Jim Morrison was the lead singer of The Doors from 1965 to his untimely death in 1971, and is known for his unique voice and presence on the blues and psychedelic rock scene. He was also known as ‘The Lizard King’ and ‘Mr Mojo Risin’, an anagram of his name, and became iconic in his representation of youth counter-culture.
Family life and influences
Jim Morrison was born as James Douglas Morrison on December the 8th, 1943, to parents Clara Virginia and George Stephen in Melbourne, Florida. He had two younger siblings, a sister, Anne, and a brother, Andrew. In terms of the formative events of his early life, Jim often put much emphasis on an accident that he witnessed as a child, when a truck overturned and left a group of Native Americans bleeding at the side of the desert highway.
Many references to this particular event are made in songs produced by The Doors, namely ‘Peace Frog’ from ‘The Morrison Hotel’ in 1970 –
“Indians scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding
Ghosts crowd the young child’s
Fragile eggshell mind…”
Even posthumously, in their songs ‘Dawn’s Highway’ and ‘Ghost Song’, the group acknowledged this key event in Jim’s life.
Bizarrely, despite all of this, Jim’s family tells the story differently. Jim’s father explained that the family drove past a reservation, and that Jim was upset by a crying Native American at the scene. However, his sister even argued that Jim liked to exaggerate the story when he told it, and that it did not have such a profound influence on him as he claimed.
“He enjoyed telling that story and exaggerating it. He said he saw a dead Indian by the side of the road, and I don’t even know if that’s true.”
Jim demonstrated a rapacious enthusiasm for reading early on, and was soon reading obscure texts covering sixteenth and seventeenth century demonology, and the works of many philosophers and poets. He was particularly influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, whose views on Apollonian and Dionysian duality permeate through Jim’s prose, poetry, and songs.
Early Career and The Doors
Jim briefly met Ray Manzarek at UCLA, where they studied cinematography as undergraduates, and later formed the group in the summer of 1965, where they had an accidental encounter. Manzarek was impressed by Morrison’s poetic lyrics, and they later added Robby Krieger and John Densmore to the mix.
Jim’s idiosyncratic presence on stage and The Doors’ distinctive brand of psychedelic rock was finally fruitful when their second single, ‘Light My Fire’, hurtled to number one on The Billboard in 1968.
Jim Morrison spent the majority of his life in a relationship with Pamela Courson, whom he met at college. Though Jim had other casual relationships and more serious ones, this seems to have been the most long-lasting, up until his death in 1971. Ray Manzarek commented on their relationship in ‘The Life and Death of Jim Morrison’, 1991:
“I never knew another person who could so complement his bizarreness.”
Despite the fact that they never actually got married, when Pamela died (after Jim) she was buried as Pamela Susan Morrison. He also dedicated his published poetry books to her, and based many of his songs on their tumultuous, yet thriving, relationship.
On the other hand, Jim also had regular romantic and sexual experiences with ‘groupies’, fellow musicians, and others in the industry. These included Pamela Des Barres (a groupie), Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane, and
16 Magazine’s Gloria Stavers. He was also in a relationship with Mary Werbelow as a teenager, who said in a 2005 interview that Jim had confessed that his first three albums were about her.
At the forefront of the music scene, Jim’s public and private life became increasingly entangled, causing his drug and alcohol addictions to worsen. Being so relentlessly in the public eye was difficult for Jim, and in a catastrophic culmination of events, he was confronted by a police officer in Conneticut, 1967. While he was backstage at a concert, drunk, high, and making out with a woman before the show, the officer pepper sprayed him, provoking an outburst onstage where he delivered a profane monologue laced with imprecations. This resulted in his subsequent arrest, which sparked riots.
With his condition so rapidly deteriorating, after recording his sixth and final album, Jim Morrison took a break from song-writing and went to Paris with Pamela Courson. However, he continued to be plagued by depression and addictions, resulting in his death at the age of 27. No autopsy was taken after his demise, as there was no evidence of foul play. As a result, there have been many conspiracy theories surrounding Jim Morrison’s death. For instance, some speculate that the true cause of Jim’s death was a heroin overdose, and imply a cover-up of these events.
Jim Morrison was most certainly an influencer, and as the figurehead for The Doors, he inspired many through his songs and his poetry. He is highly regarded as the quintessential rock star, with his leather trousers and dynamic, charismatic personality.
In Fatboy Slim’s ‘Sunset’, we find Jim Morrison’s poem ‘Birds of Prey’, and Radiohead overtly reference him in their song ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’, and numerous other artists have attributed elements of their music or inspiration to him.
In addition, a fossil of a large lizard was found in June of 2013, and was named the Barbaturex morrisoni after Morrison himself, due to his common sobriquet ‘The Lizard King’, a nickname taken from his poem ‘The Celebration of the Lizard King’.