The London Observer recently named Alex Constantine's THE COVERT WAR AGAINST ROCK (Feral House, 2000) among the best 50 rock books ever written. This examination of the probable murder of a cultural icon - one of many whose political wings were made of wax - is a chapter from the book.
Fragrance de CHAOS:
Investigative Findings on the Death of Jim Morrison
By Alex Constantine
THERE IS MENACE UNDER THE MUSIC, BUT SOMETHING IS BEING HELD BACK.
A SENSE OF ANGER, RAGE AND BETRAYAL. BENT OVER THE MIKE, MORRISON, WHO FOUR DAYS LATER WOULD GIVE HIS LAST CONCERT THEN ABANDON THE BAND, LEAVING ROCK BEHIND, IS AT HIS PROVOCATIVE, INFLAMMATORY, CONFRONTATIONAL BEST, REPEATING HIMSELF OVER AND OVER AGAIN. "ROCK IS DEAD. ROCK IS DEAD. IT'S DYING. IT'S OVER. IT'S OVER. ROCK N ROLL IS DEAD."
IF NOSTALGIA ISN'T WHAT IT USED TO BE, NEITHER IS ROCK. WEIGHED DOWN BY ITS OWN MYTHOLOGICAL PAST, TOP-HEAVY BECAUSE OF THE UNNATURAL LONGEVITY OF TOO MANY BANDS, BLOATED BECAUSE OF THE SIZE OF THE CORPORATIONS THAT DOMINATE THE INDUSTRY, ROCK MUSIC
HAS ALWAYS BEEN TOO SUCCESSFUL FOR ITS OWN GOOD. - Michael Epis, Australian Critic
Jim Morrison's body was found by Pamela Courson, Morrison's common-law wife, in the bathtub at their flat in Paris, France in the early morning hours of July 3rd, 1971 -- exactly two years after the death of Brian Jones.(1)
The New York Times reported, "Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors rock group, died last Saturday in Paris, his public relations firm said today." The death was initially attributed to "natural causes", "pneumonia", and finally (but by no means conclusively) "heart failure".(2) "Details were withheld pending the return of Mr. Morrison's agent from France. Funeral services were held in Paris today. In his black leather jacket and skin-tight vinyl pants, Jim Morrison personified rock music's image of superstar as sullen, mystical sexual poet.
The surviving Doors, Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore, discussed Morrison's death in an interview conducted on February 11, 1983 by BBC-2's Robin Denselow at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Manzarek recalled his state of denial upon learning of Morrison's death, and weighed the possibility of political assassination.
Manzarek: We got a phone call. I got a phone call Saturday morning saying Jim Morrison is dead in Paris ... Yeah, yeah, yeah ... sure, right. John had talked to him a couple of weeks beforehand and he's dead.
Q: What about CIA involvement?
Manzarek: Well, I've heard that theory, yeah, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix. Black man, white man, white woman. You know, the flowering of American youth in poetry and art and music ... trying to stop it all. It's conceivable ...
Densmore: There was definitely some political weirdness at Miami, that (obscenity charge) coming down.
Krieger: And there was an FBI file on Morrison that we got a hold of, so the government was aware of The Doors ...
Morrison's spontaneous political outbursts in rock press interviews attracted FBI attention: "I like ideas about the breaking away or overthrowing of established order," he announced. "I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos -- especially activity that seems to have no meaning. It seems to me the road toward freedom -- external revolt is a way to bring about internal freedom." (3)
In another interview, Manzarek considered possible motives for eliminating the anarchistic Lizard King:
They were going to stop all of rock n roll by stopping The Doors. As far as Americans were concerned, he was the most dangerous ... Janis Joplin was just a white woman singing about getting drunk and laid a lot, and Jimi Hendrix was a black guy singing, "Let's get high". Morrison was singing "We want the world and we want it now." There was plenty of hounding.
FBI harrassment, in fact, rendered Morrison so anxiety-ridden that he contracted an ulcer by his mid-20s -- a condition not exactly conducive to overthrowing the established order. "Paranoia" struck deep, and biographers James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky confirm that Morrison was a "marked man".
The busts took their toll on Morrison ... By 1970 he was still reeling from the effects of one federal trial and about to face another. And the FBI had marked him. It was they who made the charges in Miami stick ... Morrison was guilty before he was arrested. But the particular crimes were not the problem. The real issue was because he was guilty of being Jim Morrison, a larger-than-life symbol of rebellion to the youth of America, and thereby a threat.
The busts cost Morrison a great deal of money, but more than that they wore him down and sapped his enthusiasm for life. "The vice squad would be at the side of the stage with our names filled in on the warrants, just waiting to write in the offense," Manzarek recollected. "Narks to the left, vice squad to the right, into the valley of death rode the four ... They wanted to stop Morrison. They wanted to show him that he couldn't get away with it.
Like Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix before him, and many rock musicians to follow, Morrison was consumed by "paranoia" as historian Marianne Sinclair observes:
Inevitably, Morrison and the Doors became a focus for attack and victimization by the conventional forces of society ... Doors' performances were frequently cancelled at the last minute through the efforts of local do-gooders, and audiences were regularly clubbed by policemen during concerts ... This was too much for Morrison, within whom the forces of destruction had already been long at work. A heavy user of LSD and an alcoholic who could get drunk at any time of the day or night on whatever happened to be handy, Morrison seemed hell-bent on killing himself young. He once described his drinking as "not suicide, but slow capitulation". What he was capitulating to was his own need to block out the sense of frustration, despair and growing paranoia. (6)
Morrison's death was followed by press reports noting federal interest in Morrison's life, political views and, significantly, all independent investigations of his death.
Researcher Thomas Lyttle gathered up leads in the international press:
One of the more explicit appeared in the Scandinavian magazine Dagblatte.
This article detailed French intelligence efforts to assassinate Jim Morrison in Paris.
In France, the Documentation Exterieure et De Contre Espionage (SDECE) performs internal security functions. Under DeGaulle, it was SDECE's policy to resist and oppos the CIA, with the exception of a small contingent within the bureau enlisted to collaborate secretly with Langley. Under Pompidou and d'Estang, the domestic French intelligence service was ordered to cooperate fully with US intelligence agents and would have been drawn into any assassination plans in Paris conceived by the CIA. (8)
SDECE assassins are highly-trained and were certainly capable of killing Morrison discreetly, leaving no trace of their complicity. There are precedents. In 1962, an SDECE agent code-named Laurent rigged the Rome-bound flight of a plane, and Italian oil millionaire Enrico Mattei died in the crash. The magnate's offense: a planned take-over of French interests in Algerian oil. Time magazine reporter William McHale was also killed. (9) At the behest of their American counterparts in Virginia, the "Murder Committee" of de Centre Espionage was undeniably capable of eliminating a troublesome rock celebrity and burying the evidence.
Bob Seymore pieced together official documents for The End, his book on the peculiar circumstances surrounding Morrison's death, and soon found himself immersed in a sea of contradictions and unanswered questions. One of the most troubling was his belief that Pamela Courson withheld evidence, and that friends Alan Ronay, Agnes Varda and Bill Siddons "know more than they have revealed in public". Morrison biographer Danny Sugarman told Seymore that he had government documents through Freedom of Information Act requests for files pertaining to Morrison's death. Seymore writes:
"I asked if Danny had seen such documents, then why were there no details of any of them in his book? He said that Pamela had told him things about Jim's death that he promised he would never divulge ... "(10)
Sugarman is married to indicted Contragate co-conspirator Fawn Hall, Oliver North's secretary at the National Security Council, who shredded an 18-inch file of documents linking the Reagan administration to the diversion o funds from Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras on November 21, 1986, and quipped before a Congressional committee, "Sometimes you have to go above the law" (ironic in light of her admission to the DEA during a federal drug investigation in 1989 that she "used cocaine many times" in her three years as an NSC staffer) -- and he has concealed evidence that would shed light on Morrison's death.
Morrison with Pamela Courson
Why suppress evidence of this significance to the historical record?
Supposedly because Sugarman "promised Pam" he would conceal and suppress certain facts, as he explained to Seymore. Danny Sugarman predictably rejects all "conspiracy theories" out of hand, but he is himself involved in a conspiracy of silence, ignoring not only official intelligence files but the aforementioned reports on prior attempts by French intelligence agents to murder Jim Morrison -- a documented "finger on the trigger", a conspiracy -- and instead stating that Morrison did, per the official verdict,
suffer some sort of cardiopulmonary arrest at the tender age of 27 in Paris. But when pressed to account for the gaping discrepancies in the case -- for instance, heart failure causes anguished thrashing and ordinarily does not leave a smile, such as the one reported by Courson and the paramedics, on the victims's face -- Sugarman concedes that Morrison's death "could have involved a number of factors", and when cornered by Seymore, reluctantly conceded:
You could say that the CIA and other intelligence agencies may have had a hand in the deaths of Hendrix, Janis Joplin and then Morrison. Simply for the reason that they were the leaders of a generation during the 1960s.(11)
You could also say that Morrison was viewed as an anarchistic defiler of "restless youth" in some loops on the Washington Beltway, according to Sugarman's own best-selling biography:
Jim was certainly popular enough, and more threateningly, smart enough to cause the powers that be ample reason to take some sort of action to prevent his subversive influence. Surely the authorities were wary of him.(12)
THE DOORS OF DECEPTION
How wary? Enough to keep secret files on Morrison. Enough to spread false rumors to the effect that he had faked his own death to deflect attention from political assassination. The "conspiracy", as charted by Sugarman and others, was a hoax hatched by Morrison to "fake his own death". A book, The Bank of America of Louisiana, appeared in 1975, supposedly written
by Morrison, the source of the rumor.(13) In No One Here Gets Out Alive, a sensational history larded with drug-and-sex debauchery, Sugarman and Hopkins devote an entire chapter to "evidence" that Morrison had survived Paris and launched a new life free from the encumbrances of celebrity and the FBI.
The rumor was a deliberate obfuscation conducted by unknown covert operators. The proper question is "Who killed Morrison?", not "Is he still alive and working for the Bank of America?"
Author Thomas Lyttle writes:
"In the first few years after Morrison's death, the owner of B of A Communications, named James Douglas Morrison, 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. There are also connections between James Douglas Morrison and various occult groups with probably intelligence connections ... JM2 also claims to be the "dead" rock star and former singer for The Doors. The new JM2 dropped the old JM1 rock and roll identity to become 'James Bond.'"
The author has in fact seen what appears to be stacks of official-looking
documents and letters between the CIA, various governmental agencies,
national news groups like CNN and NBC and JM2, involving what looked
like personal meetings, projects and ephemera. Of special interest is that when I viewed parts of the files, all the reports had a paper-thin metallic band affixed to them with colored UPC bar codes. There is no way for me to authenticate the claims of JM2, but everything looked extremely official and very elaborate ...
A courtroom transcript which I have seen implicates the FBI and CIA in several coverups regarding JM2's intelligence career. These show that there seems to be a systematic destruction of files relating to JM2's spy activities ... Also in my possession are files concerning JM2's rogue financial activities with the Bank of America, and news reports regarding lawsuits by and against JM2 for bank fraud and espionage.
There also appear to be hundreds if not thousands of miscellaneous files ...
These involve the CIA, Danish intelligence, and others. There are also an
active passport and banking IDs under the name of James Douglas Morrison.
Is this all for real or is this an elaborate hoax? ... The important thing to note for the sake of this study is that someone or some group is actively pursuing and setting up a mass "urban legend" regarding James Morrison. They are painstakingly documenting it also. Whether this is a hoax or not is not as important as the fact that a lot of official-looking information is being generated surrounding the muth and legend of Jim Morrison.(14)
Any account of the second Morrison's career (according to Daniel Brandt's NameBase website, an index of names related to intelligence activity, the CIA employs one James Douglas Morrison, an active agent stationed in France) would be incomplete without the names of the Morrison double's Agency contacts, particularly William Colby, a CIA director under Richard Nixon. Since 1972, Morrison's double has left a surreal international trail of paper. The documents include letters to and from Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards and late CIA director William Colby, through the Washington, DC law firm of Colby, Miller and Hanes.
The day before his death, the original Jim Morrison sent a telegram to Jonathan Dolger, a publishing contact in New York, about changing the cover of a book of poetry written by the Door. Bob Seymore, trying to piece together Morrison's final days in Paris, phoned Dolger and discovered that someone else was interested in that telegram:
"Oh, my God," (Dolger) said. It was as though he had been woken up from an old nightmare. I asked him about the telegram but he said that he no longer had it. At first he thought maybe his former employers had it in their files ... Then he realized that a man whose name he had forgotten contacted him to ask if he could have the telegram Jim sent. This was a month after Jim died and the person said he was with Jim when he died ... (15)
There are a score of unknowns to resolve before writing Morrison off as a crazed narco-rocker bent on self-destruction:
* The cause of Jim Morrison's death was an unspecified "heart failure", so states the forensic examiner's report, not an "attack" or "seizure". The heart failed, quit. Dr. Vasille noted "a little blood round the nostrils", indicating a hemorrhage, inconsistent with heart failure. Paramedics from the local Fire Brigade reported that Morrison was still smiling when they arrived, also not consistent with the officially-stated cause of death.
* Dr. Derwin, the singer's personal physician, told representatives of the media industry: "Jim Morrison was in excellent health before traveling to Paris." (16) Pam Courson, the last person to see him alive, wrote in her signed statement to Paris police that the night before his death, Morrison "looked in good health, he seemed very happy".(17)
* No autopsy was performed -- a probable violation of French law and certain violation of French custom.
* Two persons could answer questions about the odd death: Ms. Courson died of "apparent overdose" herself on April 24, 1974 -- a few days before a judge would have ruled in her favor concerning a dispute over the distribution of the Morrison inheritance, a decision that would have brought her, as Morrison's common- law wife and sole heir, a quarter of the Doors' income and an immediate payment of half a million dollars (18) -- and
Dr. Max Vassille, the medical examiner, consistently turns down all interviews related to Morrison's death.
* Pamela's friends, James Riordan reports in Break on Through, believe she was murdered: some "suspect foul play, saying that although Pam had been using heroin, she could not shoot herself up. She always had to have someone else do it. Whoever did it, they claim, knew he or she was injecting her with a lethal (dose),", a "hot-shot".(20)
Jim Morrison died in a bathtub, this much is certain based on the statements of Courson, friends of Morrison close to the case, and Paris officials.
Dr. Vassille estimated the time of death to be 5:00 AM. Paramedics arrived at the flat at exactly 9:24 AM, an interval of nearly four and a half hours, but the bath water, they reported, was still "lukewarm". So Morrison probably
died two-three hours later than the death certificate claims. This would place the time of death closer to 7-8 AM.
Pamela Courson told police that Morrison had choked in his sleep, that she shook him awake. He was in wretched condition and told her that a bath might make him feel better. This was roughly 2:30 in the morning.
Courson told police that she fell asleep and awoke to discover the body in the bathtub at about 5AM. The timeline revised by water temperature leads to the inescapable conclusion that he was alive after the estimated time of death.
The statements of witnesses and officials clash, and this often happens when fear or coercion forces them to fabricate cover stories. It's entirely possible that Courson was threatened, or feared to implicate others, and this is why Sugarman mumbles that she and all close to the case "knew more about Morrison's death" than they ever revealed -- exactly as witnesses to the murder of Brian Jones did under duress for thirty years. Dr. Vassille may have been forced by Pamela Courson's statements to find the time of death at 5AM. This and his refusal to talk to the press suggest that the medical examiner was also under pressure -- orders from superiors, threats to himself or his family -- and suppressed information regarding Morrison's death.
What were they concealing? Patricia Keneally believes that her husband-by-pagan-ceremony overdosed on heroin. She sides with the late Albert Goldman on this particular point, although in general she steadfastly rejects the "noxious lie-o-rama" allegations that "Albert Golddigger" made concerning the deceased Door.
Dr. John Morgan has written more than 100 articles and books on clinical pharmacology, and "declares Jim to have quite likely died, in his opinion, of a prolonged heroin overdose, an overdose drawn out into respiratory depression over several hours because Jim did not shoot the smack but snorted it," Keneally wrote in 1997.
Other medical specialists consulted by her agreed with this diagnosis, finding "nasal or esophageal varices as the likely cause of Jim's reported profuse bleeding". Dr Morgan: "Pam's versions certainly indicate that he was snorting heroin. A nasal or oral dose would delay the decline into respiratory death." The OD was gradual and evidently not traumatic, to judge by the smile on his face when found.
The consensus among most investigative reporters, medical consultants, and Morrison's circle of friends is also that he overdosed on heroin. Pamela's closest friend at the time of Morrison's death, Diane Gardiner, told biographer James Riordan that Courson had "confessed" to her. Courson "told me a lot about Jim's death. It's true that he got into some of Pam's drugs and overdosed." (22)
Pamela told Gardiner that Morrison -- who mortally feared the narcotic after the death of Janis Joplin and ordinarily avoided it -- was deeply depressed and intended to numb the pain by helping himself to her provisions: "She started telling me something about Jim's death being her fault and that he had found out she was doing heroin, and 'You know Jim, of course he wanted to try it.' Then she looked at me and said, 'It was my stash -- Jim didn't know how to score. He knew how to drink.' She said that later he didn't feel well and decided to take a bath and she nodded out. But when I pressed her for details, she suddenly denied the whole thing."(23)
A similar account was told by Alan Ronay, a friend of Jim Morrison's since UCLA film school, one of the last to see the rocker alive. Ronay told a reporter for Paris Match in 1991 that Morrison was still alive when Pam awoke and found him in the bath, a version that conforms to the revised timeline. Ronay said that Pamela pulled him aside after the medical examiners arrived and confided that Morrison had been snorting heroin for 48 hours when she and Morrison fell asleep listening to the first Doors LP. He was choking in his sleep and struggling for air, and she woke him up and helped him to the bath. She fell asleep and woke up again to find that he hadn't returned to bed, discovering him bleeding from the nose and vomiting blood into a pot. Then he told her that he felt better and she should go back to bed. He died shortly thereafter. Pamela told Ronay, "Jim looked so calm. He was smiling."(24)
Did he ingest poisoned opiate or a "hot shot"? If the posthumous revelations are correct, Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson were both killed by lethal doses of heroin. The absence of an autopsy report precludes any attempt to determine the true cause of Morrison's death, and some of the troubling questions raised here may never be resolved completely if Danny Sugarman, the CIA rumor mongers, and an indifferent press have their way, which raises one more pertinent question: What's it to them?
(1) Laura Jackson, Golden Stone: The Untold Life and Tragic Death of Brian Jones, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992, pg. 214. Jackson places the exact time of death sometime between 1130 on July 2 and midnight on July 3, the official date.
(2) Doctor Max Vassille, forensic doctor, stated in his medical report that Morrison's death was "natural due to heart failure" -- Bob Seymore, "The End: "The Death of Jim Morrison" London, Omnibus Press, 1991, pp. 61, 63.
(3) Quoted in the original Elektra Records bio release, 1967.
(4) James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky, "Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison" New York: William Morrow, 1991, p. 375.
(5) Riordan Prochnicky, p. 376.
(6) Marianne Sinclair, "Those Who Died Young" Longdon: Plexus Publishing, 1979.
(7) Thomas Lyttle, Rumors, Myths, and Urban Legends Surrounding the Death of Jim Morrison, in "Secret and Supressed" Jim Keith, editor, Portland: Feral House, 1993, p. 117.
(8) Henrik Kruger, "The Great Heroin Coup: Drugs, Intelligence, and International Fascism", Boston: South End Press, 1980, p. 49.
(9) Kruger, p. 47.
(10) Seymore, p. 44, 78.
(12) Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman, No One Here Gets Out Alive, New York: Warner, 1981, p. 372.
(13) Jim Morrison, The Bank of America of Louisiana, (no city listed): Zeppelin Publishing Corp, 1975.
(14) Lyttle, pg 117-18. The impersonations, Lyttle explains, "were part of sociological experiments like Artichoke or MKULTRA" (p. 119), CIA mind control projects of the 1950s.
(15) Seymore, p. 77.
(17) Seymore, p. 56.
(18) Hopkins / Sugarman, p. 376-77. Also, Pamela Des Barres, "Rock Bottom: "Dark Moments in Music Babylon", New York: St. Martin's, 1996, p. 211.
(19) Seymore, p 77.
(20) Riordan and Prochnicky, pg 484.
(21) Patricia Keneally, "An Open Letter to Jim's Fans", October, 1997.
(22) Riordan / Prochnicky, p. 458.
(24) Des Barres, p. 211.