Friday, November 14, 2008

Rock & Roll Heaven: Jim Morrison

How many times have you heard the old adage 'These things happen in threes' concerning the deaths of famous people?

In July of 1971, while the youth of America in general and the rock world in particular were still reeling from the dual deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix just months earlier, the third domino fell.

Jim Morrison, the electrifying lead singer of the rock band 'The Doors', snorted some heroin, climbed into a bathtub, and died there of an overdose of the drug. He was just 27 years old. Is that age of death getting to sound like a broken record?

Morrison was born in Florida in 1943 to a U.S. Navy officer and his wife. His father, George Morrison, fought in the Pacific theatre of World War II, was intimately involved in the 'Gulf of Tonkin' incident during the Vietnam War, and became the youngest Admiral in the history of the Navy. He is still alive today, about to turn 90 years old this coming January, nearly four decades after his son's death.

As a small child, the Morrison family moved to New Mexico, and he became fascinated by many of the customs and the culture of the Native Americans in the area. At only four years of age, young Jim was out in the desert for a drive with his family when they witnessed the aftermath of a horrific auto accident that resulted in death and injuries to members of a Native American family.

He would later go on to say that it was the pivotal incident in his life, one that he would repeatedly make reference to and draw upon images of in his songs. The move to New Mexico was just one of a number of family moves in his childhood that included California, Virginia, and Florida stops due to his father's military duties.


After high school, Jim moved in with his dad's parents in Clearwater, Florida in order to attend a local junior college. He then moved on to a stint at Florida State before finally moving out to Los Angeles in 1964, where he graduated from UCLA's film school in 1965. After graduating from UCLA, Morrison began to live an anti-establishment vagabond lifestyle in the Venice Beach area.

While out at a nightclub he met the woman who would become his lifelong companion, ultimately his common-law wife, and whom he himself would refer to as his 'cosmic mate'. Pamela Courson was an art student when they met. Despite affairs by each of them during what they described as an open relationship over the years, they remained together and he dedicated almost all of his poetic efforts to her.

He also met and began to plan a band with Ray Manzarek, and the two found John Densmore to be the group's drummer. Densmore then recruited Robby Kreiger to audition, and when the others accepted him 'The Doors' was born. In 1966, The Doors got a big break when they opened for Van Morrison. The Irish rocker was later credited as becoming a big influence on the Scotch-Irish Morrison.

In 1967, The Doors got a bigger break when they were signed to a contract with Elektra Records, and their single "Light My Fire" reached the #1 spot on the Billboard charts. They would release four major albums between '67 and '69, establishing a huge fan base and becoming one of the most popular bands in America. Morrison was a rock star and a sex symbol, and he frequently dipped into groupies and fans as sex partners, even to the point of having one-nighters with rockers Grace Slick and Janis Joplin.

Long before MTV and the video generation, The Doors would make videos for a number of their songs, thanks largely to Morrison's film talents and influences. At this point, Morrison began to frequently show up drunk for public appearances, put on weight, grew a beard, and even attempted to start a riot at a Florida concert appearance. A number of appearances by The Doors were cancelled, and the group stopped touring and recording. Morrison published two volumes of his poetry, and even set some of it down on tape as well.

In 1970, Jim allegedly married writer Patricia Kenneally in a Celtic pagan ceremony, but the marriage was never recognized legally. Numerous paternity suits were filed against him, but none ever stuck, and in the end he is believed to have had no children. The band got back together around the time of Joplin and Hendrix' deaths in October 1970 to record their final Morrison-led album titled "LA Woman".

In spring of 1971, Morrison moved to Paris, France, regrew the beard, and began to sink into depression. He cut his last recordings in Paris, and it was there in his apartment on July 3rd that he snorted the heroin, thinking that he was snorting cocaine. Courson later found him dead in the bathtub. The official cause of death was ruled as 'heart failure'. Courson went into seclusion after Morrison's death, was described as becoming mentally unstable, and died herself of a heroin overdose in 1974 at the age of...27.

Two more victims of the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll lifestyle that have stolen far too many talents from the world. Like Janis and Jimi less than a year earlier, Jim Morrison was gone, his only hope for an opportunity to continue the creativity of his music, writing, poetry, and film coming in that mythical Rock and Roll Heaven.

NOTE: This is a continuation of the "Rock and Roll Heaven" series, all entries for which can be read at that link found below

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