On This Day

jim morrison, Jim Morrison doors
Associated Press
Jim Morrison

On This Day: Jim Morrison Dies

July 03, 2011 06:00 AM
by Anne Szustek
On July 3, 1971, 27-year-old Doors frontman Jim Morrison was found dead in the bathtub of his Paris apartment. The official cause of death was heart failure, though rumors persist that he actually died of a heroin overdose.

Jim Morrison Found Dead in Paris

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In the fall of 1970, Jim Morrison was convicted of lewd and lascivious behavior for exposing himself during a March 1969 concert in Miami. Sentenced to six months in prison but free on appeal, he sought a fresh start by moving to Paris with companion Pamela Courson in March 1971.

But Morrison fell deeper into addiction while in Paris, gaining so much weight that many people did not recognize him. His journals included poetry and song lyrics, but also contained repeated scribblings of the phrase “God help me.”

There are varying accounts of Morrison’s final day. According to Courson, the couple watched home travel movies and took heroin. American Heritage’s Elizabeth D. Hoover describes, “[Morrison] started to cough convulsively and decided to take a bath. Courson woke to the sound of him retching and watched in horror as he vomited blood. The next morning she found him dead in the tub.”

But Sam Bernett, the owner of glitterati club Rock and Roll Circus, contends Morrison overdosed on heroin at the club that night. He was found unresponsive in a bathroom stall with blood and white foam on his nose, and two drug dealers then took him back to his apartment, according to Bernett’s account.

The story is supported by war photographer Patrick Chauvel, who said that he helped load the rocker’s body into a car. He remarked, “I guess if you have a nightclub and Jim Morrison dies in your toilet, it is not good PR. The five or six people who knew, who were there that night, agreed to just forget about it.”

The official cause of death was given as heart failure, though no autopsy was performed to confirm it. He was buried in Paris’ famous Pere-Lachaisse Cemetery.

Biography: Jim Morrison

The son of a U.S. Navy admiral, James Douglas Morrison moved frequently in his youth, eventually settling in Alexandria, Va., where he graduated from high school. He briefly attended colleges in Florida before moving to the West Coast in 1964 and attending UCLA for film studies.

One day at a beach in Venice, Calif., Morrison ran into fellow student Ray Manzarek, who played the organ, drummer John Densmore and guitar player Robbie Krieger. The four decided to form a band called the Doors, inspired either by a verse from a poem by William Blake or by Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception.” They scored a long-term engagement on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, where the foursome gained exposure to record label scouts.

At the band’s outset, Morrison was a shy frontman, often having his back turned to the audience or gazing at the floor. He quickly overcame his stage fright, using his microphone and onstage innuendo. The Doors’ performances grew to be characterized by Morrison’s onstage portrayal of sex, and “Morrison’s ever-increasing withdrawal and simultaneous indulgence in hedonistic excess threatened the band’s stability,” writes Steve Huey for All Music Guide.

Morrison’s style was defined by the sense of rebellion developed during the strict authoritarian upbringing under his father. “His rampaging id dominated his songs with a lust for violence, sex, alcohol, drugs, self-destruction, anything forbidden for any reason by the authority of conservative middle America,” writes Huey, “and he tried to live out that lifestyle as best he could.”

Throughout his career, wrote Time, “His orgiastic performances and his command, ‘Come on, baby, light my fire,’ turned on teeny-boppers by the millions, but his mood was often more apocalyptic.”

Morrison’s arrest and trial for exposing himself drained the Doors’ finances and morale. They recorded two more albums before Morrison moved to Paris with Courson.

Background: Hendrix and Joplin

Morrison’s was the third death of a big-name rocker in 10 months, following Jimi Hendrix in September 1970 and Janis Joplin in October the same year. Each was 27 years old.

Video & Audio: The Doors’ Works

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