Jim Morrison

Posted by Terry | March 8, 2008

December 8, 1943 – July 3, 1971

Jim Morrison, lead singer and songwriter for The Doors, died at age 27.

Morrison moved to Paris in March 1971, taking up residence in an apartment. Once in Paris, Morrison grew a beard. By all accounts Morrison became depressed while in Paris, and was planning to return to the United States; 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 a 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 U.S. 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 her common-law husband, 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 police who responded to the death scene and later in her deposition, telling them Morrison never took drugs.

In the epilogue to No One Here Gets Out Alive, Hopkins’ says that 20 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 Courson said that, prior to it, she and Morrison had taken heroin after a night of drinking in bars. Then, Morrison had been coughing badly, had gone to take a bath, and had thrown up blood. Then, Courson said he appeared to recover, she went to sleep; 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 epilogue of No One Here Gets Out Alive, 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 band) 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 Morrison in the months before his death.

In the first version of No One Here Gets Out Alive published in 1980, Sugarman and Hopkins gave some credence to the theory that Morrison may not have died at all, calling the fake death theory “not as far-fetched as it might seem”.  This theory led to considerable distress for Morrison’s loved ones over the years, notably when fans would stalk them. In 1995, a new epilogue was added to Sugarman and Hopkins’ book, giving new facts about Morrison’s death and discounting the fake death theory, saying “As time passed, some of Jim and Pamela [Courson's] friends began to talk about what they knew, and although everything they said pointed irrefutably to Jim’s demise, there remained and probably always will be those who refuse to believe that Jim is dead and those who will not allow him to rest in peace.”

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 (cited above).

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 Morrison’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: ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ. 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 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 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; 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. – adapted from Wikipedia

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