James Douglas “Jim” Morrison was born on this day December 8, 1943 and was an American musician, singer, and poet, best known as the lead singer and lyricist of the rock band The Doors. Following The Doors’ explosive rise to fame in 1967, Morrison developed a severe alcohol and drug dependency which culminated in his untimely death in Paris in 1971 at age 27, due to a suspected heroin overdose. However, the events surrounding his death continue to be the subject of controversy, as no autopsy was performed on his body after death, and the exact cause of his death is disputed by many to this day. Morrison was well-known for often improvising spoken word poetry passages while the band played live. Due to his wild personality and performances, he is regarded by some people as one of the most iconic, charismatic and pioneering frontmen in rock music history. Morrison was ranked number 47 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”, and number 22 on Classic Rock Magazine’s “50 Greatest Singers In Rock”.
In the summer of 1965, after graduating from the UCLA, Morrison led a bohemian lifestyle in Venice Beach. Living on the rooftop of a building inhabited by his old UCLA cinematography friend Dennis Jakobs, he wrote the lyrics of many of the early songs the Doors would later perform live and record on albums, the most notable being “Moonlight Drive” and “Hello, I Love You”. According to Jakobs, he lived on canned beans and LSD for several months. Morrison and fellow UCLA student Ray Manzarek were the first two members of The Doors, forming the group during that same Summer of 1965. They had previously met months earlier as fellow cinematography students. The now-legendary story claims that Manzarek was lying on the beach at Venice one day, accidentally encountered Morrison, he was impressed with Morrison’s poetic lyrics, claiming that they were “rock group” material. Thereafter, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger joined. Krieger auditioned at Densmore’s recommendation and was then added to the lineup. All three musicians shared a common interest in the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s meditation practices at the time, attending scheduled classes, but Morrison was not involved in this series of classes, claiming later that he “did not meditate”. The Doors took their name from the title of Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception (a reference to the “unlocking” of “doors of perception” through psychedelic drug use). Huxley’s own title was a quotation from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in which Blake wrote: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
The Doors achieved national recognition after signing with Elektra Records in 1967. The single “Light My Fire” spent three weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in July/August 1967. Later, The Doors appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, a popular Sunday night variety series that had introduced The Beatles and Elvis Presley to the United States. Ed Sullivan requested two songs from The Doors for the show, “People Are Strange”, and “Light My Fire”. Sullivan’s censors insisted that The Doors change the lyrics of the song “Light My Fire” from “Girl we couldn’t get much higher” to “Girl we couldn’t get much better” for the television viewers; this was reportedly due to what was perceived as a reference to drugs in the original lyrics. After giving assurances of compliance to Sullivan, Morrison then proceeded to sing the song with the original lyrics anyway. When Morrison was later asked why he defied Sullivan’s instructions to change the lyrics to the song, he flatly said that he simply forgot to make the change. This so infuriated Sullivan that he refused to shake hands with Morrison, or any other member of the band, after their performance and had a show producer tell the band that they will never do The Ed Sullivan Show again. Morrison reportedly said to the producer, in a defiant tone, “Hey man. We just did the Sullivan Show!”
Not just a song-writer, Morrison also began writing in earnest during his adolescence. At UCLA he studied the related fields of theater, film, and cinematography.He self-published two separate volumes of his poetry in 1969, entitled The Lords / Notes on Vision and The New Creatures. The Lords consists primarily of brief descriptions of places, people, events and Morrison’s thoughts on cinema., but The New Creatures verses are more poetic in tone.
Jim Morrison’s vocal influences included Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, which is evident in his own baritone crooning style used in several of The Doors songs. It is mentioned within the pages of “No One Here Gets Out Alive” by Danny Sugerman, that Morrison as a teenager was such a fan of Presley’s music that he demanded people be quiet when Elvis was on the radio. The Frank Sinatra influence is mentioned in the pages of “The Doors, The Illustrated History” also by Sugerman, where Frank Sinatra is listed on Morrison’s Band Bio as being his favorite singer.
Morrison was, and continues to remain, one of the most popular and influential singer-songwriters in rock history. The Doors’ catalog has become a unequivocal staple of classic rock radio stations. To this day Morrison is widely regarded as the prototypical rock-star: surly, sexy, scandalous and mysterious. The leather pants he was fond of wearing both onstage and off have since become stereotyped as rock-star apparel. In 2011, a Rolling Stone readers’ pick placed Jim Morrison in fifth place of the magazine’s “Best Lead Singers of All Time”. He died suddenly on July 3, 1971 and the exact cause of his death is sill disputed by many to this day.