Morrison’s early life was a nomadic existence typical of military families. Jerry Hopkins recorded Morrison’s brother, Andy, explaining that his parents had determined never to use physical corporal punishment such as spanking on their children. They instead instilled discipline and levied punishment by the military tradition known as dressing down. This consisted of yelling at and berating the children until they were reduced to tears and acknowledged their failings. Once Morrison graduated from UCLA, he broke off most contact with his family. By the time Morrison’s music ascended to the top of the charts (in 1967) he had not been in communication with his family for more than a year and falsely claimed that his parents and siblings were dead (or claiming, as it has been widely misreported, that he was an only child).
This misinformation was published as part of the materials distributed with The Doors’ self-titled debut album. George Morrison was not supportive of his son’s career choice in music. One day, an acquaintance brought over a record thought to have Jim on the cover. The record was the Doors self-titled debut. The young man played the record for Morrison’s father and family. Upon hearing the record, Morrison’s father wrote him a letter telling him “to give up any idea of singing or any connection with a music group because of what I consider to be a complete lack of talent in this direction.” In a letter to the Florida Probation and Parole Commission District Office dated October 2, 1970, Morrison’s father acknowledged the breakdown in family communications as the result of an argument over his assessment of his son’s musical talents. He said he could not blame his son for being reluctant to initiate contact and that he was proud of him nonetheless.
Morrison met his long-term companion, Pamela Courson, well before he gained any fame or fortune, and she encouraged him to develop his poetry. At times, Courson used the surname “Morrison” with his apparent consent or at least lack of concern. After Courson’s death on April 25, 1974, the probate court in California decided that she and Morrison had what qualified as a common-law marriage (see below, under “Estate Controversy”). Morrison and Courson’s relationship was a stormy one, with frequent loud arguments and periods of separation. Biographer Danny Sugerman surmised that part of their difficulties may have stemmed from a conflict between their respective commitments to an open relationship and the consequences of living in such a relationship.
In 1970, Morrison participated in a Celtic Pagan handfasting ceremony with rock critic and science fiction/fantasy author Patricia Kennealy. Before witnesses, one of them a Presbyterian minister, the couple signed a document declaring themselves wed, but none of the necessary paperwork for a legal marriage was filed with the state. Kennealy discussed her experiences with Morrison in her autobiography Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison and in an interview reported in the book Rock Wives.
Morrison also reportedly regularly had sex with fans (“groupies”) such as Josépha Karcz who wrote a novel about their night together, and had numerous short flings with females connected with the music business or the print media. They included Nico, the singer associated with The Velvet Underground, a one night stand with singer Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane, an on-again, off-again relationship with 16 Magazine‘s Gloria Stavers as well as an alleged alcohol-fueled encounter with Janis Joplin. David Crosby said many years later Morrison treated Joplin poorly at a party at the home of John Davidson while Davidson was out of town. She allegedly attacked him with a bottle of booze in front of witnesses, and that ended their only encounter. At the time of his death there were at least threepaternity actions pending against him, although no claims were made against his estate by any of the putative paternity claimants.
Jim Morrison’s apartment in le Marais, Paris, France
Morrison joined Courson in Paris in March 1971. They took up residence in the city in a rented apartment on the rue Beautreillis (in the 4th arrondissement of Paris on the Right Bank), and went for long walks throughout the city, admiring the city’s architecture. During this time, Morrison shaved his beard and lost some of the weight he had gained in the previous months. Morrison died on July 3, 1971 at age 27. In the official account of his death, he was found in a Paris apartment bathtub (at 17–19 rue Beautreillis, 4th arrondissement) by Courson. Pursuant to French law, noautopsy was performed because the medical examiner stated that there was 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 United States. According to Sugerman’s account, Courson stated that Morrison had died of a heroin overdose, having inhaled what he believed to be cocaine. Sugerman added that Courson had given him numerous contradictory versions of Morrison’s death, saying at times that she had killed Morrison, or that his death was her fault. Courson’s story of Morrison’s unintentional ingestion of heroin, followed by his 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 instead of phoning for medical help, leaving Morrison bleeding to death.
Ronay confessed in an article in Paris 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 Agnès Varda say Courson lied to the 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 their silence and gave this account: They arrived at the house shortly after Morrison’s death and Courson said that she and Morrison had taken heroin after a night of drinking. Morrison had been coughing badly, had gone to take a bath, and vomited blood. Courson said that he appeared to recover and that she then went to sleep. When she awoke sometime later Morrison was unresponsive, so she called for medical assistance. Hopkins and Sugerman also claim that Morrison had asthma and was suffering from a respiratory condition involving a chronic cough and vomiting 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, but none of the members of The Doors were in Paris with Morrison in the months prior to his death. According to a Madame Colinette, who was at the cemetery that day mourning the recent loss of her husband, she witnessed Morrison’s funeral at Père Lachaise Cemetery. The ceremony was “pitiful,” with several of the attendants muttering a few words, throwing flowers over the casket, then leaving quickly and hastily within minutes as if their lives depended upon it. Those who attended included Alain Ronay, Agnès Varda, Bill Siddons (manager), Courson, and Robin Wertle (Morrison’s Canadian private secretary at the time for a few months). In the first version of No One Here Gets Out Alive, published in 1980, Sugerman and Hopkins gave some credence to the rumor 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, searching for evidence of Morrison’s whereabouts.
In 1995, a new epilogue was added to Sugerman’s and Hopkins’s 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 July 2007, Sam Bernett, a former manager of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus nightclub, released a (French) book titled “The End: Jim Morrison”. In it Bernett alleges that instead of dying of a heart attack in a bathtub (the official police version of his death), Morrison overdosed on heroin on a toilet seat in the nightclub. He claims that Morrison came to the club to buy heroin for Courson then used some himself and died in the bathroom. Morrison’s body was then moved back to his rue Beautreillis apartment and dumped into the bathtub by the 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. There have been many other conspiracy theories surrounding Morrison’s death but are less supported by witnesses than are the accounts of Ronay and Courson.
Morrison’s grave at Père Lachaisewith the Greek inscription on it: ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ (August 2008)
Morrison is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in 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. Initially, the grave was unmarked, and listed in the cemetery directory with Morrison’s name incorrectly rearranged as “Douglas James Morrison.” In 1981, Croatian sculptor Mladen Mikulin voluntarily placed a bust of his own design and a 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 cemetery vandals and later stolen in 1988. Mikulin made another bust of Morrison in 1989, and a bronze portrait of him in 2001; neither piece is at the gravesite. In the early 1990s Morrison’s father George Stephen Morrison, after consulting with E. Nicholas Genovese, Professor of Classics and Humanities, San Diego State University, placed a flat stone on the grave. The bronze plaque thereon bears the Greek inscription: ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ, literally meaning “according to own self-daemon, i.e., guiding spirit,” to convey the sentiment “True to Himself.”
In his last will, notarized in Los Angeles on February 12, 1969, Morrison (who described himself as “an unmarried person”) bequeathedhis entire estate to Pamela Courson, naming her co-executor with his attorney, Max Fink. Subsequently, she inherited everything upon Morrison’s death. Courson died of a heroin overdose in 1974, leaving her parents as her sole heirs. Like Morrison, she was also 27 years old at the time of her death. Morrison’s parents then contested Morrison’s will. Courson’s parents then produced an unsigned document which they claimed Pam Courson had acquired in Colorado, an application for a marriage license. This was an effort to get Courson declared Morrison’s common-law spouse, thereby solidifying their claim on Morrison’s estate (as had Courson been Morrison’s legal spouse, she would inherit even if the will was declared invalid). However, there is no evidence that Jim Morrison or Pam Courson even knew of the existence of this unsigned document, nor had either party ever resided in Colorado. The ability to contract a common-law marriage was abolished in California in 1896. However, California’s conflict of laws rule provided for recognition of common-law marriages when lawfully contracted in foreign jurisdictions, and Colorado recognizes common-law marriage.