The 50th Anniversary Of Jim Morrison Really Being Dead
People Are Paying Their Respects To A Coffin “Loaded With Sand”
The Truth About The Death Of Jim Morrison & A Visit To Mr. Mojo Risin’
“Is there really a body in there?” is usually not one of the questions you ask yourself when visiting a grave. But this is no ordinary grave.
A half hour bus ride from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris will get you to the 207-year-old Pére Lachaise Cemetery where Moliere, Edith Piaf, Balzac and hundreds of France’s luminaries are interred. The sloping hills are filled with thousands of gracious trees, and memorials of all sorts cover the grounds, from ostentatious mausoleums to small dilapidated headstones.
Visiting Paris there were many things I wanted to experience. But there were three tourist sites I was determined to see. The Eiffel Tower was spectacular. I never got to the The Louvre: the lines were too long and it was literally over 110 degrees for a solid week. But on a cloudless, relatively cool 90 degree July day, I arrived at my third destination, Pére Lachaise Cemetery to see the final supposed resting place of the lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison.
Maps near the entrances provide a guide to many of the notables. But it is readily apparent that most visitors are here to see one grave in particular. By following almost any small group entering Pére Lachaise they will almost surely lead you to Jim Morrison. Its a pilgrimage that the curious and Doors fans have been making for 50 years.
At the cemetery’s main entrance on Boulevard de Ménilmontant, about 200 yards on the right and ten feet off a path behind a small mausoleum is the grave of James Douglas Morrison 1943-1971.
You may read or be told in advance how unimpressive Morrison’s plot is and still be surprised at its plainness. There are always people there. It seems you can never spend a minute alone with Jim.
Visitors gather near the barricade fence that separate visitors from a small headstone littered with flowers, notes, pictures, empty bottles, beer cans, memorabilia and graffiti, It’s a rather underwhelming visual. The fence is there for a good reason. Over the previous 50 years not only has Morrison’s headstone been desecrated, but the neighboring tombs and markers have been defaced as well. There is little respect for the dead, at least for the souls anywhere near Jim Morrison’s grave.
When Morrison was interred here in 1971 there was nothing to signify his grave. Four curbstones were later added to surround and mark the plot. A headstone and a bust of Morrison’s head designed by Croatian artist Mladen Mikulos was put up in 1981. The bust was chiseled away by souvenir hunters, then stolen and replaced, only to be stolen again.
For decades, the grave of the American usurper of France’s dignified literary and artistic reposing greats, was practically an open invitation to vandals and urinators. Wild parties would ensue during the day and especially after the gates of the cemetery would close at night. Trespassers thought nothing of breaking into Pére Lachaise, to party with Jim or perform bizarre rituals. Often they would vandalize and forcibly enter surrounding tombs causing general havoc.
In Paris’s cemeteries the dead don’t always rest in peace permanently. For some plots you don’t necessarily own your grave, even those bought in perpetuity, you lease it. When Morrison’s grave was originally purchased in 1971 it was not clear if it was the now standard 30 year lease or a perpetual one. As 2001 approached, families of those with neighboring plots to Morrison insisted that Morrison be removed from Pére Lachaise, even if had become a star attraction. The revelation that Morrison’s was a perpetual lease ended the outcry for his removal. Cemetery officials were not in a position to eject him.
Hanging With Jim & Friends
The headstone currently at the grave was placed there in 1990 by Morrison’s family, specifically his father Rear Admiral George S. Morrison who chose an enigmatic ancient Greek inscription with the help of a professor of Classics and Humanities at San Diego State University, “KATA TON DAIMONA EAUTOU.” It has a purposely ambiguous meaning ““True to his own spirit.” or more sinisterly, “True to his own demon that possesses.” The bust of Morrison has not been replaced.
During daylight hours mourners appear regularly at the site. Others lurk for hours, standing or sitting near the shrine. If you want to leave a memento and get closer to Jim, you risk climbing over the short fence before a sécurité du cimetière tells you to “sortir!”
There are repeat visitors who engage in conversation with the merely curious. The majority of the grave’s viewers come to spend about five minutes contemplating the life and mysterious death of an icon who may have tried to run or tried to hide from his smothering life as a rock star.
The question most discussed or silently contemplated by visitors is, “Is Jim Morrison actually buried here? ”
Just as there are fans who are still convinced Elvis is alive and Andy Kaufman is pulling the greatest prank ever, there are legions of fans who suspect that Jim Morrison, The Doors mercurial Shaman and singer did not die on July 3, 1971.
He faked his death. He became a full time poet and moved to another part of the world. He became an accountant. He’s a truck driver living in Oregon. He moved to Australia and became a sheep rancher. He’s living in Tibet as a monk.
So how did the legend of Jim Morrison giving it all up to live an anonymous life come to be? If he died, how exactly did he die and why do so many people believe he is not dead?
The main issue is who actually saw a dead Jim Morrison?
The Doors in their six year career sold millions of albums and toured all over the world. Touring though would frequently get the erratic Morrison in trouble. Jim liked to get the audience riled up or make them get out of their seats and “dance” as he said.
Jim Morrison was arrested on obscenity charges and disturbing the peace on December 9, 1967 in New Haven, CT. On March 1, 1969, in Miami, Fl, a drunken Morrison, asked the audience “Do you wanna see my cock?” It was not a great idea to then follow up by dropping his pants and simulate masturbation. This brought a felony charge along with three misdemeanors for exhibitionism and drunkenness.
Morrison also faced a possible 10-year sentence after being busted by the FBI for being drunk and disorderly on an airplane. He also had nearly two dozen paternity suits filed against him.
In July 1969 Morrison turned himself over to the FBI in Los Angeles. At an stressful 1970 trial on the Florida charges, Morrison was found guilty of two misdemeanors, indecent exposure and open profanity. Morrison was sentenced to six months in jail and a $500 fine, but he appealed the sentence and was released on $50,000 bond. The case was still pending when he died. Promoters canceled upcoming Doors shows as the negative publicity piled up.
Wouldn’t It Be Great To Disappear?
It’s one thing to skyjack a plane and vanish forever as D.B. Cooper did. He remains missing. A mystery man known only by the name he gave when he purchased an airline ticket in 1971 and parachuted into oblivion.
It’s quite another thing to vanish if you are a celebrity.
Morrison was obsessed by death. During his compounding problems, Morrison told the late Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek something that would cast a lingering doubt about Morrison’s fate.
Manzarek recalled, “Jim was a restless soul, always looking for something else in life, and even six years of success – and excess – with The Doors hadn’t been enough for him. A year earlier, he had shown me a brochure for the Seychelles and said: ‘Wouldn’t this be the perfect place to escape to if everyone believed you were dead?'”
Was Morrison on the level? Manzarek was unsure. You could never tell with Jim.
Morrison said he would change his name to Mr. Mojo Risin, an anagram of Jim Morrison, and a repeated line from the song L.A. Woman.
Manzarek said, ‘One day we were walking on the beach when he asked me how old I expected to be when I die. I said probably 78, and he said: “No, not me, man. I’ll never make it that far. I see myself as a shooting star, like when you’re out at night and you see one exploding across the sky and then suddenly it goes out.'”
By 1971, the once svelte Morrison had grown a beard and become somewhat bloated. As vain as Morrison could appear, he was actually not, and he seemed genuinely pleased at destroying the rock star image that had been carefully created for him.
The Doors final recording session for L.A. Woman was completed in just six days in December 1970. The last song the Doors recorded was Riders on the Storm. Soon after, Morrison informed fellow bandmates Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore that he needed a break
Manzarek recalling his conversation with Morrison:
“Jim says, ‘listen, I want to get away for a while I want to take a little vacation.'”
“I said. hey good idea man. Album is finished. No tours, let’s just relax. Take it easy where you going to go?”
“He said, ‘well I’m gonna go to Paris'”
“Great idea. Paris. Hemingway. Fitzgerald. American writers in Paris. An American in Paris, what could be better.”
Manzarek mused, “I thought to myself, get away from your drinking buddies get away from the bad companions and the hangers-on that were always gloming on to Jim and taking him to the bar. And Jim was always paying, and he would wine and dine these sort of ne’er-do-well friends of his quote unquote friends and they were just sucking up his energy and sucking his vital essence and keeping him away from being a poet. He would sit in the bar and talk all this energy away. You know he wouldn’t be home writing. I mean what he should have been doing was writing instead of talking it out and staggering in, way past the midnight hour, far too late and Pam was always mad at him. ”
“And unfortunately I never saw Jim Morrison again – he never came back from Paris.”
On March 10, 1971, Morrison was so drunk he missed his Paris flight. The next day, the 27-year-old Morrison boarded a TWA flight and reunited with his heroin addict girlfriend of many years, Pamela Courson.
Tony Funches, Morrison’s bodyguard recalled when Pamela would try and travel with the band while they were on tour. “We all dreaded Pamela attempting to show up. Fingernails on the blackboard. When she was around, Jim was not a person to be liked. She drove the guy up the wall and consequently the rest of us as well. ‘Needful high maintenance’ could be inserted here.”
Pamela had arrived in Paris before Morrison on February 14 and first stayed at Georges V Hotel and later Jim joined her at L’Hotel while they searched for a more permanent residence. On March 17 they were moving into the third floor of a three bedroom luxury apartment that Courson would rent. 17 Rue Beautreillis in Le Marais, 4th arrondissement was owned by French model Elizabeth Lariviere,, a friend Pamela had made upon arriving in Paris.
During his time in Paris, Morrison enjoyed relative anonymity, relaxing and touring the famous haunts of artists and writers.
But Morrison and Courson also sampled the city and its decadent nightlife. Unfortunately all the temptations and demons Morrison was trying to escape in the U.S.A. could also be found in Paris. That included the partying, drug dealers, hanger’s-on and copious amounts of alcohol. At night Morrison would frequently go to clubs, get plastered, be obnoxious to anyone within reach, start fights and be thrown out on his butt.
Courson’s main problem was that she was a junkie. But that was something Morrison supposedly never dabbled in. It was known he had a disdain for hard drugs and a fear of needles. Morrison’s drug of open choice was always alcohol.
Morrison was not healthy. He had been having coughing fits so violent he was coughing up blood. A visit to a doctor prompted a warning to immediately stop smoking and cut back on his drinking. Whether he followed this advice is unknown, but previous history suggests Jim Morrison was not very good at being told what to do.
July 2, 1971 was the last day that Jim Morrison was definitely alive.
The circumstances of what really transpired will never be known for certain. That is unless his grave is ever opened and a forensic examination is made of the body that is in the coffin. That is, if there is a body in the coffin.
This Is The End, My Only Friend
The story of Morrison’s demise that Pamela Courson publicly shared with acquaintances and officials was plausible, yet had many holes and was so sketchy it led to huge doubts about the timeline of events and what really occurred.
According to Courson, the night of July 2 the pair went to the movies and then came back to their apartment. Jim Morrison was not feeling well and had a coughing fit. He got out of bed and vomited blood. Morrison asked Courson to run a bath for him and he went into the bathroom. Courson went to sleep. Hours later Courson awoke and saw Jim was not with her in bed. She called his name but he did not answer. She got up and went in the bathroom to check on him. His eyes were closed and there was a smile on his face. He was submerged and was not breathing. Courson at first thought it was a joke. But Morrison remained motionless as she tried to rouse him.
Courson panicked and called the fire department and the police department. She then called Morrison’s friend Alain Ronay who arrived after 8 a.m. and after police were already on the premises. The police pronounced Morrison dead. Morrison’s body never left the apartment. Morrison was later placed back in the bathtub in ice while Courson and Alain Ronay waited in the apartment with Morrison’s corpse. Courson had very little money, so she ordered a $75 coffin for Morrison, the cheapest available. In the interim, a doctor was sent for to determine a cause of death and provide a death certificate. The doctor determined Morrison had died not by drowning or a drug overdose, but of heart failure.
It was an amazing conclusion, because no autopsy was performed. The doctor illegibly signed the death certificate and Courson could not recall his name. It was Dr. Max Vassille who has since died and was never interviewed about his role in the event.
Pamela Courson also lied telling police and the American Embassy that Jim Morrison had no living relatives in order to procure a quick burial without questions.
There was no in depth police investigation or query from the medical examiner about the death.
Ray Manzarek later heard that Courson had told a friend about sharing heroin with Morrison in what turned out to be an accidental fatal dose.
Being the other eyewitness, Alain Ronay’s account of the events surrounding Morrison’s death are different, and much more detailed than Courson’s. That is if what Courson told Ronay leading up to the death was true.
Ronay’s story makes much more sense and fills in various gaps. His story has not been widely consulted in many of the online chronicles of Jim Morrison’s death. You can read Ronay’s fascinating, long description here.
Ronay says several people saw Morrison’s body including multiple police, two doctors, a medical examiner, the ice man who kept replenishing the ice supply as they awaited a coffin and an employee of mortician Monsieur Guizard, the owner from Bigot Funeral Parlor. Unfortunately no names of any of those who saw Morrison dead have come to light or been questioned.
The main reason for all the secrecy was to protect Courson from being charged with killing Morrison and the ensuing media circus that would have happened had it been known that Jim Morrison died of a drug overdose. The police, Ronay claims. were told the deceased was an American poet, Douglas James Morrison who died a natural death. The police were never told or figured out this corpse was a celebrity: Jim Morrison of The Doors. No French media picked up on the unspecified American’s death.
The Phone Call
Manzarek reminisced, “On July 4, Bill Siddons our road manager said, ‘I got a phone call from Paris saying that Jim Morrison is dead.’
And I said, get out of here I don’t believe it man..,. Jim Morrison said Paul (McCartney) is dead! There was a lot of everybody’s dead, that type of bull.
And Bill said ‘no, no this time I think it’s serious.’
I said., Well you know I’m certainly not going to Paris to check out some silly rumor you know.
Bill said, ‘don’t worry I’ve got a 12 o’clock flight to Paris. I’m going over there.’
Okay fine. Well… find out this time .
“What do you mean?’ Bill said.
I mean, I said to him, make sure, just make sure this time, will you?”
The Drug Dealers
The alternate story is that Jim Morrison died of a drug overdose administered by someone other than Courson. It occurred not at his apartment, but at a night club.
Morrison was spending nights at the Rock and Roll Circus, a Left Bank nightclub that Sam Bernett managed, In Bernett’s book The End: Jim Morrison, he describes that around one in the morning on July 3, 1971, Morrison went to the club and met two men, drug dealers who sold him heroin for Courson. Later Morrison vanished from view. After a while a bouncer broke down the door of a locked toilet stall, and there was Morrison slumped over. Bernett was called in and asked a club customer who was a doctor to examine the singer.
Bernett said, “when we found him he was dead. He had a little foam on his nose, and some blood too, and the doctor said, ‘That must be an overdose of heroin,’ ”
No one saw Jim Morrison take any heroin that night but Morrison could have sniffed it or been so drunk he allowed someone to inject him.
The drug dealers then came to the bathroom and claimed Morrison was just unconscious. They lifted him and carried him out of the club. Bernett says he wanted to call the paramedics and authorities, but the club’s owner ordered him to keep quiet to avert a scandal.
Supposedly the dealers brought Morrison’s body back to his apartment and placed him in the bathtub to try and revive him or make it look like he had died there.
In an interview with Mojo in 2014 singer Marianne Faithfull more or less confirmed this story.
Faithfull’s boyfriend at the time was a heroin dealer and a count, Jean de Breteuil who also dated and regularly supplied Courson with her habit. On the night Morrison died Breteuil told her he intended to visit Morrison so Faithfull decided to stay at their hotel and take barbiturates. “He went to see Jim Morrison and killed him,” Faithfull told Mojo. “I mean, I’m sure it was an accident. Poor bastard. The smack was too strong? Yeah. And he died. And I didn’t know anything about this. Anyway, everybody connected to the death of this poor guy is dead now. Except me.”
Jim had named Pamela his sole heir in his will which would be contested. Not surprisingly, Pamela Courson died less than three years later of an overdose on April 25, 1974 in West Hollywood, CA.. After a long court battle Courson’s family was awarded half of Jim Morrison’s shares of future royalties with The Doors, with the other half going to Morrison’s family.
150 Pounds of Sand
Bill Sidodns arrived in Paris, Tuesday July 6. He helped Pamela arrange a funeral. But he never saw Morrison’s body. The coffin was already sealed. On Wednesday, July 7, the coffin was buried at Pére Lachaise Cemetery. According to one account Bill Siddons returned to the United States on July 8 and informed the band in person of Morrison’s death.
Manzarek’s memory was that of a phone call before Siddons returned. Either way Manzarek was incredulous at the lack of proof that Morrison was dead. The way Manzarek described it:
“Three or four days later I get a phone call, it was Friday I think, maybe it was Saturday, I forget. Friday or Saturday.
Bill says to me, ‘we just buried Jim Morrison.’
“I said what so what are you talking about?”
Bill said, ‘yeah, he’s dead.’
I said “So what are you talking about? This is like a rumor. Wait a minute. What happened?
Bill says ‘ I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.’
“I mean, was he hit by a truck or something?”
Bill says no, no. His heart stopped. His heart stopped.
“What are you talking about? I said how’s he look how does he look?
Bill says, ‘I don’t know, I never saw the body.’
“Hold on. What do you mean you didn’t see the body?”
Bill said, ‘It was a sealed coffin’ That’s it. That’s all I know man. I’m telling you what I know. I was here. He’s dead.’
‘Pam was all broken up I’m telling you. Pam was just crying and weeping and everything and you know I mean I just couldn’t bring myself to open the coffin.’
“They buried a sealed coffin!” I said. You mean you didn’t say open it! Let me see Jim Morrison, I want to see Jim Morrison dead. You’re telling me Jim Morrison is dead. Show me Jim Morrison dead! As a manager of the band you say – ‘that’s our lead singer!’ That’s Jim Morrison. Let me see Jim Morrison dead. How do you even know Jim was in the coffin? How do you know it wasn’t 150 pounds of fuckin’ sand?”
I said oh god no. We’re waiting for Jim to come back. You know we’re working on some songs John and Robbie and I are getting together. Every Tuesday and Thursday. a couple of hours in the afternoon putting some little beauties together work on some tunes a little of this a little that keeping the chops up.
Jim Morrison was never seen dead that coffin. He was put in the ground covered over and
that was it.
As nice as it would be to believe that Jim Morrison escaped the trappings of his rock star life and started anew, the evidence he did so is slim and does not confirm that conclusion. The fact is no one who was close to Morrison neither friends or family has ever received any communication from him in the intervening 50 years.
As Ray Manzarek said, ‘There are all sorts of conspiracy theories, but in my heart, I know that the story about him faking it is just an urban legend – isn’t it?’