts and diverging theories purporting to get at the heart of how he was feeling and what he intended to do next.
According to drummer John Densmore, Morrison was happy with the finished version of L.A. Woman and planned to return to Los Angeles, although he hadn't yet decided when. With the Doors continuing to sell records and Morrison just a few months past his 27th birthday, there seemed to be plenty of time to figure out the details. Sadly, he'd never make it back.
Cause Of Death Jim Morrison
On the morning of July 3, 1971, Jim Morrison was found dead in the bathtub of the Paris apartment he shared with Courson. The untimely demise of The Doors frontman stunned the world and left his fans devastated. But the questions surrounding Jim Morrison’s death have endured far longer than the short time he spent on Earth. According to Courson, Morrison was feeling sick the night before and decided to take a hot bath. Courson then went back to sleep—only to find him unresponsive in the water hours later. The official cause of death was listed as heart failure, and no autopsy was performed. Morrison’s body lay wrapped in dry ice and plastic for 72 hours before he was buried in the city’s famous Père Lachaise Cemetery.
If you’re one of the many people who think Doors leader Jim Morrison’s 1971 demise was suspicious, you might be right. According to his death certificate, Morrison, who was famously found dead in the bathtub of his Paris apartment at the age of 27, died from natural causes. But according to The End: Jim Morrison, a book by Sam Bernett, a French-born former New York Times journalist, club manager and friend of Morrison, the rocker died of a massive heroin overdose in the bathroom of the Rock & Roll Circus club in Paris’ Left Bank and was then moved to the tub as part of an astonishing cover-up meant to deflect blame from the posse of drug dealers Morrison patronized.
Bernett claims that in the early hours of July 3, 1971, Morrison showed up looking to buy heroin for his then-girlfriend Pamela Courson. After scoring and heading for the bathroom, he failed to reappear. “About half an hour later, a cloakroom attendant came up to me and told me someone was locked in one of the cubicles and wasn’t coming out. I got a bouncer to smash the door down,” Bernett recalls. He says he found Morrison’s body slumped over the toilet. “We were certain he’d been snorting heroin because there was foam coming out of his lips as well as blood,” Bernett says. “He was scared of needles so never injected drugs.”
Bernett brought in a customer who worked as a medic, who proclaimed Morrison dead. At this point, Bernett says, Morrison’s dealers appeared, insisted the singer was still alive (though passed out) and carried the rocker out of the club, saying they would take care of him. Shortly thereafter, Bernett claims someone representing the club’s owner called, warning him not to tell anyone what happened.
Jim Morrison Grave
Since 1971, Morrison fans have flocked to his grave located in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, to do drugs, have sex and just honour the rock legend. The grave has been vandalized on several occasions. In 1981 a Croatian sculptor Mladen Mikulin created a bust of the legend which was placed on Morrison’s new headstone – it had been stolen prior – the bust was defaced through the years and eventually stolen as well in 1988.
The current headstone was placed by Morrison’s father, Admiral George Stephen Morrison. The headstone reads a Greek quote that translates to “True to his own spirit”.
The French wanted Morrison’s grave removed from the famous graveyard. However, the request was rejected when discovered how popular the grave is as a tourist attraction. The grave is the second most visited attraction in Paris, the Eiffel tower is first.
To this day, the Doors continue to sell millions of records, Morrison’s and The Doors’ music will live on for years to come. His legend is his controversy and music, his humanity is the proof that he was not untouchable and all legends come to an end.
Jim Morrison Footnotes:
No One Here Gets Out Alive (1980) was the first biography about Jim Morrison, lead singer and lyricist of the L.A. rock band the Doors. Its title is taken from the Doors song "Five to One", and the book is divided into three sections: The Bow is Drawn, The Arrow Flies and The Arrow Falls, for the early years of Morrison's life, his rise to fame with the Doors, and then his final years and death. It's well worth a read. You can find it here.
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