Jim Morrison: half a century since the death of a perfect myth

Jim Morrison, musician, poet and one of the cursed referents of the rock, died fifty years ago in Paris and has since become a perfect myth, a legend created in good part thanks to the influence of the cinema.

The anniversary is on Saturday. Morrison died at the age of 27 in an apartment in the then bohemian Marais district, in Paris, where he had moved to try to leave his alcoholism behind and breathe in the artistic spirit of the city.

Morrison was “one of the greats” in rock history, due to the volume and quality of his work, says Diego Manrique, one of the most respected Spanish music critics, who also believes that his group, The Doors, is among the best.

Perfect songs

With six albums in just five years, The Doors became a front-line group, conjugating “perfect” pop songs, like ‘Light my Fire’, or much darker, like the oedipal ‘The End’ or the violent ‘Riders on the Storm’, he explains.

Morrison, lyricist, singer and group leader, took these issues to the extreme with dramatic performances on stage. Familiar with the theories of the “theater of cruelty” of the Frenchman Antonin Artaud, his character of the ‘Lizard King’ launched long speeches and provocations to the public and the police who frequently watched his concerts.

Manrique, author of the book about the group ‘Riders in the storm’, recalls that the four components of The Doors were “educated boys” engaged in avant-garde movements and their songs had nothing to do with what was done then. All this does not mean that Morrison, with his wild and dramatic appearances on stage, dressed in black leather and sometimes with a naked torso, became a real ‘sex symbol‘for both genders.

Musically, they did rock, pop and a lot of blues-rock incisive (‘Roadhouse blues’, for example), but with other influences. The keyboardist Ray Manzarek came from jazz and the guitarist Robby Krieger was very fond of the Spanish classical guitar.

After a few years of success and debauchery, Morrison arrived in Paris in March 1971 and just four months later he was found dead in the apartment he had rented. The attending physician certified a death from heart failure and an autopsy was not performed. According to several acquaintances and witnesses, the most likely cause was a heroin overdose, but it was never investigated.

He was buried in the nearby Père Lachaise cemetery. And here the circle of the “perfect myth” closes, according to Manrique. A great American star, adored by his fans, a sex symbol, who dies young in Paris and ends up in the most famous cemetery. He adds that the Morrison myth was definitively established some time later, thanks to the cinema, with the use of ‘The End’ in ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979), by Francis Ford Coppola, and with the biographical ‘The Doors’ (1991), by Oliver Stone, who have inspired younger fans.

The most famous grave

Morrison’s grave at Père Lachaise “is one of the most famous and most visited” of this cemetery, indicates to Efe Sylvain Ecole, director of the Paris Cemetery Service, next to the famous grave.

And that this is possibly the most famous cemetery in the world for the renown of those who rest here, especially artists, among the 70,000 graves and 27,000 urns with ashes. Oscar Wilde; Frédéric Chopin; Yves Montand; Edith Piaf; Marcel Proust, Miguel Ángel Asturias or Georges Bizet are just some of the illustrious neighbors of the rocker, whose grave is never missing a framed photo, flowers or scallops. This accumulation of celebrities, also common to the Parisian cemeteries of Montparnasse and Montmartre, “is a source of pride but also of concern, because there is a huge audience,” Ecole acknowledges.

Before the pandemic, Parisian cemeteries received five million tourists annually, of which three million visited Père Lachaise. Morrison’s grave and those around it are surrounded by a fence that, Ecole explains, seeks to protect the privacy of the place and “prevent people from getting too close to the grave.”

Some time ago a marble bust and a plaque were stolen from the tomb. Afterwards, the musician’s father put up another plaque that says in Greek ‘Faithful to his own demons’. Ecole insists on asking the singer’s admirers “respect for the place, for the graves.”

Pilgrimage of admirers

While Ecole speaks, in a few minutes visitors from France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands pass by to contemplate the grave for a while and take a photo or a selfie. Among all of them Bruno Gacon stands out, with a T-shirt ‘The Doors’ and a cap that reads ‘Jim Morrison’. Explain what comes to Paris from a town in central France at least twice a year, for the anniversaries of the musician’s death and birth (December 8).

Gacon has permission to go over the fences and clean the dried flowers a bit. Morrison “was unique,” and The Doors’ music gives “a sense of” culmination, it’s all emotion to me, “he describes to justify his passion.


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