Jim Morrison went down in history as one of the greatest front-men in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. His poetic lyrics and outstanding voice help define the 1960s counterculture scene as the lead singer of The Doors. Tragically, his life ended at the young age of 27, making him part of the infamous 27 Club – a club you don’t want to be a part of (but we’ll get to that).
Morrison is known as a rock star with his drunken antics, but there is a lot more to him. Yes, he had multiple arrests and acted in questionable ways, but he was a philosopher at heart. He was a lyrical genius and published his poetry separate from his music. Morrison didn’t have the easiest childhood and seemed to have used drugs, specifically LSD, to help him cope with the pain. Sadly, the drugs ultimately killed him. Here is the life of Jim Morrison and his untimely death.
Thanks to his father’s career in the military, Jim Morrison spent most of his childhood frequently moving around the country. Morrison was always on the go. He was born in Florida but spent his early years living in San Diego. Before third grade, he moved to Virginia, then to Texas, and then to New Mexico all before he was even in high school.
He started high school back in California, but he was back in Virginia by the time he graduated. I would have been so upset if my parents made me move during high school. I guess it’s a cool experience to grow up traveling, but it must be tough to never feel completely settled and knowing that you won’t be in the same place for long.
Trouble With the Law
Jim Morrison didn’t wait until he was a big-headed rock star before getting himself in some trouble with society. Jim Morrison was arrested for the first time back in 1962 when he attended Florida State University. After a night of drinking, he thought it would be a good idea to pull a prank after a home football game.
Morrison made fun of the football players and the people in the crowd. He went as far as to steal a police officer’s helmet from a squad car. That’s pretty gutsy. He was eventually charged with “disturbing the peace” by being drunk, petty larceny, and resisting arrest. This was the first time alcohol played a part in his brushes with the law, but it certainly wasn’t the last.
Putting a Ring on it
Pamela Courson famously served as Jim Morrison’s muse and partner for most of his adult life. If I had to describe their relationship, the word that comes to mind is: intense. Morrison referred to Courson as him “cosmic partner,” and he loved her natural sense of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. By 1967, they were living together in Los Angeles.
After a year of living together, the couple went to City Hall to register for a marriage license. Ultimately, their relationship was considered a common-law marriage by the state of California, even though California didn’t recognize the law at the time. However, Pamela died as Pamela Susan Morrison. Unfortunately, the couple only got to spend six years together because of Jim Morrison’s death in 1971.
Even though Pamela was known as being Morrison’s other half during the age of “free love,” Morrison was notorious for his numerous affairs. The list of his many prospects include groupies, such as Josepha Karcz, who later wrote a book about her romantic night with the rock star. Allegedly, Pamela Courson gave him permission. I guess there was a reason they called it free love.
Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, Morrison and Courson didn’t have the healthiest relationship. It was compromised by loud fights, violence, and of course, repeated infidelity by both of them. To give you an idea of their relationship, one night after Pam punched Jim, she locked herself in a room. Jim then proceeded to light the room on fire! Enough said.
I Can Talk to Lizards
Like many other musicians, Morrison used a stage name and obtained several different nicknames throughout his career as a rock star. He was born with the name James Douglas Morrison but obviously went by Jim. His most infamous nickname was “The Lizard King” because of his obsession with lizards. He believed that he was able to control them with his mind.
There was also “Mr. Mojo Risin,” which was taken from the song LA Woman, and was an anagram of Morrison’s name. Another name he went by was “The King of Orgasmic Rock.” I don’t know if anyone actually referred to him as that. I personally think he gave that nickname to himself. But then again, what do I know? I wasn’t around back then…
Morrison’s Poetic Mind
Throughout his life and career, Morrison kept a close friendship with Beat poet Michael McClure. Together, the duo planned several unfinished film projects. In one particular film, Morrison was supposed to play Billy the Kid. Jim Morrison had a lyrical gift when it came to poetry, and it didn’t go unnoticed by McClure.
Morrison’s first love was poetry and later discovered that he could sing and write songs; his imagination was like a work of art. McClure became interested in Morrison as a philosopher, thinker, and poet after his daughter introduced him to the Doors. After Morrison passed away, Michael McClure wrote the afterward for No One Here Gets Out Alive, a biography or Morrison’s life written by Danny Sugerman.
LSD, Poetry, and Canned Beans
Dennis Jakobs, one of Morrison’s old friend from UCLA, reported that after graduation in 1965, Jim was living on Jakobs’ rooftop in Venice Beach. That sounds like a pretty fun way to spend the summer. According to Jakobs, Morrison spent most of his time writing poetry. These genius poems later became lyrics in some of the Doors’ early songs.
During this time, Morrison was living a diet consisting of “canned beans and LSD.” Well, that’s one way to get those creative juices flowing. Personally, I need a full meal to think or even survive. But I’m also not a musical genius like Jim Morrison. Later that summer, he and Ray Manzarek, another UCLA classmate, formed The Doors. A couple of days later, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger joined the group.
Worst Club To be In
Morrison tragically died on July 3rd, 1971, at 27 years old. That means he belongs to the 27 Club, a string of actors and musicians who mysteriously died at the tender age of 27. There is a lot of strange circumstances surrounding Jim Morrison’s death, but his official cause of death was a heart attack brought on by drugs, more specifically, heroin.
However, it was known that Morrison’s drug of choice was cocaine; he said heroin made him sick. Pam also changed her accounts of what happened that night. Considering she was also on drugs, I’m not that surprised. Other members of the 27 club include Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, and Anton Yelchin.
Should Have Said Yes…
Morrison was clearly embracing the “free love” era that he was born into. That’s why it’s surprising that the Doors turned down the chance to perform at the now legendary Woodstock festival in 1969. There are a few supposed reasons that they passed on the concert, but none of them are good ones. Ray Manzarek said that not going was simply a stupid decision.
It was also reported that Morrison didn’t like playing outdoors… which also was not a good reason. To be fair, nobody knew how iconic Woodstock would be afterward. Either way, the band’s drummer, John Densmore, didn’t give up the opportunity to play at Woodstock. He went there independently and performed with Joe Cocker.
Janis Joplin was a prominent musician who played at Woodstock back in 1969. She is a fellow 27 Club member and revealed that she spent a passionate night with Jim Morrison. However, she wasn’t the only famous face on this lengthy list. Other artists claim to have had affairs with Morrison, including Nico, from The Velvet Underground.
Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane also admitted she slept with the rock star, but later denied it. Who can blame him? Let’s face it, in his heyday, all the men wanted to be Morrison, and all the women wanted to sleep with him. Also, the ‘60s was a strange time where sleeping around didn’t really mean anything (kind of like now). I guess “The King of Orgasmic Rock” had another meaning to it.
Don’t Underestimate Me
Morrison seemed to live by the motto “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.” However, he was a philosopher and deep thinker at heart. He was imaginative, and considering his love of poetry and literature, Morrison was a total book worm… but in the most hipster way possible. Sometimes he left his teachers baffled.
Apparently, his teacher once called the Library of Congress to make sure the future rock star wasn’t making up any of the books he would chat about. This is before you could just Google it, which makes it more impressive. But honestly, if I was Morrison’s teacher and he handed in an essay on “sixteenth-and-seventeenth-century demonology,” I’d be a little skeptical too.
Morrison’s sonorous vocals are enough to inspire aspiring artists, but he had his own share of musical inspirations. One of his biggest influences was Elvis Presley, the king of rock ‘n’ roll himself. Apparently, growing up, whenever Elvis’s music started playing on the radio, Morrison would make everyone around him shut up.
His other favorite singer was reportedly Frank Sinatra. It’s evident based on his music, but some people accuse Morrison of copying some of Sinatra’s vocal mannerisms. The Doors collaborator, Paul Rothchild, said that when he first heard Morrison, his singing style was like A “Rock and Roll Bing Crosby.” I wonder how the conservative Crosby would react to being compared to a counterculture hippie-like Jim Morrison.
“Free Love” and LSD
Jim Morrison was a deep thinker and believed in free love. His use of LSD made him fit right into the hippie culture. However, many people saw him as an anti-hippie, taking his audiences into the deepest parts of his soul. They don’t get enough credit for this, but the Doors’ music had one of the first environmentalist messages in rock music, thanks to Morrison’s lyrics.
The epic song “When The Music’s Over” is the longest and most diverse. During the song, there is a part where Morrison sings a verse questioning what humanity has done to the earth. This question continued to be repeated throughout the counterculture movement.
…and Don’t Come Back!
Back in the 1960s, it was a pretty big deal to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, but the Doors got an invite. While they were waiting backstage, they were told to change the lyrics from “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” to “Girl, we couldn’t get much better,” in their song Light My Fire. The Doors famously didn’t follow the rules.
They sang “Higher” on live TV, and let’s just say the host wasn’t too happy about it. Sullivan was so furious that he wouldn’t even shake hands with the band. There are mixed reports on whether or not the band did it intentionally. Morrison claimed he was nervous about being on TV and forgot. Either way, Ed Sullivan boosted their reputation as counterculture icons.
Bad Trip, Good Song
It’s no secret that Morrison liked to do psychedelics, which is why it doesn’t come as a shock that he wrote a lot of his lyrics while he was tripping. The song People are Strange emerged from a bad trip Morrison had while he was hanging out in Laurel Canyon with guitarist Robby Krieger. Krieger said that Morrison was lost in the misery of his drug hallucinations.
The guitarist ultimately took him on a walk to calm him down and distract Morrison from suicidal thoughts. As he was watching the sun, Morrison was suddenly inspired, and 30 minutes later, the duo wrote the lyrics for one of the Doors’ most popular songs. Who would have thought?
Playing the Priestess
Considering Morrison was famously with Pamela Courson for most of his adult life, this is a twist of events. In 1970, the rock star married Patricia Kennealy in a Celtic wedding ceremony, where the pair sang themselves as husband and wife. The marriage was never registered with the government, so they weren’t legally married.
After the “wedding,” Patricia started going by the name Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. This is all very confusing, considering Morrison died just one year later while he was with his life partner, Pamela Courson. Patricia wasn’t shy about her relationship with Morrison and even wrote about it in her memoir, Strange Days. She also made an appearance in Oliver Stone’s The Doors. She plays the priestess carrying out Morrison and Kennealy’s marriage. This is pretty fitting, yet incredibly strange.
I’d Do Anything For Love
Nico is known for her incredible vocals on The Velvet Underground and Nico. She once revealed that after their brief affair, Jim Morrison was the first man she ever fell in love with. Morrison helped encourage the singer to write her own songs, and his influence was recognized by critics on her album, The Marble Index.
However, their affair had its share of awkward moments. To get Morrison to feel even more attracted to her, Nico colored her platinum blonde hair red. The reason was to look like Pamela Courson. Reportedly, Morrison started to literally cry when he saw Nico’s new hair. I wonder if the tears were from feeling guilty, or because he just hated the hair.
Nico was clearly infatuated by Morrison. A little too much if you ask me. Unfortunately, the profound attachment was one-sided. Morrison was with Pamela and didn’t reciprocate Nico’s feelings. He didn’t even mention her in any of his journals or diaries – which are available to the public. He still wanted to sleep with her, but Morrison finally called it quits when he heard rumors that Pamela Courson was having a public affair.
He decided to leave her in the most gentlemen way possible: he slipped out early in the morning while Nico was sleeping. Isn’t that what the kids call ‘ghosting’ these days? How classy. Nico’s extreme love for Morrison might be more toxic than his relationship with Pamela.
Considering Morrison left Nico while she was sleeping, without so much as a kiss goodbye, she was angry. This was back in the ‘60s, so she couldn’t blow up his phone or stalk him through social media. Back then, if you ghosted someone, you literally disappeared. As a result, the Velvet Underground famously hated the Doors.
In addition to hating the band, The Velvet Underground hated everything they supposedly stood for. However, they may have taken things too far after Morrison’s premature death. When Lou Reed, Velvet Underground’s singer, found out that Morrison died, his response was, “He died in a bathtub? How fabulous…” I understand why they don’t like him, but that’s a little harsh if you ask me…
Oh… Now I Get it
The Doors’ Strange Days album cover famously features a bunch of carnival figures. There are two dwarfs, a strongman, and a juggler on the bizarre cover. I thought some of the band members might have been on drugs when they came up with that idea. But apparently, that idea was a compromise. What was his original idea if that was a compromise?
Initially, Morrison demanded that the cover would feature him and his bandmates in a room surrounded by dogs. When he was asked why he wanted that particular picture on the album cover, he said, “Because dog is God spelled backward.” I would have loved to see how the idea went from dogs to circus characters.
The Tragic End
As we mentioned, many theories and conspiracies are surrounding Morrison’s infamous death in 1971. What sparked the controversy was that nobody knew how he actually died because there was no autopsy. In the original report, his official cause of death was heart failure.
It was only later revealed that the real reason Jim Morrison died could have been because of a heroin overdose. Earlier that night, he was found snorting drugs in a bathroom at a club. His body was taken back to his apartment and put in a bath of cold water (apparently that’s how to revive an overdose- in case you wanted to know). Later Pamela Courson found him dead, so I don’t know how effective the bath trick is.
Just Let Him Rest In Peace
Morrison died far too soon and still had so much talent he didn’t get to share with the world. He was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris next to some other legends, including Oscar Wilde, Fredric Chopin, and Marcel Proust. The cemetery happens to be the second most famous location in Paris- the Eiffel Tower being number one.
Unfortunately, being buried in such a popular and well-known location has its side effects. Many fans come to the cemetery to honor their musical hero, but others have ruined and vandalized Morrison’s grave too many times since he was buried. Sadly, Morrison can’t rest in peace the same way he couldn’t live in peace.
Morrison’s Lost Works
Although Morrison is known for being an incredible musician, his talent exceeded far beyond that. During his own lifetime, Morrison published two volumes of poetry completely separated from his music. After the rock star passed away, two more volumes were published. Morrison was attached to his work, and he actually recorded his poetry in a series of sessions.
These recordings were later released to the public, but some tapes remained private by Pamela Courson. I don’t know why she didn’t want them to be released, but after Pamela’s death, her family inherited the tapes. I wonder if the world will ever get to hear them… probably as soon as the family needs some extra cash.
Little Jimmy’s Trauma
One very important (and traumatic) incident took place during Jim Morrison’s childhood. It was 1947, and little Morrison was four years old when the family drove by a car accident next to a Native Reservation. Morrison and some of his other family members had conflicting memories and stories of what happened that day.
We can never know what exactly happened, but Morrison would keep going back to the image of dying Natives on the highway. This is intense and definitely a traumatic site for a four-year-old! He often wrote about it in his song lyrics and poetry. No wonder he did so many drugs. He probably needed a way to escape his childhood trauma.
Awkward Drunken Moment
Morrison was a literary genius, a musician, and a prankster. His first arrest was because of a prank, so the rock star was no stranger to antics. Pretty high on his list was a moment in 1969. In the middle of a concert in Miami, he exposed himself. Yea. I’m guessing he was on a lot of drugs or trying to be the “The King of Orgasmic Rock.”
This behavior proves that everyone has embarrassing stories when they drink too much… or are completely high during a performance. Morrison was just lucky enough to get on stage intoxicated on stage and display his embarrassing moment to the world. I mean, this could easily end in an arrest for indecent exposure. The last thing Morrison needs is another arrest on his record.
Only Band Members Allowed
One of the Doors’ most legendary moments happened in December 1967 in New Haven, Connecticut. The band’s keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, explained that Morrison was in a make-out session backstage (a normal way to get ready for a performance), and a police officer was working as a security guard there.
The officer didn’t recognize Jim Morrison and asked him to get out of the vicinity. Obviously, Morrison didn’t respond kindly to these orders, and the police officer sprayed Morrison with mace! I honestly wish I could have seen that cop’s face when he found how who he just sprayed. I know he was just trying to do his job, but it resulted in this classic and hilarious story.
Two Can Play This Game
Don’t worry. The story isn’t over. Morrison was understandably livid about being sprayed by a police officer at his own concert. Even after the performance was delayed, Morrison got on stage and shared his feelings with the crowd. Naturally, they took offense to Morrison’s remarks and how he taunted the police who were providing security.
Thanks to his antics, the police eventually ended the concert by arresting Morrison onstage. He is the only big rock star to have ever been arrested in the middle of a concert. Subsequently, this sparked a small riot and added more charges to Morrison’s long list of arrests. Yikes. He should have just let it go. Accidents happen. It’s okay. No one meant to hurt you.
Morrison The Firefighter
Drugs obviously have negative side effects, and Morrison was no stranger to them. Apparently, after the band finished recording “The End,” Morrison returned to the studio after everyone else left. Witnesses and bystanders have slightly different stories, but allegedly, Morrison’s drugged up mind was convinced that the recording studio was on fire. It wasn’t.
What did he do? Morrison emptied an entire fire extinguisher in there. The band’s company quickly paid for the damages, and the guitarist Robby Krieger later said that he believes this was Morrison’s turning point as a rock star: “I thought Jim, [felt], ‘well I got away with that, I can get away with anything.’” Thanks for saving the day by putting out a non-existing fire.
Leaving the Grid
Immediately after the Doors European tour in 1968, Morrison wanted to take some time off, move to London for a little, and work on his poetry. The only problem with that was he didn’t tell anyone! He fell off the map, and his bandmates didn’t even know where he was. A representative from Buick offered the band a hefty price to use the song Light My Fire for a Buick commercial. Since Morrison disappeared, no one asked for his permission.
But when he did find out, Morrison was furious. Outraged is an understatement. The campaign didn’t even go through, but this incident allegedly destroyed the Doors’ friendship. Bill Siddons, the band’s road manager, said it was “the end of that era of Jim’s relationship with other members of the band; from then on, it was business.”
Dead to Me
When the Doors first broke up, their record company asked them to write out some biographies for the press. At the time, Morrison was still resentful of his childhood that he hated, and wrote that his parents and siblings were all dead. That’s pretty dark. Even though it wasn’t literally true, by this point, Morrison was dead to his family- in a metaphorical sense.
Morrison had a rough time moving around as a child, and as we can see, he wasn’t good at letting things go. When his father didn’t support his musical ambitions, Morrison cut all ties. They didn’t talk for over two years, and his dad had no idea he was even in a band until Jim’s brother Andy, heard Light My Fire on the radio.
Morrison, Meet Morrison
In June of 1996, the Doors were the opening act for the one and only Van Morrison and his band, Them. The concert was at the famed Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood. During this time, Van Morrison gave Jim Morrison some tips about performing on stage. The two bands actually got along really well.
Eventually, both bands concluded their collaboration by performing on stage together for the song “Gloria” on Them’s last night at the iconic rock ‘n’ roll bar. They didn’t mind at all and enjoyed performing with the Doors. I would have loved to see that. I wonder if people at the bar realized they were witnessing rock ‘n’ roll history.
Replacing Your Hero
Many people were inspired and influenced by Morrison and the Doors, and one of them was Iggy Pop. He was a complete super fan. Apparently, his body was filled with inspiration when he went to a Doors concert and was utterly amazed by what he heard and what he was watching. After the concert, he decided to start his own band.
Flash forward a few years after Morrison died. Pop was approached and asked to replace Jim Morrison as the Doors’ lead vocalist. He obviously didn’t hesitate to say yes and even briefly toured with the band members. But who could blame him? I would have done the same thing if I could, you know… sing. This was probably the best time in Iggy Pop’s career.
The Other Potential Replacement
Iggy pop wasn’t the only potential replacement for Morrison. Another possibility was an English rock star named Ian Astbury. He is mostly known for being the lead singer in a band called The Cult. Ian Astbury was also Oliver Stone’s first choice to portray Morrison in his 1991 biopic, The Doors. Ultimately, Astbury declined because he disagreed with how Morrison was being represented in the story.
However, the offer must have left some kind of impression on Astbury because he ended up touring with Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger in 2002. Their band was known as “The Doors of the 21st Century.” Who do you think would play Jim Morrison if a biopic was made about his life today?
First Love Lost
Pamela Courson may have been Morrison’s most publicized relationship, but she wasn’t his first. Back when he was still in Florida, Morrison started an affair with a woman named Mary Werbelow. They actually lasted a few years. Ray Manzarek later described Werbelow as “Jim’s first love.” Sorry, Pamela. I wonder what happened to Mary.
Apparently, Morrison wrote many of the Doors’ music in honor of her, including the song The End. Ray Manzarek even referred to the song as “a short goodbye love song to Mary.” Thing song is 11 minutes long, so if Manzarek calls it a “short” goodbye, I wonder what he considers a long one. The fact that Morrison had some previous ladies in his life isn’t very shocking.
Best Kind of Motivation
Speaking of the song The End, it was arguably the most memorable track when it’s come to their music, thanks to its magnificent sound and incredible haunting lyrics. It can be intense to listen to, but apparently, recording it in the studio took everything out of Morrison. Reportedly, he couldn’t even get through the song until he took some LSD.
That’s right. Next time you hear The End, all you’ll be able to think about how high Morrison was while singing the song. But I guess if we’re being honest, his audience was probably in a similar state of mind. Either way, most people can’t function when they are that high, but Morrison seems to be even better when he’s under the influence.
Making Dad Proud
As we mentioned, Jim Morrison was born into a military family. His dad, George Stephen Morrison, was a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy. Admiral Morrison was actually the commanding officer of the US forces in 1965 during the notorious Gulf of Tonkin incident.
Eventually, it was revealed that the battle was instigated by the Americans. And it led the U.S. to openly declare war against North Vietnam. The Vietnam War ultimately became a source of protest for the counterculture movement- you know the one that made Morrison and the Doors such a success. The irony is I think there are a few sons out there that rebelled against their father better than Morrison did.
Do Not Disturb
Avant-garde legend Andy Warhol loved Jim Morrison. He was obsessed with the rock star and wanted to cast him in one of his movies. Allegedly, Warhol and Morrison were in the same room when they were both in the Ondine Discotheque. Warhol got to witness Morrison in person, and he seems to have lived up to his reputation.
Reportedly, Andy Warhol saw two groupies with Morrison, and they were all… umm… let’s just say they were wrapped up in a public display of affection. I can only imagine how uncomfortable that made Warhol. Usually, he is the one shocking people. In the end, Warhol refused to bother Morrison and just hoped that they can meet and talk later.
I’ll Show You Who’s Boss
As we know, Morrison was no stranger to sleeping around during the age of “free love.” We mentioned that he had a fair share of interactions will fellow musician Janis Joplin, and the couple reportedly had a one night stand. Although we can’t confirm this rumor, Jopin was no pushover.
Apparently, after she and Morrison got into a very public fight, she took a whiskey bottle to his head. Yikes! I wouldn’t want to mess with Janis Joplin, but who can blame her? Based on his pattern of behavior and how he treated women in the past, it’s safe to say Morrison deserved it. Not that I’m condoning violence in any way… but sometimes people get what they deserve.
The Door is Closed
When the Doors first got together, three of the members bonded over their interest in meditation. John Densmore, Robby Krieger, and Ray Manzarek even went to scheduled meditation classes together. Morrison, on the other hand, had didn’t want to join in. Eventually, they all built a strong bond and were close friends with Morrison until right before he died.
Unfortunately, the surviving band bates couldn’t do it without Morrison. They released two albums after losing their bandmate, but it just wasn’t the same. In 1973, they realized their heyday is behind them and broke up. It seems like their success died with Jim Morrison. The rock star clearly had a lot of struggles in his personal life, but his talent was undeniable.