The Insider

The Death Of Jim Morrison

It’s July 2nd 1971, Paris Jim Morrison is one of the most famous rock and roll singers in the world. He is the quintessential American rock star, Jim Morrison of The Doors. He had those unholy screams from the other side of the universe he’s also the ultimate sex symbol the self-styled Lizard King at that time and he was the most beautiful man in Hollywood and probably anywhere else on the planet.  Every guy wanted to be him and every girl wanted to go to bed with him buts he’s a superstar at war with his own dark demons. It more modern terms he was saying help me but it was a different time and nobody know how to do it. Jim had darkness, a darkness in his writing, a darkness in his life, and soon that darkness will finally consume him in the last days and the final death of Jim Morrison

Paris France July 2nd, 1971 it’s 5 a.m. and Jim Morrison is fast asleep. He’s been in Paris for the last 4 months living in a neighborhood known as the Marais and it’s his last day on Earth. Morrison has sublet an apartment at 17 rue Beautreillis that he currently shares it with Pamela Courson who for the last five years has been his on-again-off-again girlfriend. Morrison has come to Paris primarily to escape both from the pressure of being a rock star and from the possibility of doing jail time in America where he’s been charged with indecent exposure and public profanity. Jim Morrison is also in Paris in search of artistic inspiration.  He went to Paris with the idea of finding a new place, a place for artists. A place were he could work on his poetry. To him, what better place to write poetry than in Paris. He went seeking new avenues to explore new explorations of his thinking and in his mind to get himself together, Paris seems to have had a positive effect on Morrison. H looks healthier and happier than he has in years but appearances are deceptive. Although he’s only 27 years of drug and alcohol abuse have taken their toll. He is a far cry from four years earlier in 1967 when a spry Jim Morrison, accompanied by his band The Doors, roared onto the music scene determined to conquer the world – and they basically did so. Their self-titled debut album was released and became the first of seven consecutive gold albums recorded by the band. Their first album reached number Two on the Billboard charts , clearly putting the doors in the same league as the Beatles and The Rolling Stones

But stylistically the doors were much different from other bands in the California surf and folk-rock scene with their raunchy blues they stuck out like a sore thumb or more like a middle finger. The band’s road manager was Vince Traynor  who said, “You had to be there, it was electric. It was emotional, it was riveting and fascinating. The dynamics of a Doors performance simply swept you off your feet.”  Someone who got to know Morrison more intimately was rock groupie Pamela Des Barres who said, “I’d ever seen anything like it before. It was sensual , it was rude, it was naughty and it was just so so thrilling really.” The doors were along those lines of bands that were clearly talented enough and adventurous enough that they did not necessarily follow someone else’s formula.

One of the reasons that the doors music holds up and that it’s still popular today had to do with the fact that they have a classic sound. They didn’t adopt the trends of the day. Their sound has that fresh quality to it and part of it and the fact that you know Jim had something to say. Jim’s lyrics communicated things they were so visual beyond the obvious. They took advantage of their knowledge of and their interest in the visual arts and they really did break on through and present themselves the way very few rock stars of that era had even thought to do. Those are significant contributions from Jim Morrison. There were a lot of bands of that era that were basically feel-good happy hippie love movement type things but Jim had a dangerous quality to his work and that gave his music relevance that a lot of people didn’t have. But The Doors music wasn’t half as important as Morrison’s killer good looks this was something that didn’t go unnoticed by the VP of their record company Steve Harris.

“I took a good look at him and thought if this kid could read the phonebook on key we’re all gonna be very very wealthy.” More dangerous than Elvis prettier than Mick Jagger it was clear that the band’s greatest asset was Jim Morrison. Jim had this love for movies and so he would emulate Greta Garbo. He had to look in the eyes of Marlena Dietrich staring down shaking his head in his hair like Marilyn Monroe. He likewise had all those masculine traits with the feminine wiles. That’s what really made him unique. He hypnotized his audiences screeching like a shaman. He even invented an alter ego The Lizard King and he was called the Lizard King for a reason. He did slither and he moved in a very reptilian way with that beautiful body and beautiful face. Jim Morrison became the face of The Doors and the face of sex in rock-and-roll. There was a shot of him that became known as The Young Lion because he just looked magnificent in it and that was used in the Village Voice. The Village Voice said there is a new sex symbol now and his name is Jim Morrison

But although he soaked up the attention, Morrison was unhappy with the focus placed solely on his looks. He saw himself as a writer first and a singer second. Desperate to be taken seriously, like his poet heroes, he didn’t like the image of the sex symbol. He wanted to be seen as a philosopher. As somebody who could write poetry who could deliver this poetry to a live audience and have their reaction.  What Jim wanted was not what he got. His rock god image eclipsed any chance he had of being taken seriously as a poet and the failure of that dream would eventually chase him to Paris. It’s that inner demon that will finally push him over the edge on July 2nd., 1971 in Paris, France.

At 11:00 AM,.  Jim Morrison only less than 18 hours left to live. Paris, a city rich in arts and inspiration to write poetry. Sick of his rock star image, he’s determined to make his mark as a serious poet but lately he’s had a bad case of writer’s block and is feeling anxious. Alain Ronay, an old friend from Morrison’s film days at UCLA drops by. Alain Ronay and Jim Morrison had been friends since film school. They did not hang around together a lot during Jim’s Rockstar days then when they were in Paris together they spent a lot of time. They were good friends they went way back. Ronay notices that Morrison is Restless he suggests they go out for a walk and grab some lunch. Jim doesn’t look too well at all they stroll along the colorful rue des Rosiers not far from Morrison’s apartment where he is rarely recognized. He’s free from the pressure of playing the rock star in this bohemian Jewish neighborhood.

Jim Morrison seems to fit in perfectly but throughout most of his life that has rarely been the case. Jim Morrison was born in the small town of Melbourne, Florida on December 8 1943. He and his family were forced to move often because of his father’s job as a Navy officer. By the time he turned 16, Jim had already moved Nine times making it difficult to make friends. Tandy Martin was Jim Morrison’s high school sweetheart. Jim used to be in the basement of his house painting and he stayed down there a lot painting and writing. He spent a lot of time down there as a teenager. The bright student became more and more disruptive in school and at home his father, a strict disciplinarian cracked down hard on Jim his parents had no idea what to do with a kid like Jim. They simply no idea but how could they? Nor could his straight-laced parents understand their son’s fascination with the dark underbelly of literature. In the 8th grade he had Allen Ginsberg’s books and how you you have to put that into perspective? Kids aren’t reading that stuff in the 8th grade no way at or ninth grade or 10th grade. Jim was not like other people he just wasn’t like other people. It’s the classic teenage angst. Kids grow up and they suddenly realize the world isn’t so fluffy and nice the way mom and dad have been telling them.  There’s something dark, something sinister, something dangerous about it and Jim reflected that in everything he did.

At 19, Morrison’s inability to fit in finally got him in trouble with the law. Some people just start rebelling because they don’t really know what else to do but Jim was an original. In Tallahassee, Florida he was arrested for stealing a helmet from a police car, resisting arrest and for being drunk and disorderly. In  junior and senior year, is when he started to drink in alcohol. Morrison found the perfect fuel to feed the flames of his one-man rebellion against the police, against his strict father and against everything in between. He had a problem with authority absolutely. On reaching adulthood, Jim wasn’t done rebelling. His father had expected him to follow in his footsteps and join the military. Instead in 1964, Jim headed to California and enrolled in UCLA’s film program. So deep was the insult that after University Jim and his father would never speak again. Jim often referred to his parents as being dead in his mind they were dead to him. In his bio, right after he signed the contract, it said his parents were deceased and so that’s what music exccutives thought. But in 1967, Steve Harris received a call from a woman claiming to be Jim’s mother he gave her the address of a hotel where her son was staying in New York City.

Later, he told Jim what he did and he said,  “Steve do me a favor and just don’t ever ever do that again I don’t want to be in any contact with them at all.”. The fact that Jim was alienated from his family is reflected a lot in his writing. He writes from a position of being an alienated, lonely person. Strolling along with his friend Alain Resnais Jim is momentarily distracted by a cut glass Star of David dangling in a shop window. He decides to buy it for his girlfriend Pamela Courson. For the successful rock star money is no object but just Five years earlier he’d been flat broke. In 1965 as a 21 year old film student in California Jim Morrison started partying heavily on Venice Beach. Inspired by the wild hippie scene, he spent his days and nights smoking pot, dropping acid and writing poetry.

One day on the beach he met fellow film student Ray Manzarek. Ray asked Jim what he’d been up to and Jim said  “Well, l I’ve been writing a lot of poetry and I’ve been working on some songs.” Ray asked him to sing one Jim sang “Moonlight Drive” and Ray thought that’s some of the best lyrics he’d ever heard for a rock song. He asked Morrison if he would  like to get together and work on some things. They got John Densmore as a drummer and the he got Robby Krieger. They got together and jim began to sing. They called themselves The Doors based on a poem by one of Morrison’s heroes William Blake. Morrison’s own poetry set to rock music soon caught the attention of locals. They became the house band of the infamous Whisky A Go-Go where the shy lead singer often performed with his back to the audience.

But that shyness soon gave way to Morrison’s budding love affair with the spotlight and the spotlight loved him right back. The press loved to write about. He was a good-looking guy and with Jim Morrison at the wheel, one rock critic dubbed The Doors the “missionaries of apocalyptic sex” and Jim made sure he lived up to his sex God image.  The special attention given to Morrison began to create tension within the band and there was a little bit of resentment. As a band, they were a unit. In the way that they wrote and in the way they created the songs , they were credited to all of them but after a while,  Jim got more and more and more of the attention

A particularly idiotic DJ in Los Angeles who began to talk about Jim Morrison and The Doors, as opposed to The Doors whose lead singer was Jim Morrison. The Doors didn’t like it and they tolerated him but soon even Jim Morrison would be unable to tolerate his own rock god image. He would run all the way to Paris to escape it only to find peace with the ultimate price of his life. On July 2nd 1971, for the last three hours Jim Morrison and his friend Alain Ronay have been strolling through the streets of Paris. Throughout their walk Ronay has noticed that his friend appears shaky and unwell. Several times Morrison breaks out in violent spasms and a bad case of the hiccups but the rock star however insists he’s okay.

Regardless, in less than fifteen hours he will be far from okay. Around 2:00 p.m. they reach the center of town and Ronay feels that a little food may help settle his friend.  Throughout the afternoon however, the hiccup attacks continued and seemed to be getting worse. A life of excessive drinking has finally caught up with Morrison. The cracks have been showing for years. Even in his earliest days with The Doors,  alcohol was his drug of choice. He did other drugs here and there but mostly it was alcohol. One of the reasons that he would drink so much is because he liked the experience of not being in control and not worrying about anything. He was frequently wasted and completely out of control and Morrison became increasingly destructive in the recording studio. The rest of the band were not amused and even as the band’s popularity soared, Morrison spent more and more time in bars.

Everyone would say Jim you gotta’ get into a program you’ve got to stop drinking.  You’ve got to take care of yourself you’ve got to go to a 12-step program. You’ve got to go to a rehab. You’re gonna die if you continue like this. But those around him didn’t help and just thought, Jim drinks too much. People don’t want to think about this and remember this but he was almost pariah at one point in Hollywood. It wasn’t unusual for him to be laying on the ground in the gutter in front of the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, passed out.  People would come along who weren’t strip regulars and be amazed that it was Jim Morrision. They’d try to help him and they really didn’t want to know Morrison’s heavy drinking was getting more dark and more violent. It was also directly affecting The Doors live shows during 1969. The performances degraded steadily. The alcohol became more prevalent and the singing became less dynamic. The show’s lost their vigor and  lost a lot of their sparkle. As a band, The Doors had a problem not only was their singer stealing all the headlines but he was now sabotaging their live shows. So many thought that it’s too damn bad that he couldn’t keep his act together because when he was good he was excellent and when he was bad he was terrible

In Paris having lunch with his friend Alain Ronary, the years of hard drinking have taken their toll on Morrison’s health.  After lunch, Morrison and Ronay browsed through a film shop. Since film school Morrison has had a passion for the cinema. Having recently made a movie called Highway, the film a dark impressionistic journey through the desert was inspired by a troubling childhood experience that had stayed with Morrison throughout his life. A key event in Jim’s childhood, and in fact the thing he referred to as the event that shaped him, occurred when he was four years old. The family was driving between Albuquerque and Santa Fe and they came upon this horrific accident. A ruckload of Indian workers had overturned and Indians were dead all over the highway. Morrison believed that the spirit of one of those Indians, a shaman, entered his own soul and stayed there. He claimed it affected his writing. He claimed it affected the way he did the concerts. There was always the soul of an Indian shaman.  That xperience was later expressed by Morrison in the form of dark mystical poems poems that The Doors used to set them apart from other bands but for Morrison rock and roll was only a short term vehicle for his poetic vision.

He looked at his rock-and-roll world as a temporary stop . He was a poet and he saw himself that way. He dragged his poetry books everywhere he went and he thought the music was just a temporary ride. In 1969, he self-published a limited-edition book of his poetry and sent copies out to friends but the response was less than overwhelming.  The was also an initial negative reaction by the established literary community that it’s tough for a pop star or a rock artist to be taken seriously as a poet. Especially when they themselves use that terminology. Jim Morrison welcomed it more than the others and therefore got vilified for it. Desperate to be seen as a serious poet Morrison decided to dismantle his rock star image. He asked that his bare-chested young lion photos not be used for promotional purposes. He grew a bushy beard to hide his pretty face and gained an alarming amount of weight

In Paris, Jim Morrison is only 27 but he suffers the aches and pains of a man several times his age. For the past four months Jim Morrison has been hiding out in a rented apartment in Paris on the run from his rock Idol image and trying to establish himself as a serious poet. He spent the day with his old friend Alain Ronay and it will be the last day they ever spent together. When Ronay tells Morrison that he has to leave for a dinner engagement the singer begs him to go out with him for one more drink. Morrison may have turned his back on his public but he’s not ready to be entirely left alone. He felt loneliness a little bit of isolation but in 1969 as a member of The Doors Jim Morrison was still very much the center of attention in all the wrong ways. Although his band was as big as the Beatles and Bob Dylan his drinking and anti-social behavior was now completely out of control

Morrison’s behavior drove a wedge between him and the other members of The Doors but instead of toning down his wild ways, he blamed his problems on his rock god image manufactured for his fans. On one particularly hot night in Miami in 1969, Morrison crossed another line but this time driving a wedge between himself and the people that had made him a star. Jim had been drinking and he had seen the stage performance in Los Angeles the night before where the whole cast was nude and he decided to test some limits himself. As if to mock his sexy image, Morrison removed his shirt. He threatened next to take off his pants. The other band memebers knowing Jim’s unpredictability and knowing that Jim had been drinking didn’t know what to expect next. Then suddenly, taking their cue from Morrison, the audience stripped down to the buff. The audience followed suit where more than 50% of the audience was actually naked. the authorities were not amused. The state took criminal action against the group known as The Doors and just a few days after the show, they charged Morrison with lewd and lascivious behavior, a felony, even though many claimed he never removed his pants or exposed himself. The band didn’t know for sure and Morrison didn’t remember whether he did or he didn’t.

Jim Morrison of was of special interest to the FBI who’d been keeping close tabs on him for quite a while. They saw Jim Morrison as a menace to society. the FBI files on Jim Morrison blacked out a lot of details but suffice to say. that the FBI was definitely interested in Jim Morrison. They monitored his activity and had him on a watch list. The FBI’s interest in Morrison was maybe less about public nudity and more about his anti-war lyrics on songs like Peace Frog and The Unknown Soldier. In Jim’s lyrics the fact that he called for revolution regularly, the fact that he was pushing people to the idea of a revolution. In Jim’s mind, it really wasn’t a conscious social organized revolution, it was more an individual revolution of breaking away from the conditioning of society and your parents and trying to come to new and different reality on your own.

But in July 1971, as a rock-and-roll exile in Paris Jim Morrison seems hardly a threat to anyone but himself. As he drinks with Alain Ronay, the only rebellion brewing is the one that’s violently raging through Morrison’s body. His attacks suggest he’s suffering from acute respiratory distress. He had spit up blood a few times and he had had some other respiratory problems. Some of that went back to an injury had jumping out the window at the Chateau Marmont in LA and doing a Tarzan act off a drainpipe. He had then fallen and injured  himself. Morrison should be looked after in a hospital instead he’s busy ordering yet another beer. His friend Alain Ronay announces that he has to leave to meet a friend. They will never see one another again. Morrison will continue the party with more than just alcohol and it will cost him his life

Shortly after his friend leaves. Jim meets up with his girlfriend Pamela Courson. To the outside world they look like a typical couple in love, out for a stroll in one of the most romantic cities in the world but since first meeting back in 1966 their relationship has been anything but typical. The pair first met at a club on Sunset Strip called the London Fog where The Doors were the house band. Morrison called her his cosmic mate and dedicated poetry and songs to her and that remained constant and genuine. It did not however in the process make the relationship monogamous. Pamela Courson didn’t take Morrison’s infidelity lying down. Their fights were the stuff of legend. The relationship was very wild tempestuous and they pushed off against each other. To buffer the fighting they kept separate homes. Morrison stayed at a motel near The Doors headquarters while Pam lived at a house on Laurel Canyon immortalized in the door song Love Street.

In their own strange way they had found love but for all the comfort that Pamela brought her boyfriend, she had her own demons. She had a very strong addiction to heroin and many thought she was highly unstable and a bad influence on an already troubled Jim Morrison. She was a junkie. In fact, she was the cause of a lot of stress and fighting and arguing with Jim and a lot of his drinking. She was probably the worst influence on his life but on his last night alive, they went to a Paris movie theater to see a film recommended by their friend Alain Ronay, Pursued staring Robert Mitchum. Morrison liked Robert Mitchum but he wasn’t that impressed with the movie. It was just one other banal detail before rock and roll lost one of its brightest lights.

Morrison made himself increasingly sick by indulging in a steady diet of whiskey and beer and as the night continued in his apartment with his cosmic mate Pamela Courson he decides to go even further and he takes heroin. Up until now Morrison’s entourage worked very hard to keep the hard stuff well away. Pamala Courson’s hard drug use was something he condoned or tolerated but it’s not something he really approved of. That last night however something changed. Whether it was just the idea of something he wanted to try just pushing the envelope whether it was some depression, it’s really not clear.

He’d been very reflective lately. Whatever reason he tried the heroin, that decision will prove to be fatal. Stoned out of their minds, Pam and Jim watch home movies of recent vacations and between the reel changes, they snort more heroin and spin some old Doors records. Before his exile to Paris, Morrison faced felony charges stemming from the Miami concert. So severe were those charges that they deeply affected the band and as usual it was all about Jim. The Doors were not prepared for the backlash that followed. Radio shows would not play Doors records and Doors recordings were removed from the shelves of record stores. Once the darling of the press, Jim Morrison became public enemy number one

De was ridiculed by Rolling Stone magazine with a wanted poster that called the Miami concert “Jim’s Organ Recital”. When people started looking at him as a drunken fool that devastated him. Jim wanted to be wild and crazy on stage he did not want to be seen as a fool but worse was to come. In September 1970 after awaiting trial for nearly two years, James Douglas Morrison was found guilty and sentenced to 60 days hard labor for profanity and Six months hard labor for indecent exposure. He had been allowed to remain free on bail pending an appeal. Morrison, the free-spirited bohemian, was terrified of doing time. In his darkest hour, he became increasingly obsessed with his own mortality. When Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died, Jim began to go around and say he was number three Jim was always saying things like that. On July 3rd, 1971 in his apartment in Paris, Jim Morrison was on his way to becoming the next rock-and-roll casualty at 3:30 a.m. after passing out on the couch from too much heroin

His girlfriend Pamela Courson wakes up to find him struggling to breathe. She manages to rouse him she wants to call a doctor but Morrison refuses. Pamela still high from the heroin goes off to bed but Jim Morrison isn’t ready to join her quite yet. Instead he heads to the washroom where he draws himself a hot bath it will be the last thing he ever does. Seven months earlier back in the States and with serious jail time hanging over his head Morrison became ever more distant from those around him. In concert he was barely able to perform. In December 1970 on stage in New Orleans the Lizard King completely fell apart. He stood up picked up the microphone stand and proceeded to smash it through the floor.  He then walked off the side of the stage and went up to the dressing room. The other members had put up with Morrison’s antics before but this time he’d gone too far. Drummer John Densmore had seen enough and tossed his drumsticks on the floor and said never again.

Regardless, they began work on their sixth album la woman but recording alone was not enough for Jim. He lived on performing. How else could he get the word out about what he thought if he didn’t tour? How else was he going to get his message across? How else was he going to be able to bring the gospel of Saint Jim to the crowd? Maybe by going to Paris he could come up with some new things that could help to define himself more as a poet. But unfortunately, if Morrison’s moved to Paris was the beginning of anything, it was the beginning of the end. At 4 a.m. on July 3rd 1971 his girlfriend, Pamela Courson wakes to the sound of Morrison throwing up in the washroom, violently sick to his stomach

He’s throwing up blood again Morrison refuses to call a doctor. When his nausea finally passes he tells her to go back to bed and he says he’ll join her soon but he doesn’t make it. Instead Jim Morrison slips quietly into unconsciousness. On July 3rd 1971 6:00 a.m. as the city slowly comes to life, Pamela Courson suddenly wakes up. The night before she and her boyfriend Jim Morrison partied the night away snorting heroin and now she wonders why he never made it back to bed. She finds him passed out in the bathtub, his nose and mouth are crusted with blood. She tries to wake him but he doesn’t move and at first, she thought he might be joking around with her. He did stuff like this all the time so she stayed in there and watched and he didn’t move. Stupidly because she can’t speak French fluently she feels unable to call an ambulance, instead she phones Jim’s best friend in Paris Alain Ronay, and asks him to call one for her.  As rescuers arrive, they notice the bathwater is pink and assume the person must have bled to death, they have no idea the patient is Jim Morrison

The bath water was warm and so the body was also warm which led rescuers to presume that maybe he wasn’t dead. They quickly remove his body from the bathtub only to discover he’s only warm because of the bath water. It becomes quite obvious very quickly that the patient is dead.  The exact time of death could only be estimated to be around 5:00 a.m. The death certificate states that Jim Morrison died of apparent heart failure, citing no foul play the authorities see no reason for investigation or to order an autopsy. Jim Morrison, one of the most important singers of his era is dead at just 27 years old. Many however simply don’t buy into the official ending of Jim Morrison story. Instead this leads to a flurry of mysterious theories some say that before Pam Courson called Alain Ronay about an ambulance, she called her heroin dealer who came to the apartment and advised Pam to flush the drugs, soon after that same dealer hightailed it out to Marrakesh to avoid legal hassles.

Others say that Jim had been out partying the night before and he died at a Paris nightclub.  They say that his body was carried back to his apartment and dumped in the bathtub. Others still believe Morrison staged his own death and is still alive somewhere having finally escaped the image that had troubled him.  There are those who believed Jim faked his own death and he promoted those rumors because he always talked about doing it – and that always added to the mystique. Many people believed that maybe he hadn’t really died and the rumors continue to this day.

Jim Morrison is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris not far from Chopin, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Rossini and Oscar Wilde. Every year,  thousands of fans continue to visit his gravesite.

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular

Most discussed