This Day in History: July 3rd

This Day In History July 3, 1971

Jim_MorrisonWhile most everyone else was singing about incense and peppermints and feeling groovy in the 1960s, there was one group that dared to explore the darker side of the human experience. Their leader – though he would bristle at being called such – was a poet, a clown, a genius, a drunk, and a reluctant rock star who deliberately delved deep into the murky waters of the collective unconscious like a Dionysian puppet master. When his muse called him from Los Angeles to Paris, he left the public eye. On July 3, 1971, he passed from this earth all together.

By 1971, Jim Morrison was unrecognizable from his lean Lizard King days when he prowled the bars and nightclubs of L.A, in tight leather pants. He had put on a great deal of weight and his once chiseled features were hidden under a layer of bloat. He easily looked 10 years older than his 27 years. He decided to pursue his first love – poetry – and moved to Paris with his girlfriend Pamela Courson.

According to the most accepted account of the night of Jim’s death, Pam went to bed early while Jim stayed up, suffering from a coughing bout that began earlier in the evening. When he came to bed he told Pam he still felt lousy, and when he got up an hour later he vomited a small amount of blood. Pam wanted to call a doctor, but Jim said he was feeling a bit better and asked her to run him a bath instead. She did, and went back to bed.

When Pam awoke at 6 a.m. the next morning and called Jim’s name, she got no answer. When she entered the bathroom Jim was submerged in the tub with a smile on his face. Her first thought was that Jim was messing with her (it would not have been out of character), but when she shook him and got no reaction, she called a friend who spoke French, then had them call the police. But there was nothing they could do.

A doctor arrived to sign a death certificate (cause of death: heart failure.) No autopsy on Jim’s body was performed. Jim’s body was wrapped in plastic and packed in dry ice. During the next three days, the cheapest coffin available was delivered.

When the Doors’ manager Bill Siddons arrived at Jim and Pam’s apartment in Paris on July 6, all he saw was a coffin and a death certificate – he never got a glimpse of Jim’s body. Jim was buried the next day in Pere La Chaise Cemetery with only five people present. Pam told the American embassy that Jim had no immediate family (a lie) to facilitate a quickie burial.

Many people questioned the obvious holes in the story, including Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who asked Siddons on his return from Paris: “How do you even know Jim was in the coffin? How do you know it wasn’t 150 lbs. of ****ing sand?”


Jim himself had made jokes about just up and disappearing, and told friends that he’d make contact from wherever he ended up using the alias “Mr. Mojo Risin’” – an anagram of his name. And if anyone could pull it off, everyone who knew him agreed it would be Jim.

But another, more sinister rumor has always circulated about what may have caused Jim’s death, and new evidence gives the old stories a bit more credence, though we may never really know for sure what happened that night.

It was common knowledge that Pamela Courson was a heroin addict (she died of an overdose three year after Jim’s death.) Her habit had been a bone of contention between Pam and Morrison during the course of their entire relationship. Jim used his share of illicit substances, but generally shied away from hard drugs.

But for whatever reason, according to Sam Bernett, manager of the Rock and Roll Circus on the Left Bank and author of the book “The End: Jim Morrison,” Jim was in the club during the early morning hours of July 3, 1971 looking to score some heroin for Pam. He disappeared into the club’s bathroom, and when he didn’t re-emerge, they busted the door down of the locked stall Morrison was occupying to find him slumped over and unresponsive.

“We were certain he’d been snorting heroin because there was foam coming out of his lips as well as blood. He was scared of needles so never injected drugs,” Bernett said. To protect the dealers and the club’s owners, Jim was carried back to his apartment and placed in the tub, as many victims of heroin overdoses are.

Why would Jim, who was so vocal about the evils of hard drugs, be snorting heroin? Who knows? We’ll never know for sure if he was, never mind why.

The 20-year statute of limitations to prosecute for criminal charges has long since past, but there are no such limits for civil charges. A spokesman for France’s Police National was quoted as saying, “The new evidence will have to be considered.”

No matter what happened to Jim Morrison, Jim himself seemed to know he wasn’t going to be sticking around for long. After the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin the previous year at age 27 of overdoses (they were the founding members of the “27 Club”), Jim used to like to tell people, “You’re drinking with number three.”

Sadly, he was right.

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