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The Mysterious Death of Jim Morrison

| July 8, 2014 | 18 Comments

Paris. July 2, 1971, early evening. Jim Morrison and his girlfriend Pamela Courson went to the cinema to see Pursued, a western starring Robert Mitchum. At another theater, Jim Morrison sat alone, watching a documentary called Death Valley. Across town, at the Rock ’n’ Roll Circus nightclub, Jim Morrison scored some heroin and OD’d in the bathroom. At the same time, Jim Morrison walked the streets of Paris and shot up with some junkies on skid row. Meanwhile, at Orly Airport, Jim Morrison boarded a plane for an unknown destination.

No one knows for sure where the 27-year-old Jim was or what he did that evening, but by the next morning, one thing was certain: He was dead.

Three months earlier, he had fled Hollywood. Bloated, bearded and out of control with his drinking, the once-svelte Lizard King had become a sad parody of his former self. During the difficult recording sessions for the Doors’ final album, L.A. Woman, Morrison would guzzle as many as 36 beers in a single day. His voice was giving out, and he was struggling with his lyric writing.

On March 11, 1971, he went to Paris for a sabbatical. He intended to get clean, lose some weight and reconnect with his muse.

Of the possible scenarios on the night he died, the first has become the most accepted. After the movie, he and Courson returned to their apartment at No. 17 Rue Beautreillis. They watched some Super 8 films of a recent Moroccan vacation before Courson went to bed. Jim stayed up for a while, listening to old Doors albums, trying to suppress a coughing fit that had started earlier in the evening. When he came to bed, he woke Courson, complaining that he felt sick.

He was up an hour later, feeling worse. When he vomited a small quantity of blood, Courson suggested they call a doctor. Jim instead asked her to run a bath for him. While he stretched out in the tub, she went back to bed. The last thing she remembered hearing Jim say was, “Are you there, Pam? Pam, are you there?”

Courson awoke a little after 6 a.m. and realized Jim wasn’t in bed. She called his name. No answer. In the bathroom, she found him submerged in the water. He had a smile on his face. At first she thought he was playing a joke. She shook him. When he didn’t respond, she called the fire department and then the police. They arrived too late.

Jim Morrison’s corpse, wrapped in plastic and packed in dry ice, remained in the apartment while Courson and Alain Ronay, a friend of the couple’s, made funeral arrangements. Three days later, the undertakers finally delivered the coffin that Courson had ordered (the cheapest possible model, the equivalent of $75 USD). Sometime during those 72 hours, a doctor visited the apartment and signed a death certificate. The official cause was listed as heart failure. No autopsy was performed.

By the time Doors manager Bill Siddons arrived from the United States on July 6, he found a sealed coffin and the death certificate. Only Courson and Ronay had seen Jim’s body before it was buried in Pere La Chaise Cemetery on July 7. When Ronay negotiated the deal to get an American into the famous French graveyard, he accepted a 30-year lease. It expired in 2001. As of this writing, the body has not been exhumed.

Siddons and Courson returned to Los Angeles the next day. Siddons told the press, “I have returned from Paris where I have attended the funeral of Jim Morrison. I can say he died peacefully of natural causes … ” This came six days after Morrison’s death (imagine that in today’s minute-by-minute media world). Questions started: Was there a police investigation? Why was there no autopsy? Who was the examining doctor? (Incredibly, Courson couldn’t remember the doctor’s name, and his signature on the death certificate was illegible). Why weren’t Jim’s parents told? (Courson lied to the American Embassy and said Morrison had no immediate family, which allowed for a quick, no-questions-asked burial. There wasn’t even a priest.)

Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek asked Siddons, “How do you even know Jim was in the coffin? How do you know it wasn’t 150 lbs. of fucking sand?”

Putting aside that notion for a moment, what was it that killed Jim Morrison? There were many theories, from the possible (sexual disease) to the paranoid (he was a victim of a government conspiracy aimed at wiping out counterculture heroes) to the preposterous (a spurned ex-girlfriend killing him with a Wiccan hex).

Danny Sugerman, Doors insider and co-author of the best-selling biography No One Here Gets Out Alive, proposes a plausible theory. He says that Courson told him she had been doing heroin and lying to Jim that it was coke and downers (she died of an overdose in 1974). On the fateful evening, they had snorted heroin together (Morrison was terrified of needles). That summer in Paris, there was a potent version of the drug making the rounds, known as China White. “It’s not unusual when someone does heroin for the first time, for them to feel ill,” Sugerman told MOJO. “He was sick, he took a bath, he died. There was no more mystery than that.”

Many of Jim’s closest friends dispute Sugerman’s theory, saying that despite his penchant for excess, Jim never did hard drugs, and in fact, had a disdain for them.

As for the bigger question of whether he’s still alive, Jim once talked seriously about faking his own death as a publicity stunt, and he often joked to friends that one day, he’d split for Africa and change his name to Mr. Mojo Risin’ (an anagram for Jim Morrison). Over the years, he’s been spotted in Tibet, the Australian outback and the American midwest, where he supposedly rides rodeo and writes poetry on the side.

As Manzarek has said, “We don’t know what happened to Jim in Paris. To be honest, I don’t think we’re ever going to know. Rumors, innuendoes, self-serving lies, psychic projections to justify inner needs and maladies, and just plain goofiness cloud the truth. There are too many conflicting theories.”

—By Bill DeMain

From Performing Songwriter Issue 93, Heaven Only Knows

Category: Best of PS

Comments (18)

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  1. Carlos says:

    Jim is not in Paris. I can assure you.

  2. In high school and college, I believed that Morrison had actually faked his death and was living incognito SOMEWHERE in the world, but now in my 50′s, having lived a life of art and occasional excess, I’m convinced he did die on that fateful day in Paris. Why? Some of the reasons mentioned here as well as my own:

    - Pamela Courson would never have been party to his disappearance alone. She simply adored Jim and could never live without him. She tried, but failed, to do so, though, but we’ve seen the results.

    - Marianne Faithfull recently came out and confirmed that Jim had been ingesting heroin in some fashion he got from her boyfriend and thus suspected (without knowing any more facts) that Morrison died of an overdose.

    - While it’s a romantic fantasy for many, it’s a lot more difficult than you would think to reinvent yourself, especially if you’re a recognized figure in the world. The practical aspect (funds, faked credentials, etc.) is difficult enough to put together without just leaving town on a whim to start over. Considering Jim’s prodigious drinking habit — not to mention any other drugs he imbibed — he would not have been able to organize it all despite his intelligence.

    My two cents …

    MCC

    PS I have a copy of Jim’s original death certificate somewhere in my papers. You can request a copy, at least you could back in the 70′s/80′s, for a few bucks.

  3. Rob J says:

    Jim Morrison was a gifted performer who drank
    too much. By 1968, his intake was getting totally out of control, and this caused the group to slowly fall apart. There is a chilling clip of Jim in the throes of an alcohol induced spasm in the excellent “When You’re Strange” documentary.

    Clearly he was on the road to self destruction, and wouldn’t have lasted much longer even if he had not gone to Paris. Nevertheless the Doors made great music which remains timeless.

    There is no mystery to his death, Jim simply ran out of luck.

  4. b. lodermeier says:

    It is funny that Jim Morrison died two years to the day that his friend Brian Jones died. Brian died July 3rd, 1969, and Jim July 3rd, 1971. No one ever saw the body,
    only Pam says she saw it, and she died in 1974. His parents and band members didn’t go to the funeral, never saw the body and there is no proof he is buried in France.

  5. DEBBIE says:

    Jim Morrison has fans all over the world across all generations.If he were to live he would have been as old as my father.I have immense love for his music ,charismatic performances and of course for Doors.JIM JOHN RAY AND ROBBIE were the greatest four incredible young men ever who came together to create such music spectacle.The saddest part is we millions of Doors fans have not been able to put the death rumors of JIM Morrison to rest.The closure will not happen ever.Pamela Courson is dead too and she only spent all the time and energy to hide the facts to save her back.

  6. M.T says:

    Guys, we all know how much Pam loved JIm, do you really think that he took off without her? Pam could not live without Jim. She suffered so much the years she had to live without him. why would she live without Jim and take her life, accidental or not, shes dead. Dont ya think if she helped him slpit they would reunite later at some point. Shes dead too. If it was a plan for Jim to leave do you really think its a case of if u love someone let them go, I think not. Jim has proved he wanted to be with Pam, Pam has proved she cant live without Jim, she would not have died if they were planning to see each OTHER again.I think the only thing that is not clear is axactly the way he passed. Does that really matter?

  7. Cheril says:

    Dont forget Maryanne Faithful was called there along with the Count De Breteuil. He died a little later from heroin overdose. Pam was having an affair with him BEFORE Jim got to Paris..she had left a few weeks before he did. The Count supplied heroin to Pam..she did not need Jim to go out and get it.

    Maryanne Faithful is still alive and wont talk about what she saw that day. There is more to how he died..what IF the Count and Jim got into a fight over the Count having s e x with Pam? Jim hated heroin..go over and read the Doors website. There are a few people there who actually knew Jim, have their picture posted with him..one is a Liz I think, she was a journalist and interviewd Jim. She said Jims body WAS in a morgue about 3 days. There is a book out by a journalist that retraced all the steps Jim took, even went to the hospital where the morgue was to find records of Jim.

    Read Alain Ronays version of what happened that day. Does it sound made up? Pam told her publicist Diane Gardner (google it, I think thats the spelling) said PAM actually told her “Jim got into my stash.” Did we ever see an interview with Diane Gardner..she also lived downstairs from Jim and Pam so she knew a lot.

    check out the last days of Jim and theres discrepancies in the story, especially Alain Ronay.

    Its a FACT Jim was in the morgue. Amazon had a book by a journalist about it..

  8. Riley Morrison says:

    Yesterday, I was watching the Jimmy Fallon show with my parents and saw the skit they did with The Doors. Last night, we watched the movie. I have to say, as a twelve year old girl, I actually really like The Doors. Although its not really the music I like, there still great songs! Jim Morrison, well I don’t know too much about him. But I do know that he didn’t care about what anybody thought of him. I admire that in him. Jim Morrison, you are one amazing singer, poet, and songwriter! I love you!

  9. morrison says:

    dig him up and there is the truth ,,, people want to live in lie’s to fuel their sick need for pain,,, I believe it would heal jim’s soul to tell the truth ,,, he wasn’t afraid ,, like all the slaves he tried to save were……,,,

  10. Anthony Forwood says:

    Jim Morrison is alive in the hearts and minds of many people, whether he really died or not. His music still reaches deep and is as moving as ever. His ‘death’ may have been The End of an age, but I believe he was able to Break on Through to the Other Side.

    Long Live Jim Morrison!!!

    We miss you….

  11. @ Nogo risin

    How very eloquent your observation about the “soft parade”. I have been a Morrison fan all my life and I believe Jim IS in the afterlife and I also believe he knew his days were numbered. He saw his own death and made several comments to the effect that he saw himself dead in the bath prior to the event happening and only months before he died and after hearing about Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplins untimely demise told many in his company “Your drinking with number three”. I do not believe he killed himself or that it was a government plot, I do believe however it was imminent being he was ingesting 3-4 fifths a day of bourbon and beer on top of it, his eating habits were poor at best and he had many health issues he ignored. Jim DID do hard drugs, as a matter of fact from sources in his inner circle including Ray, John,Robbie and Danny and half the road crew , Jim would do just about anything that he could get his hands on in excess and knew he was teetering on the edge. He HATED heroine but may well have thought , hey what the hell, maybe it’ll make me feel less ill(he’d been struggling all day while in the company of Alain Ronay with stomach issues probably caused by a peptic ulcer which can be deadly when drinking) and like Kurt Cobain may have tried it to alleviate his distress (doubtful though)or like Ray figures he may have gone to score for Pam and that’s why she was covering to save her own hide. We will never ever know unless someone steps up and admits what they really know and the only ones who still remain alive who do are not talking at all. I believe Ray knows the truth.In any case, in “The End” Jim got precisely what he craved the most, recognition as a poet thanks to friends and family who published his work. He is now interred with some of the worlds most notable poets and will forever be immortalized in his words and music. Were coming up on the 42 anniversary of his passing and all I can say is thank you Jim for the music, the memories and the poetry. “I see myself as a huge fiery comet, a shooting star. Everyone stops, points up and gasps “Oh look at that!” Then- whoosh, and I’m gone…and they’ll never see anything like it ever again… and they won’t be able to forget me- ever.”~James Douglas Morrison

  12. Frank James says:

    I thought I saw him one night with Elvis at a 711 in Memphis.

  13. DoorsGuy says:

    He is definitely dead unfortuantely. No way he snuck away or anything like that- that’s crazy. His ex has been qouted afterwards as saying she couldnt wait to ‘meet back up with him’ in the afterlife. Thus her quick departure via heroin overdose. If he did do some heroin that night (and with some other potentially unaddressed lung problems or other underlying problems) it could have easily killed him. People OD on heroin all the time. The fact that there was no autopsy- this was 1971 and no foul play was suspected and this is France and its an American (foreigner) that they dont care about particular;y who died- that is not surprising at all. Things were different back then especially in a foreign country as a non-native. It was a shame but the creative brilliance endures.

  14. Jamie baldwin montag says:

    Whoever Nogo Risen is, please get ahold of me on facebook…please. Have some things to talk about. Please. Jamie Baldwin montag
    on the facebook. Hopefully talk to you soon….

  15. Christina J says:

    I don’t believe he died If they called the police there would have been and investigation, the body would have been taken to the hopital for an autopsy then shipped to a morgue for proper preparation for burial. The body would not have been left in the apartment for 72 hours on ice. Then some doctor showss at the door and signs a supposed death certificate. Give me a break. His immediate family was not notified until after he was buried. His family would have wanted to see the remains and make proper funeral arrangments and asked too many questions. The less people that knew any details the better and easier the cover up.

  16. Bharanee says:

    what nonsense he is dead otherwise the lizard king woulndt keep mum.

  17. Nogo Risin' says:

    I visited Pere LaChaise 5 years ago to see Jim’s final resting place. It was an incredibly sad experience, here was this amazing talent that was taken from us by his own hands. I guess what drove him to such unbelievable creative heights also killed him. But if anyone saw that coming it had to be Jim himself. In the quiet beauty of Pere LaChaise I was dumbstruck by the sheer volume of people who visited his grave during the hour I was there. No anniversary of his birth or death, just a regular weekday. I counted no less than one hundred and twenty who came and went in an hour. It truly is a “Soft Parade.” Looking at his final resting place it is almost impossible to not recall some of his final lines in that song- “Successful hills are here to stay, welcome to the soft parade. All our lives we sweat and save, building for a shallow grave. Must be something else we say, somehow to defend it’s place. Everything must be this way. Everything must be this way.” To those of you who refuse to let him go by declaring him alive and well somewhere, all I can say is you’re partially right. All great art must outlast it’s creator, and in that sense James Douglas Morrison will never truly “die.” We will love you two times Jim. Once for tomorrow and once just for today. Love you two times, you will NEVER go away…….

  18. margie says:

    I dont think he is dead. I think he faked his own death and Pam helped him.

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