It was 50 years ago Saturday (July 3rd, 1971) that Jim Morrison was found dead in the bathtub of his apartment in Paris, France by his longtime companion, Pamela Courson. The local coroner ruled the official cause of death for the 27-year-old Doors frontman as “heart attack induced by respiratory problems.” Morrison was buried in Paris’s Pere Lachaise Cemetery on July 9th of that year.
James Riordan, the co-author of Break On Through: The Life And Death Of Jim Morrison, told us that relocating to France was a natural progression for Jim Morrison — artist: “So, when he went to Paris it was the idea of, ‘Here is a new place. A place for artists, a place I can work on my poetry. I mean, what better place to write poetry than Paris? And I can explore new avenues in my thinking.’ And in his mind, I think, get himself together.”
The rock world has forever been fascinated by the mysterious circumstances surrounding Jim Morrison’s sudden and early demise. Steve Harris, the senior VP at the time of the Doors’ record label Elektra Records revealed what he knows about Morrison’s death: “It was heroin. So, they bring Jim home and he’s dead. And they put him in the bathtub and there’s a knock on the door. Pam goes and opens the door. Y’know who it is? Marianne Faithfull. She saw what was going on and she split.”
In December 2010 Florida’s outgoing Governor Charlie Crist cleared Morrison’s name just one day after what would’ve been his 67th birthday (December 8th) for his 1969 indecent exposure conviction in Miami. The then-surviving Doors — Ray Manzarek, John Densmore and Robby Krieger — who have long maintained that Morrison did not expose himself, said in a statement that Morrison had nothing to be pardoned for in the first place. They also said that an apology — not a pardon — would have been more appropriate “40 years after the fact.”
Although Morrison’s freedom, livelihood, and reputation were on the line during the trial, Morrison viewed the whole process as an attack on an artist’s first amendment rights, as he explained at the time to NBC News: “(Jim Morrison): I think that nudity is really a cyclical phenomena. I think it comes, it gets very liberal and extreme, and it goes back, reacts the other way and just seems to be a cycle in entertainment. (Reporter): In other words, you feel the same liberalism performed in the theater — in acting — should also be generated in music. (Morrison): Well, in the realm of art and theater, I do think that there should be complete freedom for the artists and the performer. I’m not personally convinced that, uh, nudity is always a necessary part of, y’know, a play or a film, but the artist should be free to use it.”
Ray Manzarek told us shortly before his 2013 death that he hoped people would start to eventually see beyond Morrison’s “Lizard King” persona and grow a deeper understanding of the Doors’ music: “Y’know, it’s a worship of Morrison — I understand that. Y’know, he’s dead. It’s like James Dean, y’know — except James Dean stood alone, so you could worship James Dean. But, I mean, Jim was part of a band. The band was called the Doors. Listen to the music, man. The people who worship Jim Morrison so insanely, I don’t even think they know the words, y’know? It’s just the image of Jim.”
Manzarek felt that much of Morrison’s rebellious streak emanated from the rigid and icy relationship he shared with his parents. He told us that in the ensuing years following Morrison’s death, he never had any interest in ever meeting the man who fathered the Doors’ legendary frontman: “I never met his father. I never met the man. The man, as far as I was concerned, is what Jim said about him in an interview — ‘Tell us about your parents’ — ‘My parents are dead.’ Jim did say that his father was a roaring sort of man. A small man, a short man, but a huge roar, which he would lay onto his children. He said, ‘We had to call him ‘sir’ at home and we had to call mother ‘ma’am.’ So, he never got to call him ‘dad,’ or ‘daddy’ or ‘mommy’ or ‘mom’ — it was always ‘ma’am’ — Yes ‘ma’am,’ yes ‘sir.'”
Guitarist Robby Krieger told us the Doors were best when they clicked immediately, rather than when they would labor over a song in the studio. He remembers their final album L.A. Woman — and particularly the title song — came together very easily: “We were recording in our rehearsal place — that’s how we recorded the L.A. Woman album — so we had plenty of time and stuff. And we were just down there playing one day, and we started playing ‘L.A. Woman,’ and Jim (Morrison) just started singing it, and it just came together, y’know? It was just amazing. To me, that’s how the best Doors songs came about.”
John Densmore told us that he believes that the Doors were far greater than their individual creative parts: “Some kind of magic came into a garage in Venice in 1966 that was bigger than all of us. It’s not us. It’s something that came through us. The multicultural ingredients that each of us brought struck me. I mean, we’re all white guys, but Ray with his Chicago youth and the blues and classical music, and then Robby was all hung up on Flamingo and folk music, and I was into jazz, and Jim had read every book on the planet — that’s a melting pot; That’s America. Look at those ingredients. And it worked!”
Newly published is The Collected Works Of Jim Morrison: Poetry, Journals, Transcripts And Lyrics, via the HarperCollins imprint. The nearly 600-page book features such famed Morrison pieces as Wilderness, The American Night, along with the Doors frontman’s iconic poems, “Horse Latitudes” and “The Celebration Of The Lizard.”
Variety reported, “The collection consists of 160 visual components accompanied by excerpts from Morrison’s 28 private, never-before-seen notebooks (including the Paris notebook, which is believed to be Morrison’s final journal, reproduced at full reading size). Additionally, the print collection will be accompanied by a digital audiobook that includes a full recording of Morrison’s last poetry recording session at the Village Recorder on his 27th birthday in 1970.”
The book, which sells for $50, was produced with the full cooperation of the Morrison estate. Poetry, Journals, Transcripts And Lyrics features a forward by author Tom Robbins, a prologue by Morrison’s sister, Anne Morrison Chewning, and notes by Jim Morrison’s confidante and filmmaker, Frank Lisciandro.