Multi-talented artist, charismatic leader, coveted lover: at the height of his career, Jim Morrison quite lived up to the image of the proverbial rock star. His style was unconventional, sent shockwaves across America, but fascinated the younger generation.
But the real man behind this success story was often depressed, withdrawn and rebellious. His excessive drug and alcohol use is probably one of the reasons the singer died at the age of just 27. To this day, many legends surround his death on July 3, 1971.
“Wild child full of grace, Savior of mankind”
The outgoing performer on stage didn’t have much in common with the introverted boy he had grown up in. Born James Douglas Morrison on December 8, 1943 in Melbourne, Florida as the son of a Marine, Jim used to move. By the age of 16, he had already moved 18 times and lived with his family in nine different states. . He was close to his younger siblings Anne and Andy, and the three have always supported each other.
Morrison found support of a different kind in writing and drawing, which he started at an early age. He discovers music and is passionate about cinema. Morrison started out as a diligent student, served as a class president and a role model Boy Scout. But he became more withdrawn towards the end of his high school years.
“Let’s go swimming to the moon”
This quiet boy grew into an active young man who pursued his passion for cinema in Los Angeles. However, he soon found out that studying at UCLA Film School wasn’t his thing after all. But it was there that he met his comrade Ray Manzarek, who was four years older. They came together to play music, with Manzarek on piano or organ and Morrison as singer and songwriter.
“Moonlight Drive” is one of Morrison’s first songs, with an ambiguous tune and poetic or morbid lyrics – depending on your point of view. The song was written on the roof of a three-story house in Venice Beach at a time when Morrison was taking a lot of LSD as a recreational drug. Morrison, who was 21 at the time, said he was keen to break through “the doors of perception”.
Drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger have joined Manzarek and Morrison’s “Doors of Perception” group, named after the title of a 1954 book by British writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley.
The Doors in 1968
The band toured from club to club on the LA music scene. The Electra label took a long time to discover them and to propose a recording contract. But once the offer was signed, the band recorded their debut album at Sunset Sound Recording Studios in just one week in 1966. The album’s second single, “Light My Fire,” which was written by Robby Krieger, is became a hit that would climb to the top of the charts in 1967.
With their psychedelic blues rock style making heavy use of the organ, the band had created a unique sound, which was embellished by the mystical and provocative lyrics of Morrison. He often worked out existing lyrics and added unpredictable lines live on stage, which at times made it difficult to keep up with the rest of the band.
And while that was part of their unique charm, it also got them in trouble at times: in 1966, for example, when the band was performing at the Whiskey a Go Go club, Morrison’s lyrics started on a particularly explicit tangent in which he took up the theme of the Greek tragedy of edipus rex. After singing about his father’s murder and sleeping with his mother, the club decided to fire the band.
“Go to the other side”
It certainly wasn’t the last scandal Morrison would stir up in the following years. The Doors concerts became notorious, adding to the myth surrounding the group. Jim Morrison would always take center stage, appealing to women and men with his character. Dressed in tight black leather pants, he danced as if transported into a trance, lifting himself to the beat of the music in a shamanic performance. Sometimes he would stop to recite poetry, or just throw himself into the crowd without a word of warning.
It was during a show in Miami in 1969 that Morrison seemed to have reached the point of spiraling out of control. Completely drunk, he stepped onto the stage of the Dinner Key Auditorium, a former seaplane hangar, shouting, “You are all a bunch of fucking idiots!” You are all a bunch of slaves!
At this point he had been heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol for months and was known to be aggressive towards his fans at times. Still, it came as a surprise when he asked if the audience wanted to see his penis, and then unbuckled his belt to show off his underwear. A riot ensues between Morrison, the police and the public, and the evening darkens in chaos.
The iconic frontman of the Doors liked to call himself the “Lizard King”
All those close to the singer swore that at no time had there been an indecent assault, but his erratic behavior was enough for the authorities to issue an arrest warrant. In August 1970, Morrison was charged with obscene and lascivious behavior, indecent exposure and blasphemy.
He rejected a plea bargain, was released on bail, and later sentenced to forced labor at Dade County Jail. The case was still under appeal at the time of his death.
“THE Woman, you are my wife”
Morrison was done – he knew it, the rest of the group knew it too. He was not made for the life of a rock star. Instead, he had come to see himself as a writer, a poet, someone with a message to communicate – and not just an artist.
To finish his concerts, he had to take drugs every night. He expressed that he wanted to leave the band, but at Manzarek’s request, he gave the band an additional six months to record their sixth and final studio album, Wife. It was the only album not to be followed by a tour.
Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris
In the spring of 1971, Morrison moved to Paris to live there with his longtime girlfriend, Pamela Courson. He needed to get away from LA, excess, rock star life, and instead focus on his poetry.
But he was in poor health, frequently coughing up blood, which also happened on the night of July 2. His girlfriend made him run a bath and fell asleep again. An hour later, she woke up to find Jim Morrison lifeless in the bathtub of his Paris apartment at 17 rue Beautreillis. The official version of the story goes that he died of a heart attack.
“This is the end, my only friend”
However, many fans and biographers believe that Courson, a heroin addict, made up this story. Morrison could have died of an overdose, they say. Others believe that Morrison only staged his death and that the coffin that was transported to PÃ¨re Lachaise cemetery in Paris four days later was empty.
Venice Beach memorial commemorates singer / songwriter
Pamela Courson stayed true to her side of the story until her death less than three years after Jim Morrison. Like him, she only lived 27 years. The group officially disbanded in 1972.
In the early 2000s, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger attempted to set up a reunion and enlisted the help of singer Ian Astbury, former frontman of The Cult. The Doors of the 21st Century have not been very successful. The legend on which the band was built during the four short years of its existence from 1967 to 1971, during which they released six albums, could not be rekindled. Jim Morrison has always been – and still is – at the center of the myth, even 50 years after his death.
Death makes angels of us all
And gives us wings
Where we have shoulders
Smooth like crow’s claws.
poem by Jim Morrison from An american prayer
This article was translated from the German original