"Where's your will to be weird?"
Jim Morrison will go down in history as one of the greatest frontmen in the history of music. Serving as the lead singer of the Doors, Morrison’s incredible voice and poetic lyrics helped define the counterculture music scene of the 1960s, while his tragically abrupt end only enhanced the aura around his legacy. So just what was it about this man that enthralled so many fans? Read these facts to find out!
Because of his father’s career in the army, Morrison spent his childhood moving around the country frequently. He was born in Florida, but spent his early days in San Diego, then moved to Virginia for third grade, then lived in Texas and New Mexico before starting high school back in California, but heading back to Virginia by the time he finished. Whew, I'm tired just listing these moves.
When the Doors were first formed, three of the members—John Densmore, Robby Krieger, and Ray Manzarek—bonded over their mutual interest in meditation. They even went to scheduled classes. Morrison was allegedly the only one who didn’t join in, presumably because he was busy staring wistfully at ocean.
Morrison didn’t wait until he became a swaggering rock star to get in trouble with society. In 1962, Morrison was at Florida State University when he was detained for the first time. He’d pulled a drunken prank following a home football game, and if there’s one thing you don’t do, it’s mess with a football game in the south!
Morrison famously spent most of his adult life in a relationship with Pamela Courson, who served as his muse and partner. Their relationship was eventually considered a common-law marriage by the State of California, even though common-law marriage wasn't recognized in California. Courson is buried as Pamela Susan Morrison.
Despite Pamela Courson being "Morrison’s other half," Morrison was famous for his numerous affairs in the age of free love. These included groupies such as Josepha Karcz, who ended up writing a book about their night of romance. Incredibly, Morrison allegedly saw these groupies with Courson’s permission! I guess they called it free love for a reason.
Like many rock stars, Morrison obtained a few nicknames during his musical career. The most popular one was "The Lizard King," but there was also "Mr. Mojo Risin" (which came from the song "L.A. Woman" and is an anagram of Morrison’s real name) and "The King of Orgasmic Rock" (which we’re sure he must have made up about himself).
During his lifetime, Morrison maintained a close friendship with Beat poet Michael McClure. The two of them planned a number of uncompleted film projects, including a film where Morrison would have played Billy the Kid! After Morrison’s passing, McClure wrote the afterword for No One Here Gets Out Alive, a biography of Morrison written by Danny Sugerman.
According to Morrison’s old friend from UCLA, Dennis Jakobs, Jim spent the summer after his graduation in 1965 living on Jakobs’ rooftop in Venice Beach. He spent his time writing the poetry which would become a lot of the Doors’ early songs, all while living on a diet of "canned beans and [psychedelics]". Talk about inspiration!
Morrison’s tragic end at the age of 27 means that he belongs in the 27 Club, a group of actors and musicians who tragically perished when they were 27 years old. The list also includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Anton Yelchin.
Morrison and the Doors did have the chance to perform at the legendary Woodstock in 1969. However, they turned down the chance to be there, though a few different reasons are given as to why. According to Ray Manzarek, passing on the concert was simply a stupid decision, while others claimed that Morrison disliked performing outdoors. Regardless, Doors drummer John Densmore went to Woodstock independently of the band, performing with Joe Cocker.
Joplin wasn’t the only famous musician who could claim to have had a night of passion with Morrison. He’s also said to have had brief affairs with Nico, of The Velvet Underground and Nico, and Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane even claimed she slept with him (though she later denied it).
As a young student, Morrison was a complete bookworm, but in the most hipster way possible. His choice of literature sometimes left his teacher calling up the Library of Congress to make sure Morrison wasn’t making up any of the books he was talking about. To be fair, if you were teaching high school and a student did a book report on "sixteenth-and-seventeenth-century demonology," you’d probably be skeptical too!
Much has been said of Morrison’s sonorous and haunting vocals. One of his biggest influences was the King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Presley. When he was a teenager, Morrison would allegedly tell everyone around him to shut up whenever Elvis' music started playing on the radio. However, his favorite singer was said to be Frank Sinatra, which some have said is evident based on Morrison copying some of Sinatra’s vocal mannerisms in his own music. For his part, music producer and Doors collaborator Paul Rothchild stated that his first impression of Morrison’s singing style was that of a "Rock and Roll Bing Crosby". We can only imagine what the famously conservative Crosby would have said at that kind of comparison to a counterculture hippy like Jim Morrison!
Not many people credit the Doors for this, but their music is said to have contained one of the first environmentalist messages in rock music. The Morrison-written "When the Music’s Over" is a sprawling epic of a song, one of their longest and most diverse-sounding. At one point, Morrison mournfully sings a verse asking what humanity has done to the earth. Safe to say the counterculture movement would be quick to repeat that question many, many times!
Unfortunately for Morrison’s surviving bandmembers, the Doors couldn’t outlive Morrison for long. They released two albums after Morrison’s passing, but in 1973, they saw the writing on the wall and split up.
When the Doors appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show (a huge deal for musicians back in the 1960s), they were told backstage to change the lyrics of "Light My Fire" from "Girl, we couldn’t get much higher" to "Girl, we couldn’t get much better". The Doors famously did not follow these orders and sang "higher" on live television, which led to a furious Sullivan refusing to shake hands with the band and banning them from his show. There’s mixed reports on whether the band did this intentionally, or whether Morrison was simply nervous about being on live television that he forgot in the moment. Either way, being too much for Ed Sullivan only enhanced their reputation as counterculture icons.
The origin of the Doors song "People are Strange" lies in a very bad trip that Morrison experienced while he and Doors guitarist Robby Krieger were hanging out in Laurel Canyon. According to Krieger, Morrison was so lost in the despair of his drug hallucinations that he had to be distracted from harmful thoughts and words by going on a walk with his guitar player. Watching the sun, Morrison was hit with inspiration, and half an hour later, he and Krieger had written the lyrics for one of the Doors’ most well-known songs.
In 1970, Morrison took part in a Celtic wedding ceremony with writer Patricia Kennealy, signing themselves as husband and wife (it wasn’t registered with the government, however). Kennealy, or Kennealy-Morrison as she she would go by after the "marriage," wrote about her relationship with Morrison, and even made a cameo in Oliver Stone’s The Doors. She's the priestess performing the marriage between Morrison and Kennealy. Fitting!
Nico, best known for her iconic vocals on The Velvet Underground and Nico, once said that Morrison was the first man she fell in love with, after they had their brief affair. Morrison would also encourage her to write her own songs, and his influence was noted by music critics in some of the songs in Nico’s solo album The Marble Index. However, their affair wasn’t without its awkward moments. In an effort to try and please Morrison further, Nico alleges, she dyed her platinum blonde hair red to match the colour of Morrison’s longtime partner Pamela Courson. Morrison reportedly started to cry when he saw her new hairdo (jury’s out on whether it was because of guilt or because he’d always hated the way Courson’s hair looked).
While Nico was putty in Morrison’s hands, however, Morrison didn’t reciprocate such profound attachment. There is no mention of her in any of his diaries which have been available to the public. When he heard that Pamela Courson had begun a public affair of her own, Morrison decided he had to call it quits with Nico. His method was less than gentle: he slipped away early one morning without so much as a kiss goodbye, and Nico didn’t know he was gone until she woke up. Rock stars weren’t known for being classy.
Not surprisingly (or perhaps by coincidence), the Velvet Underground famously hated the Doors, including everything they supposedly stood for. When V.U. singer Lou Reed heard about Morrison’s premature end, he famously quipped "He died in a bathtub? How fabulous…" Harsh Lou, real harsh.
The cover for the Doors’ album Strange Days famously features a variety of carnival figures, including a juggler, a strongman, and two dwarfs. The bizarre album cover came about as a compromise when Morrison demanded the cover be himself and his bandmates in a room surrounded by a pack of dogs. When he was asked why he wanted that image on the album, Morrison allegedly responded "Because dog is god spelled backwards". We’d have loved to be flies on the wall to see how exactly that ended up going from A to B.
The mystique of Morrison’s infamous end while living in Paris in 1971 was further enhanced by the fact that nobody knew what he’d perished from, due to the lack of an autopsy. The cause of his demise was simply given as "heart failure" in the original report. Later, it was discovered that Morrison’s true cause of death could have been a smack overdose, as he'd been found snorting the drug in the bathroom of a club earlier that night. His body was taken back to his apartment and left in a bath of cold water (which was perceived to be a way to revive overdose —it's not, in case you were wondering). Pamela Courson later discovered him, putting to rest the cold bath trick’s effectiveness.
Morrison is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, alongside such other legends as Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, and Frederic Chopin. Surprisingly, it's the second most popular tourist location in Paris, behind the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, a bad side effect is the fact that fans seeking to honor their hero have ended up defacing and vandalizing Morrison’s grave many times since his burial. Just goes to show that Morrison can’t rest in peace any more than he could live in peace.
In his own lifetime, Morrison published two volumes of his poetry outside of his music. After he passed on, two more volumes were published. Morrison recorded many of his poems in a series of sessions which were later released to the public, though some tapes remain private in the hands of Pamela Courson’s family, who inherited them after Pamela’s death. Guess we'll get to hear them when the family needs a little extra cash.
One very important incident in Morrison’s childhood happened in 1947, when he was four years old. His family drove past a car accident near a Native Reservation. Morrison and various family members have told conflicting stories of what exactly happened, but Morrison would return to the image of dying Natives on the highway frequently in his poetry and song lyrics.
High on Morrison’s long list of antics as a performer was the moment in 1969 when he flashed fans during a concert in Miami. This is only proof that everyone has embarrassing stories when they have too much to drink—Morrison’s stories just happened to have a huge audience to witness them, and could end in arrest for indecent exposure.
One of the most legendary moments the Doors' history occurred in New Haven, Connecticut in December 1967. According to Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, Morrison was backstage in the middle of a make out session just before he was set to perform. Incredibly, an officer acting as security didn’t recognize the rocker and told him to get out of the vicinity. Morrison didn’t take too kindly to these orders, and the officer ended up spraying Morrison with mace! We wish we could have seen his face when he was told what was going on and who Morrison was! We also wish we could have seen Morrison's face just after he got sprayed with mace!
Even after a delayed start to the concert, Morrison was livid about how he’d been treated by the officer. So, when he got onstage to perform, he was in a sharing mood with his crowd of fans. They naturally took umbrage at the story, and gleefully cheered when Morrison taunted the officers who were providing security. Finally, the officers stopped the concert by arresting Morrison onstage (which makes him perhaps the only major rock star to ever be apprehended mid-concert). The act sparked a small riot, which only added charges to Morrison’s arrest sheet.
Predictably, illicit substances have their negative side effects. When the recording of "The End" was finished, Morrison went back to the studio after everyone had left. According to those who were witness to at least part of the incident (though they tell slightly different versions of the story), Morrison’s drug-addled brain was convinced that the studio was on fire, and he proceeded to empty an entire fire extinguisher in the studio space. The company behind the Doors was quick to pay for the damages, which Doors guitarist Robby Krieger says marked a turning point in Morrison’s life as a rock star: "I thought Jim [felt], ‘Well I got away with that, I can get away with anything’".
In 1968, the Doors were fresh off their European tour, and Morrison decided to take some time to live in London and work on his poetry. The problem with that was that he’d completely dropped off the map without telling his bandmates where he was. So, when a representative from Buick offered them a decent price for the use of "Light My Fire" in a Buick commercial, Morrison’s permission wasn’t sought. When Morrison did find out, he was outraged. Though the campaign didn’t go forward, the event allegedly destroyed the Doors’ friendship; according to their road manager, Bill Siddons, it was "the end of that era of Jim’s relationship with the other members of the band; from then on it was business". Sadly, the story of Morrison smashing sixteen Buicks parked along the Sunset Strip with his own car in retaliation is unfounded.
When the Doors first broke out, Elektra Records had them write out some biographies for the press. Morrison, still reeling from a childhood he had hated, wrote that his parents and siblings were dead. This wasn’t literally true, though by that point, Morrison was certainly dead to his family in the metaphorical sense. After cutting ties with his father when he refused to support Morrison’s musical aspirations, the Morrison family didn’t hear from him for over two years, and didn’t even know he was in a band until Morrison’s brother Andy heard "Light My Fire" when it came out!
In June 1966, Morrison and the Doors were the opening act for none other than Van Morrison and his band, Them, at the iconic Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood. In that time, Van Morrison taught Jim Morrison a lot about performing onstage. The two bands culminated their collaboration by working together on a performance of the song "Gloria" on Them’s final night at the famed rock n' roll bar. I wonder if the people in attendance were aware they were witnessing rock history.
One of the many people who was inspired by Morrison and the rest of the Doors was none other than Iggy Pop. He was said to have formed his band after going to a Doors concert and being utterly inspired by what he saw and heard. Years later, after Morrison’s passing, Pop was approached to replace Morrison as the lead vocalist of the Doors. He even toured with the surviving Doors members for a brief period. No doubt that was one of the most trippy times of Iggy Pop’s career (which is saying a lot).
Another potential replacement for Morrison was English rock star Ian Astbury, mostly known for being the lead singer in The Cult. Astbury was director Oliver Stone’s first choice to play Morrison in his 1991 biopic The Doors. Astbury, however, disagreed with how Morrison was represented in the story, and declined. However, the offer must have left an impression on Astbury, because in 2002, he toured with Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger in the band known as "The Doors of the 21st Century". It’s too bad that we never had a Val Kilmer-Ian Astbury face-off over who could play Jim Morrison the best.
The first major relationship in Morrison’s life wasn’t actually Pamela Courson. While in Florida, Morrison began a love affair with a woman named Mary Werbelow. The relationship lasted a few years, and Morrison’s co-band member, Ray Manzarek, would describe Werbelow as "Jim’s first love". Sorry Pam.
Reportedly, Morrison wrote several of the Doors’ songs in honor of Werbelow, including the song "The End". Ray Manzarek described the song as "a short goodbye love song to Mary". If Manzarek calls an 11-minute song "short," we don’t want to hear what he considers a song that takes its time!
Speaking of "The End," the song is arguably one of the Doors’ most memorable tunes, with its grandiose ambition and haunting (and occasionally Freudian) lyrics. As intense as it is to listen to, singing it in the studio reportedly took everything out of Morrison. Allegedly, he couldn’t get through it until he took psychedelics. So the next time you listen to "The End," just remember that Morrison is high as a kite while singing (though to be fair, most of his listeners were probably in a similar state).
Morrison’s father was George Stephen Morrison, a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy. In fact, Admiral Morrison was the commanding officer of the US forces in the infamous Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1965. This naval skirmish, which was eventually revealed to have been instigated by the Americans, led the US to openly declare war on North Vietnam. Ironically, the Vietnam conflict became a source of protest for the same counterculture movement which made Morrison and the Doors such a big success! Safe to say that few sons have ever rebelled against their dads better than Morrison!
Avant-garde legend Andy Warhol was obsessed with Morrison, and he wanted to cast Morrison in one of his artistic films. In 1967, Warhol allegedly found himself in the same room as Morrison when both men were in the Ondine Discotheque. Reportedly, Warhol witnessed Morrison and two groupies wrapped in a... display of public affection (that’s as far as we’re describing it here). While Warhol was used to being the shocking one, he nervously refused to interrupt Morrison in the hope that they could meet and talk later.
Morrison and Janis Joplin interacted several times in their lives and were said to have had a drunken one night stand, though this remains rumor. Joplin was no pushover; she allegedly took a booze bottle to his head after the two of them got into a very public fight.
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