I once spent an Easter Sunday alone in Paris. After Mass at Notre Dame I was stumped for tourist-y ideas, so I decided to make the trek to Pere Lachaise cemetary and pay my respects to Jim Morrison‘s grave. I still wonder why I did this, because pretty much everything that has to do with Jim Morrison and/or The Doors makes my eyes roll back into my head. Once there, I found what I expected – a grave littered with graffiti, mostly-smoked joints, wilted flowers, and beer cans. I sort of milled about and wondered exactly why I was there – I had no emotional attachment or sense of loss. Let’s not even get into the fact that Moliere, Balzac, Maria Callas, Collette, and even Jules Verne are all buried at Pere Lachaise. I did stop by Edith Piaf’s monument, though. At least I redeemed myself a tiny, tiny bit.
Jim Morrison died on July 3, 1971, famously found in a bathtub in his Paris apartment. Because there was no evidence of foul play, the coroner did not perform an autopsy. Conspiracy theorists of the world unite! Since no one knows exactly how Morrison died, his passing has fueled endless speculation and fascination.
Morrison was born in Florida December 8, 1943 – his father was eventually a Naval Admiral, which I find inexplicably surprising. He moved around a lot as a child, and once credited a sighting of a car accident on a Native American Reservation as the trans formative moment of his life, writing “Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding/Ghosts crowd the young child’s fragile eggshell mind.” In the book The Doors Morrison’s father remembers the accident differently, and his sister Anne counters, “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.” This makes my eyes roll even further back into my head. And by the way, Morrison apparently had an I.Q. of 149.
Despite his penchant for dramatics, Morrison had brains and charisma, and skyrocketed to success. He graduated from UCLA in 1965 and by 1967 The Doors were signed to Elektra Records. The rest is pretty well-worn territory, particularly if you’ve ever listened to a classic rock station or seen Oliver Stone‘s 1991 biopic The Doors. (And yes, I saw it in the theater. My friend Tia and I went one night then spent the rest of the evening smoking cigarettes and talking about whatever the hell we talked about in high school. There was a brief lapse in my musical and film taste in 1991, but I’ve fully recovered. Thank you.)
By the time The Doors made it big, Morrison had been out of contact with his family for over a year. He often said he was an only child and that his parents were dead. This apparently stemmed from an argument with his father, who didn’t believe in Morrison’s musical talent. Morrison’s brother Andy has said their parents did not physically punish their children, but instead relied on the military tradition known as “dressing down” to instill discipline. So basically Papa Morrison went full-metal jacket on his kids until they fell in line. Or pretended their family never existed/was dead. Whichever came first.
Morrison was found dead by Pamela Courson, whom the courts later named as his common-law wife. She claimed Morrison was out drinking and thought he was snorting coke, but ended up od’ing on heroin. Other accounts report she confessed to killing the singer, though again, no foul play was suspected by the police. Courson herself went four years later, of a heroin overdose. Like Morrison, she was 27 when she died.