December 8, 1943 – July 3, 1971 (27 Years old)
James Douglas "Jim" Morrison was an American singer-songwriter and poet, best remembered as the lead singer of Los Angeles rock band The Doors. From a young age, Morrison became infatuated with the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Rimbaud and Jack Kerouac, emphasising his high intellect and ability to incorporate their work into his lyrics, making him one of the most artistic and influential singer-songwriters of all time, along with his songwriting partner in The Doors, Robby Krieger. Unfortunately, in his later life, Morrison developed an alcohol dependency which led to his death at the age of 27 in Paris. He is alleged to have died of a heroin overdose, but as no autopsy was performed, the exact cause of his death is still disputed.
Morrison was well known for often improvising spoken word poetry passages while the band played live. Due to his wild personality and performances, he is regarded by critics and fans as one of the most iconic, charismatic, and pioneering frontmen in rock music history. Morrison was ranked number 47 on Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Singers of All Time", and number 22 on Classic Rock Magazine's "50 Greatest Singers In Rock". Morrison was known as the self-proclaimed "King of Orgasmic Rock"
In the summer of 1965, after graduating with a degree from the UCLA film school, 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, the most notable being "Moonlight Drive" and "Hello, I Love You". According to Jakobs, he lived on canned beans and LSD for several months. Morrison and fellow UCLA student, Ray Manzarek, were the first two members of the Doors, forming the group during that same summer of 1965. They had previously met months earlier as fellow cinematography students. The now-legendary story claims that Manzarek was lying on the beach at Venice one day, where he accidentally encountered Morrison. He was impressed with Morrison's poetic lyrics, claiming that they were "rock group" material. Subsequently, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger 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 Morrison was not involved in this series of classes, claiming later that he "did not meditate"
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 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, 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. Morrison did not play an instrument live (except for maracas and tambourine for most shows, and harmonica on a few occasions) or in the studio (excluding maracas, tambourine, handclaps, and whistling). However, he did play the grand piano on "Orange County Suite" and a Moog synthesizer on "Strange Days".
In June 1966, Morrison and the Doors were the opening act at the Whisky a Go Go on 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 John Densmore in his book Riders On The Storm: "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, Morrison and the Doors produced a promotional film for "Break on Through (To the Other Side)", which was their first single release. The video featured the four members of the group playing the song on a darkened set with alternating views and close-ups of the performers while Morrison lip-synched the lyrics. Morrison and the Doors continued to make music videos, including "The Unknown Soldier", "Moonlight Drive", and "People Are Strange".
Poetry and Film
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 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 Morrison's lifetime. Morrison befriended Beat poet Michael McClure, who wrote the afterword for Danny Sugerman's biography of Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive. McClure and Morrison reportedly collaborated on a number of unmade film projects, including a film version of McClure's infamous play The Beard, in which Morrison would have played Billy the Kid. After his death, a further two volumes of Morrison's poetry were published. The contents of the books were selected and arranged by Morrison'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. 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 8, 1970. The latter recording session was attended by 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 No. 54 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. Morrison's best-known but seldom seen cinematic endeavor is HWY: An American Pastoral, a project he started in 1969. 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. Morrison played the main character, a hitchhiker turned killer/car thief. Morrison asked his friend, composer/pianist Fred Myrow, to select the soundtrack for the film.
Morrison met his long-term companion, Pamela Courson, well before he gained any fame or fortune, and she encouraged him to develop his poetry. At times, Courson used the surname "Morrison" with his apparent consent or at least lack of concern. After Courson's death on April 25, 1974, the probate court in California decided that she and Morrison had what qualified as a common-law marriage (see below, under "Estate Controversy"). Morrison and Courson's relationship was a stormy one, with frequent loud arguments and periods of separation. Biographer Danny Sugerman surmised that part of their difficulties may have stemmed from a conflict between their respective commitments to an open relationship and the consequences of living in such a relationship.
In 1970, Morrison participated in a Celtic Pagan handfasting ceremony with rock critic and science fiction/fantasy author Patricia Kennealy. Before witnesses, one of them a Presbyterian minister, 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 Morrison in her autobiography Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison and in an interview reported in the book Rock Wives.
Morrison also reportedly regularly had sex with fans ("groupies") such as Josépha Karcz who wrote a novel about their night together, and had numerous short flings with females connected with the music business or the print media. 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. David Crosby said many years later Morrison treated Joplin meanly at a party at the home of John Davidson while Davidson was out of town. She allegedly attacked him with a bottle of booze in front of witnesses, and that ended their only encounter. At the time of his death there were as many as twenty paternityactions pending against him, although no claims were made against his estate by any of the putative paternity claimants.
Morrison joined Courson in Paris in March 1971. They took up residence in the city in a rented apartment on the rue Beautreillis (in the 4th arrondissement of Paris on the Right Bank), and went for long walks throughout the city, admiring the city's architecture. During this time, Morrison shaved his beard and lost some of the weight he had gained in the previous months. His last studio recording was with two American street musicians—a session dismissed by Manzarek as "drunken gibberish". The session included a version of a song-in-progress, "Orange County Suite", which can be heard on the bootleg The Lost Paris Tapes. Morrison died on July 3, 1971 at age 27. In the official account of his death, he was found in a Paris apartment bathtub (at 17–19 rue Beautreillis, 4th arrondissement) by Courson.Pursuant to French law, no autopsy was performed because the medical examiner stated that there was no evidence of foul play. The absence of an official autopsy has left many questions regarding Morrison's cause of death. In Wonderland Avenue, Danny Sugerman discussed his encounter with Courson after she returned to the United States. According to Sugerman's account, Courson stated that Morrison had died of a heroin overdose, having inhaled what he believed to be cocaine. Sugerman added that Courson had given him numerous contradictory versions of Morrison's death, saying at times that she had killed Morrison, or that his death was her fault. Courson's story of Morrison's unintentional ingestion of heroin, followed by his accidental overdose, is supported by the confession of Alain Ronay, who has written that Morrison died of ahemorrhage after snorting Courson's heroin, and that Courson nodded off instead of phoning for medical help, leaving Morrison bleeding to death.
Ronay confessed in an article in Paris that he then helped cover up the circumstances of Morrison's death. In the epilogue of No One Here Gets Out Alive, Hopkins and Sugerman write that Ronay and Agnès Varda say Courson lied to the police who responded to the death scene, and later in her deposition, telling them Morrison never took drugs. In the epilogue to No One Here Gets Out Alive, Hopkins says that 20 years after Morrison's death, Ronay and Varda broke their silence and gave this account: They arrived at the house shortly after Morrison's death and Courson said that she and Morrison had taken heroin after a night of drinking. Morrison had been coughing badly, had gone to take a bath, and vomited blood. Courson said that he appeared to recover and that she then went to sleep. When she awoke sometime later Morrison was unresponsive, so she called for medical assistance. Hopkins and Sugerman also claim that Morrison had asthma and was suffering from a respiratory condition involving a chronic cough and vomiting blood on the night of his death. This theory is partially supported in The Doors(written by the remaining members of the band) in which they claim Morrison had been coughing up blood for nearly two months in Paris, but none of the members of The Doors were in Paris with Morrison in the months prior to his death. According to a Madame Colinette, who was at the cemetery that day mourning the recent loss of her husband, she witnessed Morrison's funeral at Père Lachaise Cemetery. The ceremony was "pitiful", with several of the attendants muttering a few words, throwing flowers over the casket, then leaving quickly and hastily within minutes as if their lives depended upon it. Those who attended included Alain Ronay, Agnès Varda, Bill Siddons (manager), Courson, and Robin Wertle (Morrison's Canadian private secretary at the time for a few months). In the first version of No One Here Gets Out Alive, published in 1980, Sugerman and Hopkins gave some credence to the rumor that Morrison may not have died at all, calling the fake death theory “not as far-fetched as it might seem”. This theory led to considerable distress for Morrison's loved ones over the years, notably when fans would stalk them, searching for evidence of Morrison's whereabouts.
In 1995, a new epilogue was added to Sugerman's and Hopkins's book, giving new facts about Morrison's death and discounting the fake death theory saying, “As time passed, some of Jim and Pamela [Courson]'s friends began to talk about what they knew, and although everything they said pointed irrefutably to Jim's demise, there remained and probably always will be those who refuse to believe that Jim is dead and those who will not allow him to rest in peace.” In July 2007, Sam Bernett, a former manager of the Rock 'n' Roll Circus nightclub, released a (French) book titled "The End: Jim Morrison". In it Bernett alleges that instead of dying of a heart attack in a bathtub (the official police version of his death) Morrison overdosed on heroin on a toilet seat in the nightclub. He claims that Morrison came to the club to buy heroin for Courson then did some himself and died in the bathroom. Morrison's body was then moved back to his rue Beautreillis apartment and dumped into the bathtub by the two drug dealers from whom Morrison had purchased the heroin. Bernett says those who saw Morrison that night were sworn to secrecy in order to prevent a scandal for the famous club, and that some of the witnesses immediately left the country. There have been many other conspiracy theories surrounding Morrison's death but are less supported by witnesses than are the accounts of Ronay and Courson.