by Randal Hill
He was genius-level brilliant, as handsome as a Greek god, and his
rich baritone voice defined late 1960s rock. But to everyone who knew James
Douglas Morrison, the Doors’ lead singer, he was also a frustrating study in rebellion and excess and, ultimately, self-destruction.
The son of a Navy admiral and his wife, Morrison was born in 1943
in Melbourne. He graduated from high school in Virginia in
1961, attended St. Petersburg College in Clearwater,
transferred to Florida State University, and eventually moved to Los Angeles
to earn a B.A. in film studies at UCLA. After graduation in 1965, he
devoured philosophy books and wrote dark, abstract poetry and offbeat
At a Santa Monica dive called the Turkey Joint West, former fellow UCLA film
school grad, Ray Manzarek, led a blues band called Rick and the Ravens. One night Manzarek invited his former classmate onstage. Morrison, unprepared for his stage
debut, belted out Louie Louie until his voice went hoarse.
Manzarek eventually broke up his
band and re-formed it as the Doors,
with himself as keyboardist, Morrison
as lead singer, and friends Robbie
Krieger on guitar and John Densmore
on drums. They chose their new name
from Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of
Perception, a book that advocated the
use of psychedelic drugs.
The quartet became a fixture at hip
Sunset Boulevard clubs before signing
with Elektra Records late in 1966. The
Doors, the first of their ten platinum selling albums, featured Light My
Fire. The original track ran over seven minutes in length—much too long for
radio airplay. Trimmed to under three minutes, Light My Fire rocketed to
Number One on the 1967 Billboard charts.
When the Doors performed Light
My Fire on The Ed Sullivan Show,
the boundary-pushing Morrison
reluctantly promised to sing “Girl,
we couldn’t get much better, ”
substituting “better” for “higher,”
which Sullivan feared was a drug
reference. Actually, its meaning
was intended to be erotic. Morrison
defiantly sang the original lyrics
when the show was aired live. The band was never invited back.
On July 3, 1971, Morrison was found dead in the bathtub at his Paris
apartment; his heart failed due to substance abuse. He was 27 years old.
It was reported that he had the slightest of smiles on his face.
Randal C. Hill, a former disc jockey, English teacher, record collector and author,
confesses to being hopelessly stuck in the past when it comes to music appreciation. He lives on the Oregon coast and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.