Jim Morrison

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James Douglas Morrison (8 December 1943 - 3 July 1971)

Early life
Morrison was born in Melbourne, Florida, in 1943 to future Admiral George Stephen Morrison and Clara Clarke Morrison. Morrison had a sister, Anne Robin, who was born in 1947 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a brother, Andrew Lee Morrison, who was born 1948 in Los Altos, California. He was of Scottish and Irish ethnic heritage.

In 1947, Morrison, then 4 years old, purportedly witnessed a car accident in the desert, where a family of Native Americans were injured and possibly killed. He referred to this incident in a spoken word performance on the song “Dawn’s Highway” from the album An American Prayer, and again in the songs “Peace Frog” and “Ghost Song.”

“Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding
ghosts crowd the young child’s fragile eggshell mind”

Morrison believed the incident to be the most formative event in his life and made repeated references to it in the imagery in his songs, poems and interviews. Interestingly, his family does not recall this incident happening in the way he told it. According to the Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive, Morrison’s family did drive past a car accident on an Indian reservation when he was a child, and he was very upset by it. However, the book The Doors written by the remaining members of Morrison’s rock group, tells how different Jim’s account of the incident was than the account of his father. This book quotes his father as saying, “We went by several Indians. It did make an impression on him Jim. He always thought about that crying Indian.” This is contrasted sharply with Jim’s tale of “Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding to death.” In the same book, his sister is quoted as saying, “He enjoyed telling that story and exaggerating it. He said he saw a dead Indian by the side of the road, and I don’t even know if that’s true.”

With his father in the Navy, Morrison’s family moved often. He spent part of his childhood in San Diego, California. In 1958, Morrison attended Alameda High School in Alameda, California. However, he graduated from George Washington High School (now George Washington Middle School) in Alexandria, Virginia in June 1961.

Morrison went to live with his paternal grandparents in Clearwater, Florida, where he attended classes at St. Petersburg Junior College. In 1962, he transferred to Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he appeared in a school recruitment film. During this period Morrison resided at 1730 W Pensacola Street, the present site of Brew & Bean Coffee Company.

In January 1964, Morrison moved to Los Angeles, California. He completed his undergraduate degree in UCLA’s film school, the Theater Arts department of the College of Fine Arts in 1965. He made two films while attending UCLA. First Love, the first of the two films, was released to the public when it appeared in a documentary about the film Obscura. During these years, while living in Venice, he became friends with writers at the Los Angeles Free Press. Morrison was an advocate of the underground newspaper until his death in 1971.

Solo: poetry and film
Morrison began writing in adolescence. In college, he studied the related fields of theater, film and cinematography.

He self-published two volumes of his poetry in 1969, The Lords / Notes on Vision and The New Creatures. The Lords consists primarily of brief descriptions of places, people, events and Morrison’s thoughts on cinema. The New Creatures verses are more poetic in structure, feel and appearance. These two books were later combined into a single volume titled The Lords and The New Creatures. These were the only writings published during Morrison’s lifetime.

Morrison befriended Beat Poet Michael McClure. McClure wrote the afterword for Danny Sugerman’s biography of Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive. McClure and Morrison reportedly collaborated on a number of unmade film projects, including a film version of McClure’s infamous play The Beard in which Morrison would have played Billy The Kid.

After his death, two volumes of Morrison’s poetry were published. The contents of the books were selected and arranged by Morrison’s friend, photographer Frank Lisciandro, and girlfriend Pamela Courson’s parents, who owned the rights to his poetry. The Lost Writings of Jim Morrison Volume 1 is titled Wilderness, and, upon its release in 1988, became an instant New York Times best seller. Volume 2, The American Night, released in 1990, was also a success.

Morrison recorded his own poetry in a mausoleum in a professional sound studio,on two separate occasions. The first was in March 1969 in Los Angeles and the second was on December 8, 1970. The latter recording session was attended by Morrison’s personal friends and included a variety of sketch pieces. Some of the segments from the 1969 session were issued on the bootleg album The Lost Paris Tapes and were later used as part of the Doors’ An American Prayer album, released in 1978. The album reached number 54 on the music charts. The poetry recorded from the December 1970 session remains unreleased to this day and is in the possession of the Courson family.

Morrison’s best-known but seldom seen cinematic endeavor is HWY: An American Pastoral, a project he started in 1969. Morrison financed the venture and formed his own production company in order to maintain complete control of the project. Paul Ferrara, Frank Lisciandro and Babe Hill assisted with the project. Morrison played the main character, a hitchhiker turned killer/car thief. Morrison asked his friend, composer/pianist Fred Myrow, to select the soundtrack for the film.

A 2004 biography of Morrison says that Warhol asked Morrison to star with Nico in I, a Man (1967) but was talked out of it by The Doors’ management. Morrison then asked his drinking buddy Tom Baker to play the lead role in the Warhol film. In 1961 he is alleged to have eaten a live owl while explaining the nature of fame to Warhol, a claim streuously denied by the artist’s management.

Personal life

Morrison’s family
Morrison’s early life was a nomadic existence typical of military families. Jerry Hopkins recorded Morrison’s brother Andy explaining that his parents had determined never to use corporal punishment on their children, and instead instilled discipline and levied punishment by the military tradition known as “dressing down.” This consisted of yelling at and berating the children until they were reduced to tears and acknowledged their failings.

His father was US Navy Admiral George Stephen Morrison, his mother Clara Clark Morrison.

Morrison began drinking in adolescence, starting a lifelong pattern of alcoholism and substance abuse. Morrison lived a Libertine lifestyle, completely devoid of restraint. This was likely a result of his taking on the philosophy of Arthur Rimbaud; that “the Poet makes himself a visionary through a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses” and Friedrich Nietzsche’s assessment that “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”.

Once Morrison graduated from UCLA, he broke off most of his family contact. By the time Morrison’s music ascended the top of the charts in 1967, he had not been in communication with his family for more than a year and falsely claimed that his parents and siblings were dead (or claiming, as it has been widely misreported, that he was an only child). This misinformation was published as part of the materials distributed with The Doors’ self-titled debut album.

In a letter to the Florida Probation and Parole Commission District Office dated October 2, 1970, Morrison’s father acknowledged the breakdown in family communications, the result of an argument over his assessment of his son’s musical talents. He said he could not blame his son for being reluctant to initiate contact, and that he was proud of him nonetheless.
Women in his life
Morrison met his long-term companion, Pamela Courson, well before he gained any fame or fortune, and she encouraged him to develop his poetry. At times, Courson used the surname “Morrison,” with his apparent consent or at least lack of concern. After Courson’s death in 1974, the probate court in California decided that she and Morrison had what qualified as a common law marriage (see below, under “Estate Controversy”).

Courson and Morrison’s relationship was a stormy one, however, with frequent loud arguments, and periods of separation. Biographer Danny Sugerman surmised that part of their difficulties may have stemmed from a conflict between their respective commitments to an open relationship and the consequences of living in such a relationship. However, in No One Here Gets Out Alive (by Sugarman and Jerry Hopkins), a different reason is proposed for the couple’s relationships problems: that they were keeping secrets from each other and this caused the conflicts and separations. In Riders on the Storm, John Densmore remarks that Courson was having affairs to get even with Morrison and having to confess infidelity to each other frequently caused their relationship to be rocky.

In 1970, Morrison participated in a Celtic Pagan handfasting ceremony with rock critic and science fiction/fantasy author Patricia Kennealy. Before witnesses, one of them a Presbyterian minister, the couple signed a document declaring themselves wedded; however, none of the necessary paperwork for a legal marriage was filed with the state. Kennealy discussed her experiences with Morrison in her autobiography Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison, and in an interview reported in the book Rock Wives.

Morrison also regularly slept with fans and had numerous short flings with women who were celebrities in their own right, including Nico, the singer associated with The Velvet Underground, a one night stand with singer Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, an on again off again relationship with 16 Magazine’s editor in chief Gloria Stavers, and an alleged alcohol-fueled encounter with Janis Joplin. Judy Huddleston also recalls her relationship with Morrison in Living and Dying with Jim Morrison. At the time of his death, there were reportedly as many as 20 paternity actions pending against him, although no claims were made against his estate by any of the putative paternity claimants, and the only person making a public claim to being Morrison’s son was shown to be a fraud.
Jim Morrison’s grave at Père-Lachaise.Morrison moved to Paris in March 1971, taking up residence in an apartment. Once in Paris, Morrison shaved off his beard. By all accounts Morrison became depressed while in Paris, and was planning to return to the US; however, he admired the city’s architecture and would go for long walks through the city.

It was in Paris that Morrison made his last studio recording, with two American street musicians - a session dismissed by Manzarek as “drunken gibberish.” Regardless, the session included an intriguing version of a song-in-progress, “Orange County Suite,” which can be heard on the bootleg Lost Paris Tapes.

Morrison died on July 3, 1971, at age 27. In the official account of his death, he was found in a Paris apartment bathtub by Courson. Pursuant to French law, no autopsy was performed because the medical examiner claimed to have found no evidence of foul play. The absence of an official autopsy has left many questions regarding Morrison’s cause of death.

In Wonderland Avenue, Danny Sugerman discussed his encounter with Courson after she returned to the United States. According to Sugerman’s account, Courson stated that Morrison had died of a heroin overdose, inhaling the substance because he thought it was cocaine. Sugerman added that Courson had given numerous contradictory versions of Morrison’s death, at times saying that she had killed Jim, or that his death was her fault. Courson’s story of Morrison’s unintentional ingestion of cocaine, followed by accidental overdose, is supported by the confession of Alain Ronay, who has written that Morrison died of a hemorrhage after snorting Courson’s heroin, and that Courson nodded off, leaving Morrison bleeding to death instead of phoning for medical help.

Ronay confessed in an article in Paris-Match that he then helped cover up the circumstances of Morrison’s death. In the epilogue of No One Here Gets Out Alive, Hopkins and Sugerman write that Ronay and Varda say Courson lied to the police on at the scene at the time of death and later in her deposition, saying Morrison never took drugs.

In the epilogue to No one Here Gets Out Alive, Hopkins’ says that twenty years after Morrison’s death Ronay and Varda broke silence and gave this account: They arrived at the house shortly after Morrison’s death and Pamela said that prior to it, she and Jim had taken heroin after a night of drinking in bars. Then, Jim had been coughing badly, had gone to take a bath, and had thrown up blood. Then, Pamela said he appeared to recover, she went to sleep, and when she awoke, he was unresponsive and she called for medical assistance.

Courson herself died of a heroin overdose three years later. Like Morrison, she was 27 years old at the time of her death.

However, in the No One Here Gets Out Alive epilogue, Hopkins and Sugerman also claim that Morrison had asthma and was suffering from a respiratory condition involving a chronic cough and throwing up blood on the night of his death; this theory is partially supported in The Doors (written by the remaining members of the Doors) in which they claim Morrison had been coughing up blood for nearly two months in Paris. However, none of the members of the Doors were in Paris with Jim in the months before his death.

In the first edition of No One Here Gets Out Alive Hopkins and Sugerman even opined that perhaps Morrison was not dead at all, a choice that may have sold more books and records, but led to considerable distress for Morrison’s loved ones over the years, notably when fans would stalk them, searching for Morrison.

In a July 2007 newspaper interview, a self-described close friend of Morrison’s, Sam Bernett, resurrected an old rumour and announced that Morrison actually died of a heroin overdose in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus nightclub, on the Left Bank in Paris. Bernett claims that Morrison came to the club to buy heroin for Courson, then did some himself and died in the bathroom. Bernett alleges that Morrison was then moved back to the rue Beautreillis apartment and dumped in the bathtub by the same two drug dealers from whom Morrison had purchased the heroin. Bernett says those who saw Morrison that night were sworn to secrecy, in order to prevent a scandal for the famous club and that some of the witnesses immediately left the country. However, this is just the latest of many in a long line of old rumours and conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Morrison and is less supported by witnesses than are the accounts of Ronay and Courson
Grave site

Morrison is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in eastern Paris, one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions. The grave had no official marker until French officials placed a shield over it, which was stolen in 1973. In 1981, Croatian sculptor Mladen Mikulin placed a bust of Morrison and the new gravestone with Jim’s name at the grave to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death;the bust was defaced through the years by the cemetery vandals and later stolen in 1988.In the 1990s a flat stone was placed on the grave, possibly by his birth family, with the Greek inscription: ???? ??? ??????? ??????, “true to his own spirit.” Mikulin later made two more Morrison’s portraits in bronze, but is awaiting the license to place a new sculpture on the tomb.

Estate controversy
In his will, made in Los Angeles County on February 12, 1969, Morrison (who described himself as “an unmarried person”) left his entire estate to Pamela Courson, also naming her co-executor with his attorney, Max Fink. She thus inherited everything upon Morrison’s death in 1971.

When Courson died in 1974, a battle ensued between Morrison’s parents and Courson’s parents over who had legal claim to what had been Morrison’s estate. Since Morrison left a will, the question was effectively moot. On his death, his property became Courson’s property; and on her death, her property passed to her next heirs at law, her parents. Morrison’s parents contested the will under which Courson and now her parents had inherited their son’s property.

To bolster their positions, Courson’s parents presented a document they claimed she had acquired in Colorado, apparently an application for a declaration that she and Morrison had contracted a common law marriage under the laws of that state. The ability to contract a common-law marriage was abolished in California in 1896, but the state’s conflict of laws rules provided for recognition of common-law marriages lawfully contracted in foreign jurisdictions - and Colorado was one of the 11 U.S. jurisdictions that still recognized common-law marriage. As long as a common-law marriage was lawfully contracted under Colorado law, it was recognized as a marriage under California law.
[edit] Artistic roots
As a naval family, the Morrisons relocated frequently. Consequently, Morrison’s early education was routinely disrupted as he moved from school to school. Nonetheless, he proved to be an intelligent and capable student drawn to the study of literature, poetry, religion, philosophy, and psychology, among other fields.

Biographers have consistently pointed to a number of writers and philosophers who influenced Morrison’s thinking and, perhaps, behavior. While still in his teens, Morrison discovered the works of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He was also drawn to the poetry of William Blake, Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud. Beat Generation writers such as Jack Kerouac also had a strong influence on Morrison’s outlook and manner of expression; Morrison was eager to experience the life described in Kerouac’s On the Road. He was similarly drawn to the works of the French writer Céline. Céline’s book, Voyage au Bout de la Nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) and Blake’s Auguries of Innocence both echo through one of Morrison’s early songs, “End of the Night.” Morrison later met and befriended Michael McClure, a well known beat poet. McClure had enjoyed Morrison’s lyrics but was even more impressed by his poetry and encouraged him to further develop his craft.

Morrison’s vision of performance was colored by the works of 20th century French playwright Antonin Artaud (author of Theater and its Double) and by Julian Beck’s Living Theater.

Other works relating to religion, mysticism, ancient myth and symbolism were of lasting interest, particularly Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. James Frazer’s The Golden Bough also became a source of inspiration and is reflected in the title and lyrics of the song “Not to Touch the Earth.”

Morrison was particularly attracted to the myths and religions of Native American cultures.[29] While he was still in school, his family moved to New Mexico where he got to see some of the places and artifacts important to the Southwest Indigenous cultures. These interests appear to be the source of many references to creatures and places, such as lizards, snakes, deserts and “ancient lakes” that appear in his songs and poetry. His interpretation of the practices of a Native American “shaman” were worked into some of Morrison’s stage routine, notably in his interpretation of the Ghost Dance, and a song on his later poetry album, The Ghost Song. The songs “My Wild Love” and “Wild Child” were also inspired by his ideas of Native American rhythm and ritual. He also consumed 8 buttons of peyote and tripped for a week and wrote about seeing the “God of Peyote.”