Jim Morrison – The Lizard King
In all likelihood, rock and roll legend Jim Morrison is buried in Paris’s Pere-Lachaise cemetery. That fact, of course, hasn’t inhibited numerous “sightings” of the Doors’ lead singer since his would-be death in 1971. Chalk it up, if you will, to the rock icon’s prodigious mythology – like Dead Elvis’s perpetual loitering or the Virgin Mary’s fondness for making cameo appearances on tortillas.
Still, the circumstances of Morrison’s death were quite mysterious and confusing. It’s not surprising that a crop of postmortem rumors sprang up insinuating that by the good graces of assorted conspiracies – from the political to the supernatural – the Lizard King lives. Indeed, the official version of Morrison’s death is in some respects even less believable than the surreal myths.
Officially, Morrison died at about 5 a.m. on July 3, 1971, of a heart attacks, a rather improbable fate for a twenty-seven-year-old man – although somewhat less so for a rock star prematurely weathered by a decade of gut-flushing bacchanalia. As his longtime girlfriend, Pamela Courson, told the story, Morrison decided to take a bath in the Parisian flat one evening. Courson went to bed and the next morning discovered Morrison’s corpse in the tub.
Bizarre rumors began to surface almost immediately, undoubtedly nursed along by Courson’s puzzling attempts to screw a lid on the news. Courson initially told reporters that Morrison was “not dead but very tired and resting in a hospital.” Nonetheless, word began to wend through Paris that Morrison had died of a heroin overdose in the sleazy underground nightclub, Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus. (Another popular rumor had it that Morrison OD’d on cocaine, a drug that he was known to binge on.) Rumor had it that Morrison was hustled home and deposited in the bathtub in an attempted revival. Of course, there were no witnesses.
Although Courson was claiming that Morrison was still alive days after his demise, in fact, a Parisian doctor had already signed the death certificate, listing the deceased as “James Morrison, Poet.” The coffin was sealed before either the American Embassy or Morrison’s family had been notified. No autopsy was performed. Only a full six days later, after Morrison’s quiet burial at Pere-Lachaise, did Doors manager Bill Siddons hold a press conference announcing the news that the “Young Lion” had died of a heart attack brought on by a blood clot and possible a lung infection.
The Los Angeles Times stirred doubts when it headlined a story, WHY MORRISON DEATH NEWS DELAY? Inevitably, there was talk of a cover up. After all, only Courson, a couple of French medical examiners, and unknown police officers had actually seen Morrison’s corpse. Not even Siddons (who jetted to Paris after Courson denied Morrison’s death over the phone and then broke down crying) thought to open the casket when he arrived at the flat.
There were other improbable details in the official scenario, which subsequently fueled bizarre lore: How had an American rock star like Morrison finagled his way into Pere-Lachaise, the historic French cemetery were luminaries like Balzac, Chopin, Moliere, and Oscar Wilde are entombed? For some unexplained – ergo, suspicious – reason, the headstone didn’t appear for several months, and the grave remained unmarked. When Doors drummer John Densmore later visited the cemetery, he announced, “…the grave is too short!”
In addition to the unsubstantiated theory of the nightclub heroin OD, which was favored by Parisians, an assortment of alternate scenarios began to circulate.
One political conspiracy theory had it that Morrison was assassinated in a plot masterminded by those crew-cut reactionaries at the FBI. In a scheme to snuff the radical New Left and hippie movements, J. Edgar Hoover’s boys had iced not only Morrison, whose popularity, antiauthoritarian bent, and native smarts made him a threat to the American Way, but Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, who had “allegedly” died of drug ODs earlier. (The theory was docu-dramatized in the low-rent film, Down on Us, later retitled Beyond the Doors.)
It wasn’t as farfetched a scenario as it now seems, given the government’s very real plots to undermine the New Left and the FBI’s attempts to discredit Martin Luther King, Jr. (not to mention troubling government links to King’s assassination). And after Morrison’s infamous Miami arrest (for allegedly waving his wand onstage) the FBI did launch an investigation into his past. Of course, aside from a total lack of evidence, the theory just doesn’t gel because Morrison refused to rent himself to any political causes. So why would “the man” hassle with a political hit?
The occult theories about Morrison’s death sprout from his well-known dabbling in the esoteric arts (he was “married” in a Wiccan ceremony and believed that an Indian spirit inhabited his body). One had it that he died when someone plucked his eyes out with a knife to “free his soul.” Another supernatural theory proposed that a jilted mistress in New York killed Morrison via transatlantic witchcraft. Some chose to think that Jim’s spirit had sloughed off its mortal coil (as Courson claimed he had often done during trances), but his time canceled the return trip.
The most popular theories have it that Morrison, the martyred artist in a Jesus Christ, Superstar sense, somehow defied death, either metaphysically or literally. Morrison gets out alive!
As James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky wrote in their Morrison biography, Break On Through, his “bizarre lifestyle inspired such thinking.” Morrison’s notorious disappearances had sparked death rumors before, and the confusion surrounding his apparently authentic death only egged on speculation. He had often talked about scrapping the burdens of super-celebrity by faking his own death and vanishing into the heart of Africa or some other suitably mysterious place. He told intimates that he would use the nom de guerre Mr. Mojo Risin’ (the famous anagram of Jim Morrison in the song, “L.A. Woman”) to contact them after he had “split to Africa.” And Morrison was fascinated with conspiratorial scenarios that had the Disciples stealing the body of Christ from the crypt in what he jokingly called “the Easter Heist.”
Not surprisingly, then, the sightings began soon after his “death,” at first in Paris, and then in Los Angeles, where a black-leather-bedecked Morrison reportedly hung out in underground gay nightclubs. A Bank of America employee in San Francisco claimed to be handling the account of someone calling himself and resembling Jim Morrison, although the clerk, later contacted by journalists, admitted he wasn’t certain it was the Doors singer. In 1974, the rumor mill shifted into overdrive when Capitol Records released an album called Phantom’s Divine Comedy, with a band identified as drummer X, Bassist Y, and keyboardist Z – and with a lead singer who sounded eerily like Morrison. (A recent account has it that the Morrison sound-alike was actually proto-punk rocker Iggy Pop.)
One legend, described in Break on Through, had it that “at an obscure radio station in the Midwest Jim supposedly showed up in the dead of the night and did a lengthy interview that explained it all.” Of course, after the interview the mystery dude vanished again, and “no recordings of the interview exist.”
Other rumors placed Morrison in Louisiana, where he was said to be living a secret life. In what looks like a connection to the Bank of America sightings, the incognito Morrison purportedly wrote and published a 1975 book called The Bank of America of Louisiana, under the auspices of the Zeppelin Publishing Company. The Book’s disclaimer, which states that names in this fiction “based on fact” had to be changed or “I would find myself back in the courts,” is signed “Jim Morrison.” The final line in the book is cryptically hoaky, just as we’d expect from an immortal sixties rocker: “B of A & Company, USA…where monkey business is big business.”
But these sorts of rumors were inspiring, at least to a group of fans who, armed with Morrison’s dental records, attempted to exhume the peregrinating corpse’s casket – without success. Eventually, though, even Doors keyboardist May Manzarek was moved to remark, “If there’s one guy who would have been capable of staging his own death – getting a phony death certificate or paying off some French doctor… and putting a hundred and fifty pounds of sand into a coffin and splitting to some point on this planet – Africa, who knows where – Jim Morrison would have been the guy to pull it off.”
The speculation only gets funkier and, or course, foggier.
Thanks to the fact that Morrison’s mother, Steven Morrison, had been an admiral in the U.S. Navy, and was therefore “privy to intelligence and counterintelligence information,” theories of an espionage role in Jim’s death inevitably sprouted. According to conspiratologist Thomas Lyttle, a Scandinavian magazine published an article “detailing French intelligence efforts to assassinate Jim Morrison in Paris.”
In his mondo Morrison essay in the anthology, Secret and Suppressed, not only does Lyttle fuse the espionage and spooky mystical theories, he mounts that double-header to the Louisiana Doppelganger, breeding a full-tilt conspiracy Cerberus.
Lyttle begins with the theory that crass commercial interests intervened in Morrison’s spiritual transmigration (just as record execs compromised his earthly artistry). How Lyttle gets from A to B to C is a bit confusing, but boiled down to basics: he contends that Morrison dabbled in voodoo/voudon mysticism, which holds that the soul or aura needs a few months’ quality time in which to successfully split to the beyond. Voodoo high priests, according to this tradition, have been known to intercept astral-bound souls, collecting their prize in a clay jar called a canari. This raises the question: Was Morrison’s aura “bought and sold and then collected on that fateful day in Paris when he ‘died”?”
According to Lyttle, the canari that captured Morrison’s elemental identity was none other than Zeppelin Publishing Company, the same Louisiana outfit behind the aforementioned Jim Morrison/B or A book. (Lyttle states, but doesn’t exactly prove, that the original Jim Morrison founded the Zpeelein organization himself, which seems to suggest that Morrison 1 approved the sale of his soul.) and the “high priest”? again, according to Lyttle it was the mysterious proprietor of “B of A Company,” who “owns an active passport and Ids under the name of James Douglas Morrison and claims to actually be the not-so-dead rock star!”
What this means is that the should of Morrison 1 possesses the physical body of the mysterious Morrison 2, to whom Lyttle assigns the shorthand, JM2. And apparently JM2 was into more than just sex, drugs, and morose poetry. According to Lyttle, JM2 “Claimed to be operating as an intelligence agent for a number of domestic and international groups including the CIA, NSA, Interpol, Swedish Intelligence, and others.” Lyttle reports that he has seen documents, presumably provided by JM2, purporting to chronicle JM2’s CIA work and “rogue financial activities with the Bank of America” on behalf of intelligence agencies, including “experiments to destabilize foreign currencies.” Lyttle warns that he can’t authenticate these papers, “but everything looked extremely official and very elaborte,” he reassures.
Appropriately so, for JM2’s plot is wonderfully elaborate. As Lyttle reports, JM2 has claimed publicly that there are “numerous” Morrison doubles doing yeoman’s work in an obscure espionage cabal involving CIA sociological experiments. What’s more, all the James Douglas Morrisons “knew one another and met from time to time to work it all out.”
Whew. It makes you wonder whether that “Paul McCartney is Dead” hoax was in fact orchestrated by James Bond’s archnemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
JM2’s astral projections notwithstanding, a more mundane explanation for the suspicious secrecy surrounding the original Morrison’s death emerged in the 1991 biography Break on Through. Although Pamela Courson took her secret to the grave in 1974 after overdosing on heroin, authors Riordan nd Prochnicky interviewed close friends to whom she had confided.
They reported that a despondent Morrison found Courson’s heroin stash and overdosed – perhaps snorting it, for he was afraid of needles – in the Parisian flat. The next morning Courson discovered the corpse, and with the help of a close friend, attempted to prevent the sort of media circus that paraded around the drug-related deaths of Hendrix and Joplin. Somehow, Courson and company managed to persuade a French doctor to certify the death as a heart attack, thereby precluding an official autopsy. Meanwhile, they inveigled permission to lay Morrison to rest quietly in Pere-Lachaise, days before informing the world, hardly knowing that they’d also laid the foundation for Morrison’s mythological resurrection.