The Doors’ last concert, Jim Morrison’s final hours and the mysteries that still linger about his death.
The legendary singer became a member of the “Club of 27″ on July 3, 1971, after his girlfriend Pamela Courson found him dead in the bathtub of the bathroom of his home in Paris. The main hypothesis is that he died because of his heroin addiction, but since an autopsy was never performed, it was never really known what happened to him. The enigmas surrounding the death of a rock star superstar.
Jim Morrison joined the “Club of 27″ on July 3, 1971, 52 years ago. He was added to the shrine of great music stars who succumbed at the same age: Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were already there when he arrived; Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse would follow later. His death, as well as his life, is tinged with myths. The enigmas of his end are still active. There are those who believe that Morrison fed the music industry from the shadows, that jaded by fame and the music world, he faked his death and escaped to some exotic destination with another identity, that as they say of Elvis, he would be alive.
But the facts tie the stories together. In the bathtub on the fourth floor of the building at 17 rue Beautreillis in the city of Paris, a young man floats. It is July 3, 1971. His head reclined on his left shoulder, his hair still wet, he has a serene smile. Under his nose and at the side of his mouth there is dried blood of a thick, dark color. He is naked and one of his hands rests on the marble edge. On his chest there are two large purple bruises. The water, stained by the blood, is pinkish. The policemen arrive at the same time as the ambulance. The doctor realizes that there is nothing more to do before touching the body. The lividity, the purple lips. At the door of the apartment some neighbors look out. When they ask them if they know who it is, they answer that it is an American tourist, perhaps a student, named Douglas. They still don’t know that the dead man is 27 years old and a big rock star. It was only a few hours before the investigators learned that Jim Morrison, the singer of The Doors, had died.
Those are the only certain facts about what happened that morning in the Parisian apartment. The rest is mist, imprecision, versions, speculations and conspiracy theories. From homicide to suicide to accidental death and even an escape from the world. At that time, the French police did not perform an autopsy unless it was a violent death. The doctor was quick to sign the death certificate and write “Death due to heart attack”.
It was most likely a heroin overdose. The addiction had the couple of Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson in its grip.
Before the news could be confirmed, rumors of his death reached the United States. Someone called the other members of The Doors to say that Jim was dead. They, after crossing communications among themselves, decided to send a close friend who was in Paris to find out. They didn’t worry too much. They thought it wasn’t true. It wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. Morrison’s habits fueled the rumors, and so did his various public meltdowns. Sometimes he would vanish in public. Maybe someone had seen a similar episode and left him for dead. But they, his bandmates, had witnessed dozens of such episodes.
One of them, the last, was at their December 12, 1970 concert in New Orleans. It was the band’s final live performance with Morrison. Before the beginning of the show, he seemed dull, a bit gone. But he seemed to be reborn as soon as the first chords were played. The first four songs were uneventful. Someone who had already seen the band live would have noticed that their energy was not the same as usual. In the fifth song he forgot the lyrics. Then he began to stammer and even had trouble humming the music. The Doors became an instrumental band. The other three kept playing in the hope that the singer would revive. Morrison walked slowly, his shoulders slumped, and sat on the edge of the drum riser. Staring blankly, he stood motionless until suddenly it was as if someone had flipped down a switch. Morrison shut down. Some thought he had died. His head dropped, his body had a small convulsion. His arms hung limp at the side of his body. He had not fallen, only because he was propped up on the drum kit. The audience first let out a startled exclamation; then the chatter and speculation almost overshadowed the band playing on. A minute or two later, John Desmore slipped his right foot between his drums and kicked Jim in the back. That woke him up. He got up and grabbed the microphone; it seemed that the kick had restored things to their usual situation. But Morrison mumbled something unintelligible and started pounding the microphone stand on the floor until he snapped it in two. He kicked some amps and looked like he was going to break every item in his path. An assistant entered the stage and draped his arm over the singer’s shoulder. Morrison accepted the friendly gesture. He hugged him too and they walked off together. That was their last live performance.
The band finished recording their next album, L.A. Woman, with much difficulty. Morrison gathered his bandmates and announced that he was leaving for France. When Ray Manzarek asked him for how long, he replied that he didn’t know, at least for a year. He was actually telling them that he was leaving them, that he would no longer sing with them. Instead of forcing definitions, his colleagues let him go, trusting that in a few months he would be back.
But his girlfriend had other plans for him. Morrison no longer wanted to sing and she convinced him to devote himself only to poetry. And Paris was the ideal place for that. Besides, he had already landed a record deal to record his first solo album, a poetry album.
Pamela convinced him to go to Paris. She told him that there he could be what he wanted: a poet. The romantic myth of the City of Light as the cradle of poets tempted him. He also wanted to get away from the pressure of fame, the impositions, the industry and his own ghosts.
During those days in Paris, every time he went out on the street, Morrison carried a plastic bag with two of his notebooks, the clipping of a note from a French music magazine about The Doors, the tape of a poetry reading he had given some time ago, photocopies of an interview with Godard, an album with his photos, three or four pens and several pencils. He walked around the city. He liked to do it while looking at the Seine and crossing neighborhoods. He also liked to go unnoticed. He used a false name so as not to be recognized. Every now and then he would sit at a table in the street, order a beer and take out his notebooks.
Jean de Breuteuil is an important character in this story. He was, at the time, Marianne Faithfull’s partner. She had broken up with Mick Jagger a little earlier. Morrison and Pamela came into contact with Faithfull and de Breuteuil in London, then continued to see each other in Paris. De Breuteuil was Morrison’s dealer, the one who sold him heroin. Marianne Faithfull describes him starkly in her memoirs: “Jean was a horrible person. What I liked about him was that he had one yellow eye and one green eye. And that he had lots and lots of drugs. It was all about sex and drugs. He was very expansive, very social and very French. He was only into me because I had been Jagger’s girlfriend. He was obsessed with that.”
Pamela Courson was living in a drug-fueled haze. Morrison wasn’t much better. Drugs, alcohol. His outward appearance had also taken a turn for the worse. He had gained a lot of weight, looked disheveled, dirty and limped on one leg. He was also coughing a lot and the doctors couldn’t find the cause. His writing had stagnated. On one of the pages of his notebook a single phrase is repeated almost a hundred times: “God help me, God help me, God help me, God help me”.
In those months the couple traveled a lot. Spain, Morocco, Corsica and London. Morrison took the opportunity to get to know the cities. They fantasized about moving to the Côte d’Azur, like the Rolling Stones. Some American tourists and students sometimes recognized him. He, who had problems with French, stayed talking to them. He always asked them for discretion when he said goodbye. He wanted to keep his presence in Paris a secret.
The day before his death, Alain Ronay, a friend who lived with Agnes Varda -also close to Morrison who approached her because she wanted to show two films she had shot in the United States- came to visit him. The windows of the apartment were closed, all was darkness. A heavy mist, a mixture of smoke, stench and something undefined. There was only the sound of the motor of a Super 8 projector that fixed a bright white square on one of the walls, and the labored breathing of Morrison, who was trembling in one of the armchairs. The friend told him to go for a walk and get something to eat, it would make him feel better. After two or three blocks, the singer had to sit down on a park bench. He was panting, having trouble getting oxygen into his lungs, the color of his face changed. Despite his companion’s efforts to take him to the hospital, Jim Morrison refused. They ate something to eat while he was still shaking. They stopped at a newsstand and bought The Paris Review for the interview with William Burroughs and a Newsweek whose cover story was, “The plague of heroin.” Then they went back to the dark apartment.
That night Pamela and Jim Morrison went out. They went to see an old Raoul Walsh movie (cinema was Morrison’s other great interest in those days), walked around a bit and ate Chinese food. Back at the apartment at 17 rue Beautreillis, Pamela took heroin from a hiding place and they put as much as they could into her body. While in the background, on the wall, the Super 8 played home movies of their recent trips and a rock record was playing on the jukebox. Jim said he felt sick. They turned on the water so he could take a bath. Pamela lay down. Suddenly she heard him calling for her. Morrison was kneeling on the toilet vomiting yellow liquid and blood clots. After a while he said he felt better and got into the tub. Pamela went back to the room and fell asleep. When she awoke at 7 a.m. she realized that Jim had not returned to bed. When she went into the bathroom she knew what had happened.
This is Pamela’s version of events that morning. Actually it is one of the versions. She changed her statements three times over the course of time. Pamela died (also) of a heroin overdose three years later. She was 27 years old, like Jim.
Other versions say that the dealer Jean de Breteuil was in the apartment with Marianne Faithfull and that they injected him with the heroin that led to his death. Faithfull denied that version. But de Breteuil was in the apartment. Pamela called him as soon as she realized Morrison was unresponsive. He arrived and told her to tell Ronay and Varda to flush all the drugs down the toilet and run away with him and Marianne to Morocco. The dealer knew that the police would find out who had supplied the drugs. But his version could not be checked either, because he too was killed by the drugs soon after.
When at 7:30 a.m. Ronay answered Pamela’s call, he ran to wake up Agnes Varda. The film director called an ambulance from bed.
Another version holds that Morrison overdosed in the bathroom of a Parisian nightclub and died there. But the owners, in order to avoid problems, managed to get him out of the club, take him home and leave him in the bathtub. Others say that this episode happened a few days before his death. And that he was assisted and was able to recover. Others affirm that it never happened. One of the neighbors said that he saw Mr. Douglas, as he was known, screaming naked in the hallway of the fourth floor, near the staircase, early that morning. A later version speaks of him still living: myths.
Three days later Jim Morrison was buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. Tens of thousands of people make a pilgrimage there every year to visit him and offer him their secret. However, this final resting place was not exempt of versions either. Many believe a rumor that the singer’s father smuggled the corpse out and moved it to the United States to keep it close to him. The mystery -that mystery- seemed to be solved in 1991 when the cemetery permit expired and the crate had to be removed and reduced. However, given Morrison’s celebrity and the abundant daily visits, the cemetery management extended the concession without time limit. Thus, once again, no study of his remains was carried out.
Olivia Rodriguez, a writer at Global Web Wire, is a dedicated professional who has a strong background in communication and media. She holds a degree in Communication and Media Studies from the prestigious University of California, Berkeley.