A Rockapaedia Obituary
Band: The Doors
Jim Morrison died aged twenty-seven on 3rd July 1971 at a Paris apartment he had rented on the rue Beautreillis . The official cause of death was listed as heart failure, although no autopsy was performed, as it was not required by French law. In letters he described going for long walks through the city, alone. During this time, he shaved his beard and lost some of the weight he had gained in the previous months. . He was found by his girlfriend Pamela Courson in a bathtub at his apartment.
Jim was born James Douglas Morrison on 8th December 1943 in Melbourne, Florida, the son of Clara and Rear Admiral George Stephen Morrison who commanded United States naval forces during the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Jim Morrison had a younger sister, Anne Robin, who was born in 1947 in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and a younger brother, Andrew Lee Morrison, who was born in 1948 in Los Altos, California.
Jim's ancestors were Scottish, Irish, and English. In 1947, when he was four years old, Jim Morrison allegedly witnessed a car accident in the desert, during which a truck overturned and some Native Americans were lying injured at the side of the road. He referred to this incident in The Doors' song "Peace Frog" on their 1970 album 'Morrison Hotel', as well as in the spoken word performances "Dawn's Highway" and "Ghost Song" on the posthumous 1978 album 'An American Prayer'. Jim Morrison believed this incident to be the most formative event of his life, and made repeated references to it in the imagery in his songs, poems, and interviews.
His family does not recall this incident happening in the way he told it. According to the Morrison biography 'No One Here Gets Out Alive', Jim Morrison's family did drive past a car accident on an Indian reservation when he was a child, and he was very upset by it. The book 'The Doors', written by the surviving members of the Doors, explains how different Jim Morrison's account of the incident was from that of his father. This book quotes his father as saying, "We went by several Indians. It did make an impression on him [the young James]. He always thought about that crying Indian." This is contrasted sharply with Jim Morrison's tale of "Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding to death." In the same book, his sister is quoted as saying, "He enjoyed telling that story and exaggerating it. He said he saw a dead Indian by the side of the road, and I don't even know if that's true."
Jim Morrison spent part of his childhood in San Diego, completed third grade at Fairfax County Elementary School Fairfax County, Virginia, and attended Charles H. Flato Elementary School in Kingsville, Texas while his father was stationed at NAS Kingsville in 1952. He continued at St. John's Methodist School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then Longfellow School Sixth Grade Graduation Program from San Diego, California.
In 1957, Jim Morrison attended Alameda High School in Alameda, California for his freshman and first semester of his sophomore year. He finished high school in Alexandria, Virginia, graduating from George Washington High School in June 1961, now George Washington Middle School.
A voracious reader from an early age, Jim Morrison was particularly inspired by the writings of several philosophers and poets. He was influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, whose views on aesthetics, morality, and the Apollonian and Dionysian duality would appear in his conversation, poetry and songs. Some of his formative influences were Plutarch's Parallel Lives and the works of the French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, whose style would later influence the form of Jim Morrison's short prose poems. He was also influenced by William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Baudelaire, Molière, Franz Kafka, Honoré de Balzac and Jean Cocteau, along with most of the French existentialist philosophers. His senior year English teacher said, "Jim read as much and probably more than any student in class, but everything he read was so offbeat I had another teacher, going to the Library of Congress, to check to see if the books Jim was reporting on actually existed. I suspected he was making them up, as they were English books on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century demonology. I'd never heard of them, but they existed, and I'm convinced from the paper he wrote that he read them, and the Library of Congress would've been the only source". Jim Morrison went to live with his paternal grandparents in Clearwater, Florida, where he attended classes at St. Petersburg College.
In 1962, he transferred to Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee, where he appeared in a school recruitment film. While attending FSU, Jim Morrison was arrested for a prank following a home football game.
In January 1964, Jim Morrison moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Shortly thereafter on August 2nd 1964, Jim's father, George Stephen Morrison, commanded a carrier division of the United States fleet during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which resulted in the United States' rapid escalation of the Vietnam War. At UCLA, Jim Morrison enrolled in Jack Hirschman's class on Antonin Artaud in the Comparative Literature program within the UCLA English Department. Artaud's brand of surrealist theatre had a profound impact on Jim Morrison's dark poetic sensibility of cinematic theatricality. Jim Morrison completed his undergraduate degree at UCLA's film school within the Theater Arts department of the College of Fine Arts in 1965. At the time of the graduation ceremony, he went to Venice, and his diploma was mailed to his mother at Coronado. He made several short films while attending UCLA. 'First Love', the first of these films, made with Jim Morrison's classmate and roommate Max Schwartz, was released to the public when it appeared in a documentary about the film Obscura. During these years, while living in Venice Beach, Jim became friends with writers at the Los Angeles Free Press. He conducted a lengthy and in-depth interview with Bob Chorush and Andy Kent, both working for the Free Press at the time around December 1970, and was planning on visiting the headquarters of the busy newspaper shortly before leaving for Paris.
In the summer of 1965, after graduating with a bachelor's degree from the UCLA film school, Jim Morrison led a bohemian lifestyle in Venice Beach. Living on the rooftop of a building inhabited by his old UCLA cinematography friend, Dennis Jakobs, he wrote the lyrics of many of the early songs the Doors would later perform live and record on albums. According to Jakobs, Jim lived on canned beans and LSD for several months. Jim Morrison and fellow UCLA student, Ray Manzarek, were the first two members of the Doors, forming the group during that summer. They had met months earlier as cinematography students. The now-legendary story claims that Manzarek was lying on the beach at Venice one day, where he accidentally encountered Jim Morrison. He was impressed with Jim's poetic lyrics, claiming that they were "rock group" material. Subsequently, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore joined. Krieger auditioned at Densmore's recommendation and was then added to the lineup. All three musicians shared a common interest in the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's meditation practices at the time, attending scheduled classes, but Jim Morrison was not involved in these series of classes.
The Doors took their name from the title of Aldous Huxley's book The Doors of Perception, a reference to the unlocking of doors of perception through psychedelic drug use. Huxley's own title was a quotation from William Blake's 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell', in which Blake wrote: "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." Although Jim Morrison was known as the lyricist of the group, Krieger also made significant lyrical contributions, writing or co-writing some of the group's biggest hits, including "Light My Fire", "Love Me Two Times", "Love Her Madly", and "Touch Me". On the other hand, Jim Morrison, who didn't write most songs using an instrument, would come up with vocal melodies for his own lyrics, with the other band members contributing chords and rhythm. Jim Morrison did not play an instrument live, except for maracas and tambourine for most shows, and harmonica on a few occasions. However, he did play the grand piano on "Orange County Suite" and a Moog synthesizer on "Strange Days".
In June 1966, Jim Morrison and the Doors were the opening act at the Whisky a Go Go in the last week of the residency of Van Morrison's band 'Them'. Van's influence on Jim's developing stage performance was later noted by Brian Hinton in his book Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison: "Jim Morrison learned quickly from his near namesake's stagecraft, his apparent recklessness, his air of subdued menace, the way he would improvise poetry to a rock beat, even his habit of crouching down by the bass drum during instrumental breaks." On the final night, the two Morrisons and their two bands jammed together on "Gloria". In November 1966, Jim Morrison and the Doors produced a promotional film for "Break on Through", which was their first single release. The film featured the four members of the group playing the song on a darkened set with alternating views and close-ups of the performers while Jim Morrison lip-synched the lyrics. Jim Morrison and the Doors continued to make short music films, including "The Unknown Soldier", "Moonlight Drive", and "People Are Strange".
The Doors achieved national recognition after signing with Elektra Records in 1967. The single "Light My Fire" spent three weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in July/August 1967. This was a far cry from the Doors playing warm up for Simon and Garfunkel and playing at a high school as they did in Connecticut that same year. Later, the Doors appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, a popular Sunday night variety series that had introduced the Beatles and Elvis Presley to the USA. Ed Sullivan requested two songs from the Doors for the show, "People Are Strange" and "Light My Fire". Sullivan's censors insisted that the Doors change the lyrics of the song "Light My Fire" from "Girl we couldn't get much higher" to "Girl we couldn't get much better" for the television viewers. This was reportedly due to what was perceived as a reference to drugs in the original lyrics. After giving assurances of compliance to the producer in the dressing room, the band agreed, "we're not changing a word," and proceeded to sing the song with the original lyrics. Sullivan was not happy and he refused to shake hands with Jim Morrison or any other band member after their performance. Sullivan had a show producer tell the band that they would never appear on The Ed Sullivan Show again. Jim Morrison reportedly said to the producer, in a defiant tone, "Hey man. We just 'did' the Sullivan Show!"
By the release of their second album, 'Strange Days', the Doors had become one of the most popular rock bands in the United States. Their blend of blues and dark psychedelic rock included a number of original songs and distinctive cover versions. The band also performed a number of extended concept works, including the songs "The End", "When the Music's Over", and "Celebration of the Lizard". In 1966, photographer Joel Brodsky took a series of black-and-white photos of Morrison, in a photo shoot known as "The Young Lion" photo session. These photographs are considered among the most iconic images of Jim Morrison and are frequently used as covers for compilation albums, books, and other memorabilia of the Doors and Morrison. In late 1967 at an infamous concert in New Haven, Connecticut, Jim was arrested on stage, an incident that further added to his mystique and emphasized his rebellious image.
In 1968, the Doors released their third studio album, 'Waiting for the Sun'. The band performed on July 5th at the Hollywood Bowl, this performance became famous with the DVD: 'Live at the Hollywood Bowl'. It's also this year that the band played, for the first time, in Europe. Their fourth album, 'The Soft Parade', was released in 1969. It was the first album where the individual band members were given credit on the inner sleeve for the songs they had written. Previously, each song on their albums had been credited simply to "the Doors". On September 6th and 7th, 1968, the Doors played four performances at the Roundhouse, London, UK with Jefferson Airplane which was filmed by Granada for a television documentary 'The Doors are Open' directed by John Sheppard. Around this time, Jim Morrison, who had long been a heavy drinker, started showing up for recording sessions visibly inebriated and late for live performances.
By early 1969 Jim had gained weight and grown his beard. During a concert of March 1st 1969, at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, Jim Morrison attempted to spark a riot in the audience, in part by screaming "You wanna see my cock?" and other obscenities. He failed, but six warrants for his arrest were issued by the Dade County Police department three days later for indecent exposure, among other things. Consequently, many of the Doors' scheduled concerts were canceled. In September 1970, Jim Morrison was convicted of indecent exposure and profanity. Jim , attended the sentencing dressed in a wool jacket adorned with Indian designs where he silently listened as he was sentenced to six months in prison and had to pay a five-hundred dollar fine. Jim Morrison remained free from jail on a fifty thusand dollar bond. At the sentencing, Judge Murray Goodman told Jim Morrison that he was a "person graced with a talent" admired by many of his peers.
In 2007 Florida Governor Charlie Crist suggested the possibility of a posthumous pardon for Jim Morrison, which was announced as successful on December 9th 2010. Drummer John Densmore denied Jim Morrison ever exposed himself on stage that night.
Following 'The Soft Parade', the Doors released 'Morrison Hotel'. After a lengthy break, the group reconvened in October 1970 to record what would become their final album with Jim Morrison, entitled 'L.A.Woman'. Shortly after the recording sessions for the album began, producer Paul A. Rothchild, who had overseen all of their previous recordings, left the project. Engineer Bruce Botnick took over as producer.
Jim Morrison began writing in earnest during his adolescence. At UCLA he studied the related fields of theater, film, and cinematography. He self-published two separate volumes of his poetry in 1969, titled The Lords / Notes on Vision and The New Creatures. The Lords consists primarily of brief descriptions of places, people, events and Jim Morrison's thoughts on cinema. The New Creatures verses are more poetic in structure, feel and appearance. These two books were later combined into a single volume titled 'The Lords and The New Creatures'. These were the only writings published during Jim Morrison's lifetime. Jim befriended Beat poet Michael McClure, who wrote the afterword for Danny Sugerman's biography of Jim , No One Here Gets Out Alive. McClure and Jim Morrison reportedly collaborated on a number of unmade film projects, including a film version of McClure's infamous play The Beard, in which Jim would have played Billy the Kid. After his death, a further two volumes of Jim Morrison's poetry were published. The contents of the books were selected and arranged by Jim 's friend, photographer Frank Lisciandro, and girlfriend Pamela Courson's parents, who owned the rights to his poetry.
The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison Volume I is titled 'Wilderness', and, upon its release in 1988, became an instant New York Times Bestseller. Volume II, 'The American Night', released in 1990, was also a success. Jim Morrison recorded his own poetry in a professional sound studio on two separate occasions. The first was in March 1969 in Los Angeles and the second was on December 8th 1970. The latter recording session was attended by Jim Morrison's personal friends and included a variety of sketch pieces. Some of the segments from the 1969 session were issued on the bootleg album 'The Lost Paris Tapes' and were later used as part of the Doors' An American Prayer album, released in 1978. The album reached number fifty four on the music charts. Some poetry recorded from the December 1970 session remains unreleased to this day and is in the possession of the Courson family. Jim Morrison's best-known but seldom seen cinematic endeavor is HWY: An American Pastoral, a project he started in 1969. Jim Morrison financed the venture and formed his own production company in order to maintain complete control of the project. Paul Ferrara, Frank Lisciandro, and Babe Hill assisted with the project. Jim Morrison played the main character, a hitchhiker turned killer/car thief. Jim Morrison asked his friend, composer/pianist Fred Myrow, to select the soundtrack for the film.
Jim Morrison's early life was the semi-nomadic existence typical of military families. Jim Morrison's brother, Andy once explained that his parents had determined never to use physical corporal punishment such as spanking on their children and instead instilled discipline and levied punishment by the military tradition known as dressing down. This consisted of yelling at and berating the children until they were reduced to tears and acknowledged their failings. Once Jim Morrison graduated from UCLA, he broke off most contact with his family. By the time Jim Morrison's music ascended to the top of the charts, in 1967, he had not been in communication with his family for more than a year and falsely claimed that his parents and siblings were dead or that he was an only child.
This misinformation was published as part of the materials distributed with the Doors' self-titled debut album. Admiral Morrison was not supportive of his son's career choice in music. One day, an acquaintance brought over a record thought to have Jim on the cover. The record was the Doors' self-titled debut. The young man played the record for Morrison's father and family. Upon hearing the record, Jim Morrison's father wrote him a letter telling him to give up any idea of singing or any connection with a music group because of what he considered to be a complete lack of talent in this direction. In a letter to the Florida Probation and Parole Commission District Office dated October 2nd 1970 Admiral Morrison acknowledged the breakdown in family communications as the result of an argument over his assessment of his son's musical talents. He said he could not blame his son for being reluctant to initiate contact and that he was proud of him nonetheless.
Jim Morrison spoke fondly of his Irish and Scottish ancestry and was inspired by Celtic mythology in his poetry and songs. Celtic Family Magazine revealed in its 2016 Spring Issue Jim's Morrison clan was originally from the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, while his Irish side, the Clelland clan whom married into the Morrison line were from County Down, Ireland.
Jim Morrison's first major love affair was with Mary Werbelow, whom he met on the beach in Florida. The relationship lasted several years. Mary Werbelow has remained out of site to rock historians with one exception, a 2005 interview with the St. Petersburg Times where she said Jim Morrison spoke to her before a photo shoot for the Doors' fourth album and told her the first three albums were about her.
Jim Morrison spent nearly the entirety of his adult life with a woman named Pamela Courson after meeting her while both attended university. They met and she encouraged him to develop his poetry. At times, Courson used the surname "Morrison" with his apparent consent. She was buried as Pamela Susan Morrison. After Courson's death in 1974, and after her parents petitioned the court for inheritance of Jim Morrison's estate, the probate court in California decided that she and Morrison had once had what qualified as a common-law marriage, despite neither having applied for such status, and common-law marriage not being recognized in California. Jim Morrison's will lists him as "an unmarried person" but listed Courson as the sole heir. They had previously obtained marriage licenses in Colorado in 1967 and in Los Angeles in 1968. The Doors' keyboardist Ray Manzarek described Courson as Morrison's "other half". Jim Morrison spoke to Courson through his lyrics and his poetry and dedicated his published poetry book 'The New Creatures' to her. Songs like "Love Street", "Queen of the Highway", "Blue Sunday", and "Indian Summer" as well as many of his poems were said to be written about her.
Jim Morrison also reportedly often had sex with groupies and had numerous short flings with other musicians, as well as writers and photographers involved in the music business. They included Nico, the singer associated with the Velvet Underground, a one-night stand with singer Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, an on-again, off-again relationship with 16 Magazine's Gloria Stavers as well as an alleged alcohol-fueled encounter with Janis Joplin. Nico also wanted to marry Jim Morrison and they cut their thumbs in the desert with a knife and let their blood mingle. Nico said that they exchanged blood and she carried his blood inside her.
In 1970, Jim Morrison participated in a Celtic Pagan handfasting ceremony with rock critic author Patricia Kennealy. The couple signed a document declaring themselves wed, but none of the necessary paperwork for a legal marriage was filed with the state. Kennealy discussed her experiences with Jim Morrison in her autobiography 'Strange Days:My Life With and Without Jim Morrison'.
In July 1971, Janet Erwin documented in her journal having dated Jim Morrison during the last few weeks before he traveled to Paris. She wrote the essay "Your Ballroom Days Are Over."
At the time of Jim Morrison's death there were at least three paternity actions pending against him, although no claims were made against his estate by any of the putative paternity claimants. Pamela Des Barres later said in her autobiography that Jim Morrison "turned out to be very much a one-woman man", referring to his relationship with Pamela Courson.