Jim Morrison Biography
“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” William Blake 1793
Was it the peripatetic childhood of a military brat, the nature of a reader and dreamer, the dazzling highs and lows of a hedonist whose success was wrapped in a toxic film of alcohol and drugs? Jim Morrison experienced all of these things in an abbreviated lifetime. Perhaps he died searching for another perception the way astronomers search for new planets.
James Douglas Morrison was born in Melbourne, Florida on December 8, 1943. He was the first of three children born to Clara Virginia Clarke Morrison and George Stephen Morrison, a career navy man who was promoted Rear Admiral and commander of the U.S. naval forces in the Gulf of Tonkin and later would oversee relief efforts for Vietnamese refugees. As was typical for a military family, the Morrisons would frequently relocate from post to post during Jim’s childhood.
Jim was widely read as a student although his choice of reading material was far from that of most students. Among the literary influences in Jim’s life were philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Plutarch, French writers Honoré de Balzac, Jean Cocteau, and Charles Baudelaire, and the Beat Generation authors Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. He also would read books on the occult, shamanism, and ancient mythology. His senior-year English teacher said, “Jim read as much and probably more than any student in class, but everything he read was so offbeat I had another teacher who was going to the Library of Congress check to see if the books Jim was reporting on actually existed. I suspected he was making them up…”
After completing high school, Jim enrolled at college, first at St. Petersburg College, then transferring to Florida State University, Tallahassee. Jim moved to Los Angeles in 1964 to attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He completed an undergraduate degree in 1965 at the university’s film school in the Theater Arts department of the College of Fine Arts.
Very little has been written about Jim’s family beyond his father’s naval career and their frequent moves. Jim’s parents chose not to use corporal punishment in disciplining their children. According to Jim’s brother Andy, their parents followed the military tradition of dressing down – yelling at and berating the children until they cried and “acknowledged their failings.” Following his graduation from UCLA, Jim apparently broke off most contact with his family. In later years, the mystique that Jim would cultivate about himself included claims that he was an only child or that his parents and siblings were dead.
Following graduation, Jim spent the summer living in Venice Beach, California. One of Jim’s fellow UCLA cinematography friends, Ray Manzarek, became impressed with Jim’s poetic lyrics as potential “rock group” material. Ray and Jim became the first members of the future rock group, The Doors. They were joined shortly after by drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger. The group’s name, The Doors, was from Aldous Huxly’s book, The Doors of Perception. The title itself was taken from a quotation from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, by William Blake.
Jim wrote or co-wrote (with Krieger) some of the group’s most successful songs, including “Light My Fire”, “Touch Me”, and “Love Her Madly”. Jim rarely played an instrument in performance and apparently didn’t use one when writing lyrics. He would create vocal melodies for the lyrics and the band members would provide the chords and rhythms.
By 1966, The Doors was the opening act at the immensely popular West Hollywood, California, nightclub – the Whisky a Go Go. This was where Jim would begin crafting the provocative stage behavior that would become his performance persona. Densmore would later write of Jim’s, “apparent recklessness, his air of subdued menace, the way he would improvise poetry to a rock beat, even his habit of crouching down by the bass drum during instrumental breaks.”
The Doors signed with Elektra Records in 1967 and with the success of their single, Light My Fire, the group hurtled into national recognition. They achieved fame quickly, becoming one of the most popular rock bands in America by the time of the release of their second album, Strange Days.
Like many artists who achieve immense fame, Jim and The Doors also were drawn into the addictive world of alcohol, drugs, and sex. Jim achieved a certain infamy for his onstage substance-fueled performances and the fans loved his charismatic, mysterious, and unpredictable antics. Jim’s lyrics and poetry were dark and mysterious, his performances brazen and raw with emotion, and his lifestyle was increasingly self-destructive.
Jim would become fully addicted to alcohol and drugs by the time he and his long-time companion, Pamela Courson, moved to Paris in March 1971. His hedonistic lifestyle was increasingly notorious and relations with his band mates were strained.
While Jim may have distanced himself from his family years before, he had formed a relationship with Pamela Courson that began well before his success with The Doors. Theirs was a tempestuous relationship often filled with loud arguments and separations.
Accounts (and myths) vary about Jim’s death on July 3, 1971. Pamela claimed to have found him dead in his bathtub. Other accounts describe his death in a Parisian nightclub of a heroin overdose and being conveyed back to his apartment to be “found” in the bathtub. According to French law, no autopsy was conducted because the medical examiner found no evidence of foul play. Officially, Jim Morrison died of a heart attack.
Jim Morrison was buried in the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. For more than 40 years, fans have made pilgrimages to Jim’s grave site; many leave notes and poems at the site. The site also has been vandalized numerous times and a security guard is now stationed to discourage further damage.
In death, Jim Morrison became a member of The 27 Club, comprised of musicians who died at the age of 27, frequently of drug or alcohol abuse, or violent causes. Fellow members include Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Brian Wilson, and Amy Winehouse. Ironically, Pamela would die a few years later – of a drug overdose – at age 27.