The Doors frontman was supposed to go to the French capital to find inspiration, but found only disintegration. Sophia Deboick pieces together his final weeks.
For three days after his death in an apartment at Number 17 Rue Beautreillis, Jim Morrison’s body remained at the property. Wrapped in plastic and packed in dry ice, it was kept in the bathtub where his girlfriend Pamela Courson had found him, lifeless and submerged in the still warm water, at around 6am, on Saturday July 3, 1971. It stayed there until undertakers finally delivered the coffin she had ordered (the cheapest model available, worth around £30). At some point during those 72 hours, a doctor visited the flat and signed a death certificate. The official cause was listed as heart failure. No post mortem examination was performed.
The body was finally laid to rest the following Wednesday, at an unmarked grave in Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery, located in the Poet’s Corner near 17th century playwright Molière. There were fewer than half a dozen mourners in attendance. It was only the day after the funeral that news of Morrison’s death was announced, to a questioning world. Was there a police investigation? Why was there no post mortem? Who was the examining doctor? (Courson, according to some reports, could not remember the medic’s name, and his signature on the death certificate was illegible). Why weren’t Morrison’s parents told? (The authorities were apparently notified he had no immediate family, paving the way for a quick, no-questions-asked burial.)
In the almost half a century since the death, such questions have remained, fuelling a vivid array of conspiracy theories, from those suggesting the lead singer of The Doors was the target of a CIA operation to assassinate counterculture heroes to others suggesting he was victim of a Wiccan hex or simply faked the whole thing. The truth is that the reality of his sad, lonely death in Paris can be found in the four months that led up to it…
The New European, 12 July 2018, pp. 31-35.