This Sunday, July 3, marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Jim Morrison. The lead singer of the Doors lived a short, tragic life. He was only 27 when he died of heart failure in Paris, France. But, musically, Morrison accomplished a tremendous amount in his six years with the Doors. As I wrote in my book The Jim Morrison Scrapbook, “From 1967 to 1970, during his spectacular zenith, Jim Morrison seemingly had it all. He was an internationally revered rock star with numerous hit records to his credit, a dynamic stage performer, an alluring sex symbol, and a published poet.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is fortunate to have an amazing collection of artifacts related to Morrison. Several years ago, his parents donated a massive collection of documents related to their son’s life. These items include the hospital bill from when his mother gave birth to him, a very detailed baby book that outlines almost everything Jim did as a little child, notes that he wrote to his parents, family photos, report cards and drawings. We also have his Cub Scout uniform and an athletic letter he earned for swimming in high school. One of my favorite artifacts is a handwritten manuscript of a poem Morrison wrote when he was 10 years old. It’s called “The Pony Express,” and in a 1968 interview with Rolling Stone, Jim said it was the first poem he ever wrote.
This comprehensive collection covers pretty much everything Morrison did, from his childhood through his years at UCLA, where he studied film. Then there is a gap. The next document is a letter that a probation officer in Dade County, Florida, sent to Jim’s father after Morrison was found guilty of indecent exposure and profanity after he allegedly exposed himself onstage during a show in Miami – a verdict that was overturned very recently. In the letter, the Florida official expresses concern about Morrison’s condition and asks his father for additional information. On October 21, 1970, Jim’s father replied. He states that he had not seen his son in five years and that he had written Jim a letter “severely criticizing his behavior and strongly advising him to give up any idea of singing or any connection with a musical group because of what I considered to be a complete lack of talent in this direction.” It’s a very sad letter. Then, the next document in the collection is the “Report of the Death of an American Citizen” from the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
Yes, Jim Morrison had a tragic life. The one redeeming thing is the fact that his music with the Doors lives on. The group still sells thousands and thousands of CDs every year, and Doors merchandise also is a very big seller. In fact, it’s not unusual to see teenagers walking around the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wearing Doors T-shirts. As Morrison wrote in “An American Prayer”: “Death makes angels of us all/And gives us wings/Where we had shoulders/Smooth as raven’s claws.”
We want to hear from you! Please share your thoughts, memories and stories on Jim Morrison in the comments section below.