Jim Morrison, a man who sang, wrote and drank hard as lead singer of the Doors, has died – peacefully – at the age of 27. Morrison’s death, despite (and because of) strategic efforts on the part of his wife Pamela and friends, was shrouded in mystery.
He died in the early morning of Saturday, July 3rd, but it was July 9th, two days after he had been buried in a Paris cemetery, before his manager let word out to the American press.
Bill Siddons, the Doors’ manager, explained in a statement:
“The initial news of his death and funeral was kept quiet because those of us who knew him intimately and loved him as a person wanted to avoid all the notoriety and circus-like atmosphere that surrounded the deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.”
Siddons, 23, made the statement on his return from Paris, where he, Pamela, and three friends had attended the burial, at Pere Lachaise cemetery. So far, no marker has been erected, and Siddons said there would be no services in Los Angeles, where Morrison had attended UCLA and began singing with the Doors in 1965.
“The whole reason I went to Paris and didn’t announce the death was…he went there in March to write and rest. In Paris, he’d found some peace and happiness and worked L.A. out of his system. It may be hard to understand, but it was hard to live here [in Los Angeles] and live what everybody thought he was. “There was no service, and that made it all the better. We just threw some flowers and dirt and said goodbye.”
There was also no autopsy. Just because we didn’t want to do it that way. We wanted to leave him alone. He died in peace and dignity.” Still, someone botched things up.
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Rumors leaked out from Paris to London that weekend that Morrison had died. But when reporters called Jim and Pam’s flat, near the Bastille, they reported being told that Morrison was “not dead but very tired and resting in a hospital.” As late as July 8th, after the singer-composer-poet had been buried, United Press International’s Paris office was reporting Morrison “recovering and being treated in a hospital or sanitarium.” A pop paper in Paris ran a photo of Morrison with the headline reading Jim Morrison Not Dead, again reporting him “tired” from Morrison “a minor malady.”
His death was kept absolutely secret. Saturday night, however, a disc jockey in a local nightclub reported the death over the loudspeaker. His announcement was greeted with surprise and silence. A small current of talk spread, landed in London that night, and reverberated back to Paris for comment and details. There were none.
The American Embassy didn’t hear rumors until Monday. Finally, Pam Morrison filed the death certificate on Wednesday, listing Jim as James Morrison, poet. The embassy didn’t realize until Friday, when news agencies began pressing for the story, that the dead man was Jim Morrison of the Doors.
It is known that Morrison had a respiratory ailment and had been coughing up blood for nearly two months in Paris. He saw two doctors during that time, but up to the time of his death, appeared strong and healthy. He and Pamela had traveled off to Spain, Morocco and Corsica and, back in Paris, was keeping up with close friends like poet Michael McClure and photographer Frank Lisciandro – and the Doors’ office – through postcards, letters, and phone calls. He was talking, at various times, about working on a screenplay and on poetry in France, and he kept in touch with his business manager, Bob Greene. He wanted enough money to stay through September. Around 4a.m. Saturday, July 3rd, Morrison woke up, disturbed. He was coughing again, and when he awoke, he threw up a small quantity of blood. But, Siddons said, Jim told Pam he felt okay and that he wanted to take a bath.
Pamela, 25, apparently went back to sleep. Then she decided to check on him. “Jim was dead in the bathtub,” said Siddons. “He had a half-smile on his face, and at first Pamela thought he was kidding, putting her on. But he was dead.” Pam called the fire department to attempt resuscitation, and the police and a doctor followed – all too late.
The death certificate listed the cause of death as a heart attack. Some early news reports said a sudden case of pneumonia led to the death. Siddons said he knew the exact cause of death but couldn’t describe it in official medical terms. “It was some sort of heart failure,” he said, complicated by a possible lung infection. “Blood probably collected from a clot and worked its way up the chest and blocked heart valves. And that caused the heart attack.”
Siddons attributed the blood clot to “physical abuse.”
“Jim was very strong,” he said, “but he pushed himself to the limits.” Kathy Lisciandro, for two years secretary for the Doors, is a former nurse at UCLA. She and her husband Frank, the film editor in Morrison’s informal film unit, “Hwy,” watched Jim tightwalk a 15-inch wide ledge atop the roof of the towering 9000 Building on Sunset, drunk, one night, for the film, Feast of Friends. “We used to call him the Human Fly. He’d have no regard for his physical body. He’d just abuse it. He’s fallen out windows – just in February he fell out two stories at the Chateau Marmont hotel – just playing.” Random injuries collected over the years, she said, may have weakened Morrison internally.
Morrison is survived by his parents, Rear Admiral George and Clara Morrison, Andy, a younger brother, and Anne, a younger married sister. The parents live in Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., where Morrison’s father works at the Pentagon. Siddons notified them of their estranged son’s death by phone. “We knew he was in Paris,” his mother said before she got official word, “but we haven’t heard from him since he arrived.” Neither she nor her other children knew about Jim until Siddons returned from the funeral to make the announcement.
In a will drawn up in February, 1969, said Max Fink, Jim’s attorney, Morrison left everything to Pamela. His estate, Fink said, was “substantial,” including ASCAP royalties, song copyrights, and investments made for him by his business manager. Morrison may never have even known it, but he was, among other things, part-owner of a trailer camp. After Pam, Morrison named his brother and sister.
Pamela returned to Los Angeles with Siddons and, at last report, was still in shock.
Morrison’s parents were also unavailable for comment after hearing the news. A long-time family friend, Navy Captain Baylor Brown, intercepted calls and said only that Admiral and Mrs. Morrison were “extremely upset” and planned no separate memorial services for their son. “They feel he had been buried in a fine cemetery in Paris,” Capt. Brown said.
Morrison is, in fact, buried in one of Paris’ oldest and best-known cemeteries. The Pere Lachaise is the final resting grounds for numerous celebrated men and women of arts and the letters, among them Balzac, Moliere, Oscar Wilde, and Edith Piaf.
And, in at least a figurative sense, Jim Morrison picked his own gravesite. Said Siddons: “He and a friend had been walking through there a week before, and it seemed perfectly appropriate. Even if he’d died at home in L.A., we might’ve sent him there.”
Morrison’s death followed, by two years to the day, the death of the Rolling Stones’ guitarist, Brian Jones. And it was nine months ago that Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died. All three died at 27 – as did Morrison. But where Jones’, Hendrix’ and Joplin’s deaths were from accidental overdoses of drugs, Morrison died of “natural causes.” No drugs, his associates and friends have emphasized, were connected to the death, and, in fact, Morrison was admittedly heavy on alcohol, but light, since the early days of the Doors on the Strip, on hard drugs.
Elmer Valentine, owner of the Whisky a Go Go, where the Doors made their first dents as a house band, stayed close to Morrison through the band’s subsequent ups and downs. “Jim wasn’t a doper,” Valentine said. “He drank himself to death, but he wasn’t a doper. Get that into the paper somehow. That wasn’t his bag.”
Jac Holzman, president of Elektra Records, painted a portrait of Morrison as a satisfied man as he prepared to join Pamela in Paris. The Doors’ last album for Elektra, L.A. Woman, had quickly hit the charts, with two singles, “Love Her Madly” and “Riders of the Storm,” getting the group back on AM radio for the first time since “Touch Me,” more than a year ago. “The last time I saw Jim,” said Holzman, “we were talking about his plans – what he wanted to do. He had found recording L.A. Woman, in the basement at their own offices, exhilarating. We provided them an eight-track and a board. He was talking about setting his sights lower and not worrying about selling lots of records. He was even talking about going back out on appearances [The Doors’ last concert was in New Orleans last December]. And he was talking about some screenplay-writing in Paris.”
According to attorney Fink, Morrison was “negotiating with one of the top screen writers to work with Jim on a feature film project.” The writer was Larry Marcus, responsible for, among other works, the final script for Justine. He and Morrison had met in Florida during Morrison’s trial in Miami. Marcus, said Frank Lisciandro, “had an idea – he had a treatment about a guy who retreats from society, and goes to a fishing village, like Morocco, and gets involved in a gypsy life.” But, according to Siddons, the project was dropped while Morrison was in Paris. Another project left incomplete was an album of poetry. Morrison published one book of poems, The Lords and the New Creatures, and distributed private volumes of writings among friends. “He frequently wrote his poetry with a sense of his voice in mind,” said Holzman. “And music concrete – some music and sound effects,” which would be recorded in the streets or on a beach, or wherever appropriate accompaniment could be found.
“He was still experimenting with the form,” said Holzman. “He wanted to get through that and then into screenplays.”
As it was, Morrison completed seven albums. Elektra released one compilation album, 13, and had planned to put together a second collection of “greatest hits.”
The three other Doors – guitarist Rob Krieger, bass and keyboard player Ray Manzarek, and drummer John Densmore – declined comments on their lead vocalist’s death, but it is known that they had been rehearsing as a trio in the Doors’ office/studios since Morrison’s departure. With L.A. Woman, the Doors had completed their obligation with Elektra and were open for negotiations with other labels when Morrison split.
“He said, ‘I have no idea how long I might be gone,'” said Siddons, “and the Doors had no obligations committed to each other. So he was writing a new book of poetry, and the group began rehearsing, about April, and doing some tracks.
“They weren’t worried about a singer – they were just making music,” he said. Now, with the news of Jim Morrison’s death, the three have stopped work. “And they haven’t discussed any new singers at all. It’s premature.”
And already it’s started. The Monday following his announcement of the death. Siddons got a call at the Doors’ office, from a promoter in Cleveland. “I’ve got a singer. Looks like Jagger, sounds like Morrison. Want ‘im?”
* * *
Death makes angels of us all
and gives us wings where we had shoulders
smooth as raven’s claws
“An American Prayer”
* * *
James Douglas Morrison was born in Melbourne, Florida, December 8th, 1943. It appears he began living about 22 years later, when he’d finally crossed the country, where he would enroll in the Theater Arts department at UCLA and, later, meet Ray Manzarek and form the Doors. In his official biography, Morrison filled in, under “Family”: “Deceased.” While his favorite singers actually were, as he also declared, Frank Sinatra and Elvis, and while his favorite food was meat, his family was only dead in one man’s mind.
Morrison never talked about his family. “I don’t want to involve anyone unless they want it,” he said in his Rolling Stone interview with Jerry Hopkins in 1969. “I don’t see any of them” – brother, sister, and his parents, Rear Admiral and Mrs. George “Steve” Morrison.
The Morrisons raised Jim, Andy and Anne in Alexandria, Virginia, a Middle Atlantic port town, port for George Washington High School, alma mater in the late Fifties to Cass Elliot, Zal Yanovsky and Scott MacKenzie.
Slight little Jim Morrison slowly, surely moved onto the literary road, in an English class where he got pumped full of classics. Crawdaddy, in April 1969, published an exhaustively investigated article by Michael Horowitz, written in the style of an obituary, complete with nodding, fingers-stroking-chin recollections by Morrison’s schoolmates, blues influences, and mother’s friend. The younger brother of one of Jim’s classmates told Horowitz:
“My brother said Morrison was a genius – he knew all about the poets, he knew all about poetry and all about books. He knew more than the teacher even, like sometimes someone would ask a question and the teacher wouldn’t know the answer, and Morrison would just blurt it out. Without raising his hand or anything…”
Did you know freedom exists
in a school book
Did you know madmen are
running our prison
w/in a jail, w/in a gaol
w/in a white free protestant
–”An American Prayer”
* * *
Morrison made the honor roll, but joined in no school activities. He had few friends. Life for him, right now, was across the Jefferson Davis Highway, in a pub, the 1320 Club, where he caught bluesmen like Wil Downing – or, to the black-tighted waitresses, Little Willie Downing and the Handjives. The organist seemed to remember young Jim as a sosher. “You know, he was the kind of cat who used to run around with everybody else. He did what everybody else did – long as it was bad, heh, heh.”
At home, Jim Morrison faced his dad, latest – and only the latest, the then-Captain hoped – in a long line of Morrison career Navy men. His mother Clara stood by while the Captain ordered his home-grown recruits around.
Finally, Jim pole-vaulted his way out of Washington Monument territory, to college in Florida – first at St. Petersburg J.C., then at Florida State University – and, finally, to UCLA, Hollywood, Westwood, West Hollywood. The campus, then the strip.
A favorite Morrison quote: “I was ideally suited for the work I’m doing; it’s the feeling of a bowstring being pulled back for 22 years and suddenly being let go.”
“Jim had an undying interest in films,” said Frank Lisciandro, who met Jim while Morrison, Manzarek and he were all at UCLA. “And on a lot of different levels – very much aesthetic – that is, in the theory, the history, the politics of film. He never engaged in the craft of film – editing, being a cameraman. And he always had a good musical ear. He played a tiny bit of piano.”
There was no frat rat pack scene going on, these already being the days, for some people, of Love, Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds. “It was more like bringing wine to a screening and passing it around. But Jim never did anything halfway. He’d drink to get drunk.”
At UCLA, Morrison made his first film – an optic disaster as far as his professors were concerned, its one print lost since it’s showing. Writer Digby Diehl described the film as “an essentially plot-less, theme-less collage film.” A stag film snaps broken; its audience then fills the screen with hand-puppet projections; Nazi troops take over, followed by a walking woman’s ass. Sounds of balling, kids chanting. Classmate Manzarek was loyal: “It didn’t have anything to do with anything. Everybody hated it at UCLA. It was really quite good.”
* * *
There’s no authority on film. Any one person can assimilate and contain the whole history of film in himself, which you can’t do in other arts. There are no experts, so, theoretically, any student knows almost as much as any professor.
–The Lords: Notes on Vision
* * *
Morrison’s next cinematic efforts would be promo films for Break on Through and The Unknown Soldier. He and Manzarek, formerly with Screaming Ray Daniels of the pub rock group Rick and the Ravens, began talking music on the beach in Venice one day in July 1965. Jim mentioned he’d started writing songs, and recited, for starters, “Moonlight Drive.” It had something to do with something, and Manzarek set out to make Morrison’s tongue-in thoughts about a rock band called the Doors a reality (the name coming from William Blake’s line, “There are things that are known and things that are unknown; in between are doors”). He found jazz drummer John Densmore at a meditation center being set up by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Now, in September 1965, it was time for a demo. Morrison at lead vocals, with Densmore, Manzarek on piano, Ray’s brothers Rick and Jim on guitars, and an unidentified female bassist. They did 12 songs – as best Billy James can recall today – including “Moonlight Drive,” “End of the Night,” “Break on Through,” “Summer’s Almost Gone” and ‘Let’s Go Insane.” James, who recently picked “Moonlight Drive” to be part of the film Two-Lane Blacktop, was the talent scout/company freak at Columbia then; the Doors had been drawn to him by a picture of him and his beard in a trade magazine. James said he was “tantalized” and signed them to a short-term contract. Columbia, as James guessed, never got around to assigning a producer for the band, and the group moved on – with James, as it turned out, to Elektra. Billy James, doing publicity, would later connect the Doors to the top pop writers back then, Richard Goldstein and Mike Jahn, who’d later precede Morrison as the Lizard king with his book on the Doors, chief among them.
By then, the Doors had added jug-band veteran Robby Krieger on guitar to replace the suddenly departed Manzarek brothers and the bass player. They had made their debut at the London Fog on the Strip, they’d played Gazzarri’s, and they’d been booked into the Whisky, second-billed under the Seeds, the Turtles, Love and Them.
By now, Morrison had developed into a stage performer and built a solid core of fans. In fact, Morrison and the Doors got too strong for the Whisky when he extended “The End” to include the Oedipal “Father I want to kill you…Mother, I want to…[and here, for want of a ‘fuck you,’ Morrison unleashed his primal scream].” And in the audience, club manager Mario shook his head in disgust and had them pack up.
It was Ronnie Haran, in charge of booking the acts, who got the Doors hired as the “house band” for four months. Elmer Valentine admitted that he didn’t like them at first. “He was kinda ahead of his time on certain things – like swearing,” he said. “But those calls kept coming in. ‘When’s that horny motherfucker coming in?’ The phones were incredible. We never got that many calls before for just a second group.”
Despite the firing, Valentine and Morrison became friends, and Morrison, as late as late last year, talked about having the band show up unannounced at the Whisky some night for a set.
“When they started getting big and doing concerts,” Valentine said, “he was unhappy that he couldn’t come back to the club. He missed working out their material, the way ‘Light My Fire’ was done, with the audience like a barometer. “Well, they were going to do it just before he went to Europe. Jim tried to get the fellas to do it, and for one reason or another, it couldn’t happen. Then the night they were going to, Jim didn’t show up. Of all people….”
Jac Ttanna was with a Los Angeles-based band, Sons of Adam, back then, and he was a friend of Pam’s and Jim’s. After the Whisky had dismissed the Doors, they were playing Gazzarri’s club – the one on the Strip – and on one night, there was no audience, except for Ttanna and Pamela. “He’s into ‘When the Music’s Over,’ and he comes to the part where he freaks out and screams and throws his mike stand on the ground – and he really did it. Even more than that. And they went off the stage, and Pam said, ‘Why’d you do all that?’ And Jim said, ‘You never know when you’re giving your last performance.'”
* * *
“The public image,” says Jac Holzman – he took a terrible drubbing. He’d give a bad performance, OK. But they attacked him personally. He asked me once what I thought. I said, ‘Six months from now, all they’ll remember is the records.'”
In the course of the Doors’ four-month employ at the Whisky, Jac saw them. “I didn’t like ’em at first. But I was drawn back. I went four straight nights, then spoke to them and said I wanted to record them.” Two other labels were interested – White Whale (who had the Turtles) and a label Terry Melcher was starting. The Doors, with tunes stored up from as far back as the UCLA days, were ready to record. They had their first album finished by fall, 1966, although release was held off to January, 1967 – “for the best merchandising purposes.” The Doors, Holzman said, waited patiently. “And it was they who wanted Jim in front. They felt he was the focus.” Jim, in return, credited all compositions to the group as a whole, although his tunes dominated the first two albums. All four Doors shared all revenue equally.
By now, Jim Morrison had begun what seemed to be an automatic-piloted trip up the strata of rock. If the Byrds were the American Beatles, then Morrison was the Yank Jagger. The Doors hit the Matrix, then the ballrooms in San Francisco. Morrison hit Ed Sullivan – hard-on seething through his now regulation leather pants – and the pages of Vogue, where he was immortalized by photographer Richard Avedon and a caption writer who called Morrison “one of the most shaken loose, mind-shaking, and subtle agents of the new music…. He gets people. His songs are eerie, loaded with somewhat Freudian symbolism, poetic but not pretty, filled with suggestions of sex, death, transcendence… The Doors play at their best in ‘The End,’ a song that runs for more than eleven and a half minutes with words by Jim Morrison writing as if Edgar Allen Poe had blown back as a hippie.”
By the time of the third album, Waiting for the Sun, Morrison had also begun his poetic Celebration of the Lizard, squeezed down, musically, to “Not to Touch the Earth” on that album. Most people misunderstood Morrison’s coating of himself in reptile skin. He told reporter Salli Stevenson: “I’ve always liked reptiles. I used to see the universe as a mammoth peristaltic snake and I used to see all the people and objects and landscapes as little pictures on the facets of their skins, their scales. I think the peristaltic motion is the basic life movement. It’s swallowing, digestion, the rhythms of sexual intercourse, and even your basic unicellular structures have this same motion….”
He had also directed himself and the other Doors in The Unknown Soldier, with Manzarek, Densmore and Krieger apocalypsing Morrison to a tree by ropes, followed by a firing squad scene and Jim’s death. It came at a time when teenyboppers, in full bloom, would accept the black-white Irishman doing anything. In Crawdaddy, Kris Weintraub expressed the Doors, circa summer ’68, perfectly:
“He stepped to the microphone, grabbed the top with his right hand and the stand with his left fingertips, and looked up so the light hit his face.
“The world began at that moment.
“There isn’t another face like that in the world. It’s so beautiful and not even handsome in the ordinary way. I think it’s because you can tell by looking at him that he is God. When he offers to die on the cross for us it’s okay because he is Christ.
“He’s everything that ever was and all that ever can be and he knows it. He just wants to let us know that so are we. That’s why we love him.
(His soul has been around for a long time. It’s seen things he only hints at but I remember things from a million years ago when he sings. He has one of the really old souls.)
“He’s definitely toned down his act from his falling off the stage period. He only jumped four times while they were on stage and they were beautiful leaps. Any cheerleader would be proud…. He only tried to rape the microphone stand twice….
“At one point he said, ‘We’re gonna show a movie a little later and I want you all to watch it real close – ’cause you have to give a report on it.’ It was the film I told you about, for The Unknown Soldier. You’ll never see that one on TV. It’s the bravest thing any group has done and I’m glad they did it – even though no one else could have. It’s Jim’s place. That’s his purpose in life.
“We demanded an encore. They sang ‘The Unknown Soldier’ for us because the soundtrack on the film is scratchy.
“Just before he collapsed to ‘die’ Jim smiled his most beautiful smile….
“Debbie and Robin and I were trying to sum him up. I knew what I thought but I held back to see if it was just me. Debbie said it. I never opened my mouth. ‘He’s like a little boy sometimes – but not childish.’ Childlike.
“Jim has the kind of innocence about him that only comes from knowing everything. Do you understand that?”
* * *
A year later, another, calmer writer for the magazine recalled: “After his burial, the whole world celebrates wildly, while Morrison sings hysterically on the soundtrack: ‘It’s all over, baby! The war is over!’ “When the film played at the Fillmore East, a young audience brimming with anti-war frustration broke into pandemonium. ‘The war is over!’ cried teeny-boppers in the aisles.
‘The Doors ended the fucking war!’ The Doors’ little passion play had grabbed the audience. Jimmy and the boys had done it again. “But what about that dead Soldier? Morrison attains a bizarre duality in The Unknown Soldier. He is killed on the screen, but survives triumphantly in sound. He is both victim and victor, martyr and apostle.”
* * *
Jim Morrison seemed the fool, sillier and sillier as rock fans got harder and harder. And he had begun to attract, and fight, the law. In New Haven, Connecticut, in December, 1967, he and a girl were discovered kissing in his dressing room by a cop. A scene ensued, but cleared up in time to allow Morrison to bring his Living Theater onstage. He threw a mike stand off the stage, spat past the long line of cops stage front, and sang his songs. In the middle of the tune, “Back Door Man,” he cut through the Willie Dixon lines with a report on the backstage scene, maintaining poetic meter and telling about getting sprayed with Mace gas for nothing. The lights came on, and a cop boarded the stage and arrested Morrison. The charge, somehow: indecent and immoral exhibition.
That was the first time; he’d be acquitted. But later that year, two other concerts, in Long Island and in Phoenix, ended in “riots” and promised bans against future Doors concerts.
Saw through your bars
Melt your cell today
You are caught
In a prison
Of your own device
–”You’re Lost Little Girl”
* * *
“I always try to get them to stand up,” Morrison told Jerry Hopkins, “to feel free to move around anywhere they want to. It’s not to precipitate a chaos situation. It’s…how can you stand the anchorage of a chair and be bombarded with all this intense rhythm and not want to express it physically in movement? I like people to be free.” Like a snake, through the bars.
But Morrison was the utilitarian as well as the politician. To Digby Diehl, he said: “I was less theatrical, less artificial, when I began. But now, the audiences we play for are much larger. It’s necessary to project more, to exaggerate – almost to the point of grotesqueness.”
Another favorite quote: “I’m interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that has no meaning. It seems to me to be the road to freedom.”
And New Creatures: To Bob Chorush, Morrison asserted, “We never really had any riots. I mean, a riot’s an out-of-control violent thing. I think it has something to do with swarming…the idea that insect and animal species, when the population starts out strictly with food supply the animals or insects swarm together. It’s a way of communicating, working out a solution or signaling an awareness to each other.”
Morrison’s close friends had another interpretation.
“He wasn’t into performing,” said Frank Lisciandro. “He got over it pretty quick when he found out he had to sing the same 12 goddammed songs every time. On stage, ‘break on through’ was his purpose. It got to the point of his having a technique – he knew how to manipulate the audience. So it was all conscious. I saw him too many times not drunk, and he’d be like that.
“Why can’t a man be a stage performer? Teen magazines make people into idols and gods, and Jim just couldn’t get away from the part he was acting.”
Kathy Lisciandro, Morrison’s secretary, added: “As Frank said, Jim never did anything half-way. If he had to be Joe Shaman, he was going to do it. It was an honest expression of what was happening at the time, what the circumstances demanded, and he went out and did it.”
Many, however, saw the middle-period Morrison as more sham than shaman. What was there to do, having broken through the other side? He’d killed his father, and on film, he’d had himself killed, his death celebrated. The music’s over. Now what? Jim himself said, in his last interview before leaving for Paris (Rolling Stone, March 4, 1971), Miami “was the culmination, in a way, of our mass performing career. Subconsciously, I think I was trying to reduce it to absurdity, and it worked too well.”
A year before, in another quiet moment between the Miami bust and his trial, he told an interviewer: “I think of myself as an intelligent, sensitive human being with the soul of a clown which always forces me to blow it at the most important moments.”
* * *
Miami, Fla. (Mar. 11th, 1969)
Jim Morrison, self-styled “King of the Orgasmic Rock” and leader of the Doors, a rock group, has finally been charged by the Dade County State Attorney’s office.
Six warrants, including one for felony, were sworn out for Morrison, 25, four days after his appearance before some 12,000 young fans at Miami’s Dinner Key Auditorium.
The Dade State Attorney’s office issued the felony charge as “lewd and lascivious behavior in public by exposing his private parts and by simulating masturbation and oral copulation.”
Two counts of indecent exposure and open public profanity plus one of public drunkenness were also filed against Morrison.
The bearded singer, former Florida State University student, could receive a combined maximum prison sentence of three years, 150 days at the State’s Raiford Prison.
They said Morrison was drunk, shouted obscenities, appeared to use his hand to steer his sex drive, and attacked members of the group that booked the show. The Doors split to the Caribbean. A warrant was out for his arrest March 27th, and he surrendered to the FBI April 4th. It would be 16 months before the trial would begin.
And while Morrison was cruising (this from the Los Angeles Times):
Washington, D.C. (March 27th, 1969) – President Nixon has sent a letter of congratulations and appreciation to 17-year-old Mike Levesque who organized the teenage “Rally for Decency” that brought a turnout of 30,000 youths at Miami in the Orange Bowl.
Levesque said the rally developed out of a Catholic youth group discussion two days after the lead singer of the Doors was charged with indecent exposure during a concert March 1.
Comedian Jackie Gleason entertained at the rally and predicted this kind of movement would “snowball across the United States and perhaps around the world.”
Besides Gleason, singer Anita Bryant, the Lettermen, the Village Stompers, the Impact of Brass, and a number of other groups donated their time.
* * *
The “Clean Teens” snowball froze to a sudden halt three rallies later when too many of the Teens for Decency began fighting among themselves.
Morrison, in Miami, had reportedly shouted to the crowd: “There are no laws.” Shortly after that, he was busted aboard an airplane for messing around with a stewardess. That case was finally thrown out when the stew switched her testimony. And, after a two-month trial of Southern justice in Dade Criminal Court, Miami Beach, Morrison was acquitted of the felony charge and one of three misdemeanors. He was found guilty of the two others: drunkenness and exposure, although the felony charge included exposure.
The guilty verdicts were on appeal in Florida Circuit Court, and both Morrison and attorney Max Fink had been optimistic about an eventual overturn.
“The entire situation was unconstitutional,” the lawyer said. “It would have been an absolute cinch appeal. There was no way in the world for the convictions to stand.” But now, with Morrison dead, Fink had lost his compass point, his magnet. “I would like to pursue it,” he mumbled, “as a matter of…some reason…to show the Southern political situation…”
But at least he, too, had become a friend to Morrison, whom he’d represented since before the Doors’ first record contract. Fink had helped find an agent and manager for the fledgling group. In Florida, when court wasn’t in session, he joined Jim, Frank and film soundman Babe Hill and went fishing in Nassau.
For all the darkness and the fatalism in what he wrote, Morrison told friends he hoped to live to be 120, to die, if he must, in peace, in bed or best or best of all, not to die at all. He wanted to hold out until modern science and medicine could make it unnecessary ever to die.
And yet, Jim was a joker, too – a clown sometimes in light social situations, telling moronic little jokes. (The first time we met, he was regaling Airplane publicist Diane Gardiner and screen writel Earl McGrath with what he called a “dirty riddle”: “What’s the difference between a band of pygmies and a girls’ track team?” “Well, one of them is a cunning bunch of runts.”) But his favorite tool was the put-on. He thrived on interiviews, which he considered an art form. And he freely admitted to “media manipulation” – such as in his widely-published statement on his interest in disorder, chaos, and activity that appears to have no meaning.
He told Jerry Hopkins: “But it’s true, too. Who isn’t fascinated with chaos? More than that, though, I am interested in activity that has no meaning, and all I mean by that is free activity. Play. Activity that has nothing in it except just what it is. No repercussions. No motivation…I think there should be a national carnival, much the same as the Mardi Gras in Rio. There should be a week of national hilarity…a cessation of all work, all business, all discrimination, all authority. A week of total freedom. That’d be a start. Of course, the power structure wouldn’t really alter. But someone off the streets – I don’t know how they’d pick him, at random perhaps – would become president. Someone else would become vice president. Others would be senators, congressmen, on the Supreme Court, policemen. It would just last for a week and then go back to the way it was. I think we need it.”
“This may be insulting, but I have the feeling I’m being put on…”
“A little bit. But I don’t know…”
* * *
Drinking buddy Frank Lisciandro:
Jim was totally apolitical. I could not engage him in any kind of a political conversation. He would answer with like cosmic politics, thing that were like anti-practival.
Kathy: He dealt more on a real plance. That’s why he was always injuring himself. His body was just a “thing,” and he thought that non-physical things were more real.
Frank: He was also anti-mystical and anti-spiritual. He’d joke about it. There’s a great line in some Hindu piece of writing – the guy says at the first instance of a thought, laugh at it. Jim was able to do it.
Frank and Kathy are flanked by little wells on their living room carpet, drilled by the feet of heavy sofas and couches just removed. Their Los Angeles flat is empty; they’re headed for Europe. They were, of course, going to take up Jim and Pam’s invitation, to say with them at 17 rue Beauprellisin in downtown Paris. In L. A., it had been Morrison crashing everywhere, staying at the Doors’ office, or a motel across the street near the Phone Booth, where he and his buddies would drink beer and conceive films, or, when things were right, at Pam’s place off Santa Monica.
The day before you leave one country for another is usually hectic. But Frank and Kathy are staying soft and slow, savoring each memory before packing it up.
Frank: He expected to live a long time, even if he was self-destructive.
Kathy: He’d be surprised to find out he was dead at age 27.