Best known as the charismatic front man of the legendary rock band The Doors, singer, songwriter, lyricist, poet and film maker Jim Morrison was a Florida native and an Irish-American. The "dark genius" of 1960’s rock music, Morrison reportedly had an I.Q. of 149. He is regarded as the prototypical "rock star": surly, sexy, scandalous and mysterious. Morrison remains one of the most popular and influential singer-songwriters in rock history. He is ranked number 47 on Rolling Stone’s "100 Greatest Singers of All Time". The Doors music catalog remains a staple of classic rock radio stations around the world. Morrison was also an accomplished poet…Four volumes of his poetry have been published.
James Douglas "Jim" Morrison was born on December 8, 1943 at Melbourne, Florida to parents George Stephen Morrison and Clara Clarke Morrison. His father was a career officer in the United States Navy, so Morrison’s family moved often. In 1958, Morrison attended Alameda High School in Alameda, California; however, he graduated from George Washington High School in Alexandria, Virginia in June 1961. After high school, Morrison went to live with his paternal grandparents in Clearwater, Florida, where he attended classes at St. Petersburg Junior College.
In 1962, Morrison transferred to Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee where he appeared in a school recruitment film. At FSU, Morrison stood out as somewhat of a bohemian. According to a fellow FSU student Jerry McClain: "His [Morrison’s] whole interest was film. He did some editing work …and would go to the FSU library to read film reviews in back issues of The Village Voice. Jim also made an 8 mm film on campus–guys peeking around bushes, that kind of thing"…"He hung around with a bohemian crowd: people who liked to wear pants with holes in them. Jim posed as a model for the art department, and they would all sell blood to the Red Cross to get a few bucks. Once, I saw Jim go around the college coffee shop eating scraps off tables. I felt he, and the others, were living an image, the starving young artist"…"The only time I heard Jim mention music at FSU was at a party. He said, ‘I want you to hear this guy. He’s really great.’ Jim put on this record by a singer nobody had ever heard of. It was Bob Dylan." Morrison left FSU after being arrested for a "prank" following a football game.
In January 1964, Morrison moved to Los Angeles, California. He completed his undergraduate degree at UCLA’s film school in 1965. He made two films while attending UCLA, one of which, “First Love”, a documentary about the film “Obscura”, was released to the public. In 1965, after graduating from UCLA, Morrison lived in Venice Beach, where he started his rock band, The Doors, with fellow UCLA alum Ray Manzarek. Drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger soon joined the band. The Doors took their name from the title of Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception.” In June 1966, in an interesting coincidence of names, Morrison and The Doors were the opening act at the famed Whisky a Go Go nightclub during the last week of the residency of Van Morrison’s band, "Them". On the final night, the two Morrison’s and the two bands jammed together on the song "Gloria". The Doors achieved national recognition in 1967 when the single "Light My Fire" from their self-titled album, “The Doors”, reached number one on the Billboard Pop Singles chart.
The Doors performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967 generated a firestorm of controversy. Ed Sullivan requested two songs from The Doors for the show, "People Are Strange" and "Light My Fire". Network censors insisted that they change the lyrics of "Light My Fire" from "Girl we couldn’t get much higher" to "Girl we couldn’t get much better", reportedly due to a perceived reference to drugs in the original lyric. Giving assurances of compliance to Sullivan, Morrison then proceeded to sing the song with the original lyrics anyway. This so infuriated Sullivan, that he refused to shake the band member’s hands after their performance. They were never invited back. By the release of their second album, “Strange Days”, The Doors had become one of the most popular rock bands in the world.
In 1968, The Doors released their third studio LP, “Waiting for the Sun”. Their fourth LP, “The Soft Parade”, was released in 1969. After a controversial performance in 1969, at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, Florida, a warrant for Morrison’s arrest was issued by the Dade County Police Department on a charge of "indecent exposure". Consequently, many of The Doors’ scheduled concerts were canceled. In the years following that incident, Morrison has been exonerated. [In 2007, Florida Governor Charlie Crist even suggested the possibility of a posthumous pardon for Morrison.] In 1970, The Doors released the “Morrison Hotel” LP. After a break, the group reconvened in October 1970 to record their last LP with Morrison, “L.A. Woman”.
Morrison flew to Paris in March 1971, took up residence in a rented apartment there, and went for long walks through the city, admiring the city’s architecture. By that time, the formerly svelte singer had gained weight, grew a beard, and began dressing more anonymously, abandoning his signature leather pants and concho belts for jeans and T-shirts. It was in Paris that Morrison made his last studio recording with two American street musicians. The session included a version of a song-in-progress, "Orange County Suite", which can be heard on the bootleg “The Lost Paris Tapes”.
Morrison died in Paris on July 3, 1971. The "official" account of his death states that he was found dead in his Paris apartment bathtub by "wife" Pamela Courson. Pursuant to French law, no autopsy was performed, because the medical examiner found no evidence of foul play. The absence of an official autopsy left many questions regarding Morrison’s cause of death. Morrison is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in eastern Paris, one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions. For many years, there was no marker on Morrison’s grave. In 1981, Croatian sculptor Mladen Mikulin placed a bust of Morrison and a gravestone with Morrison’s name to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death; however, the bust was soon defaced by vandals and then later stolen in 1988. Finally, Morrison’s father, Admiral George Stephen Morrison, placed a permanent marker at the grave bearing the Greek inscription: ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ, literally meaning "according to his own demon", but usually interpreted to mean "true to his own spirit".
A 1991 film “The Doors” by film maker Oliver Stone, starring Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison, presents a critically acclaimed, although highly sensational and somewhat fictionalized, account of Morrison’s life and career.