Without a doubt Jim Morrison (1943-1971) was one of the biggest icons in modern music. As frontman of the legendary band The Doors his songs are still played on a daily basis by radio stations all over the world. And whenever a list of greatest rock songs in history is made, be sure The Doors are in it with at least a few evergreens. Morrison himself however never got to see how big his own legacy was, as he became one of the prominent members of The 27 Club, an elite group of artists who all died at the same age, mostly from the effects of drugs and alcohol. No surprise for the heavy boozer himself apparently, because after fellow members Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin both had died in 1970, Morrison would often let his company know they were ‘drinking with number three’.
Jim Morrison was simply an old school rockstar. From time to time brilliant, but many times also too high and too drunk to deliver a decent performance. From the mid-sixties he created an alcohol dependency, of which he once said himself: “Being drunk is a good disguise. It means I can talk to assholes.” Although this protective wall of cans and bottles might have worked to deal with some unlikeable people, it also made the singer screw up many of concerts. Sometimes Morrison would forget his lyrics or just start a drunken plea for revolution. Yet the fans kept coming. “When I hear Jim slurring… I cringe. But then 10 seconds later, he does something brilliant”, The Doors-guitarist Robby Krieger once said. “That’s why people loved to take that chance – the possibility of seeing an awful show on the off-chance they might witness magic.”
Although alcohol and other substances probably contributed to Morrison’s creative findings in his music, we can’t state that he was a happy drunk. Many times he got pretty rude and obnoxious. A good example is when he met Janis Joplin, another rock phenomenon in those days. At first the two artists hit it off quite well, but as Morrison got drunk, he lost most of his charm. Up to the point where Joplin just wanted to leave. A drunk Morrison followed her to her car and grabbed her by her hair. At which point Joplin knocked a bottle of Southern Comfort whisky over the head of the frontman of The Doors, which knocked him out completely. This violent act apparently gave Morrison butterflies (“What a woman”), but nobody wanted to give him Joplin’s phone number the next day.
As the Doors made 6 albums in 6 years, Morrison was also building an impressive cv when it came to drunken busts. The first time he got arrested in 1963 he was still in Florida State University. After having in his own words “a fair amount of wine”, the young Morrison attended an American Football game and started pissing off players and spectators. When the police arrived to control the drunk young man, he stole an umbrella and a police helmet from a squad car and created more chaos. Morrison was charged with “disturbing the peace by being drunk”, resisting arrest and petty larceny.
A few more arrests would follow, including a legendary one back in Florida in March 1969. Morrison was clearly struggling with the combination of many alcoholic beverages and the hot weather in the Sunshine State. Being completely wasted on stage he claimed that Adolf Hitler was alive and living in Florida, before he invited the whole crowd to join him in California to dip their toes in the ocean. The drunk singer then urged people to take off their clothes and hug their neighbours, claiming he wanted to see more love and nudity. According to some, including the police who arrested Morrison on stage, he led the troups by example by pulling out his own genetals on stage. Something that the other band members of The Doors always denied. Fact is that Morrison was dead before the case ever went to court.
Later that same year the talented songwriter was even arrested by the FBI on some serious charges. It started off innocent as Morrison wanted to visit a concert by the Rolling Stones in Phoenix. Ironically in a venue he was banned from himself as he almost started a riot between the crowd and the police one year ago during a concert. When his flight was delayed Morrison turned to drinking in an airport bar and got on board pretty sauced. Inside the plane he drove the flight attendants mad and the captain even threatened to turn the plane around and have him arrested. Now the plane did make it to Phoenix, but there the FBI took Morrison into custody and charged him not only with drunk and disorderly conduct, but also interfering with the flight of an aircraft, something that usually only terrorists are charged with and can lead to a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail. Again Morrison didn’t live long enough to see a verdict in this case.
In the last half year of his life Morrison, who always saw himself more as a poet than a singer, wanted to follow the footsteps of his idols like Ernest Hemingway, Charles Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde. This journey led him to Paris, where he was found dead in the bathtub of his hotelroom on the 3rd of July, 1971. Rumours of a heroin overdose and even wilder stories have been going around since then, but since there was never an autopsy, the real cause of death was never revealed. Ray Manzarek, who played keyboard in The Doors, however blames Morrison’s alcohol intake: “It was Jimbo – the alter-ego of Jim Morrison, that dark, Irish drunk – who took himself to Paris. And Jimbo that killed my friend Jim Morrison. And I hate that Jimbo.”
All considered Jim Morrison had a short life, but definitely not boring. And for a raging alcoholic, as some would call him, he was still pretty productive with a more than decent album every year of his musical career. It’s hard to believe this early member of The 27 Club will ever leave the “best ever-lists”. Now to finish this article with a positive vibe, we will leave you with the final part of an interview Morrison did with Rolling Stone Magazine in 1969. As interviewer Jerry Hopkins after a long talk asks if there are any topics still unanswered, the songwriter turns the conversation to his favorite hobby.
Is there some other area you’d like to get into?
How about … feel like discussing alcohol? Just a short dialog. No long rap. Alcohol as opposed to drugs?
Okay. Part of the mythology has you playing the role of a heavy juicer.
On a very basic level, I love drinking. But I can’t see drinking just milk or water or Coca Cola. It just ruins it for me. You have to have wine or beer to complete a meal. [Long pause]
That’s all you want to say? [Laughter]
Getting drunk … you’re in complete control up to a point. It’s your choice, every time you take a sip. You have a lot of small choices. It’s like … I guess it’s the difference between suicide and slow capitulation …
What’s that mean?
I don’t know, man. Let’s go next door and get a drink.
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