Had he not overdosed in Paris in 1971, The Doors’ Jim Morrison would have been 67 years old this December 8.
The legendary frontman called his childhood “an open sore,” and told his band that he was an “orphan.” Later they discovered he had a mother after all. In 1967, she was sitting in a front row seat her son, The Lizard King, as Morrison sometimes took to calling himself, had reserved for her in the Washington auditorium. During the show’s climactic number, "The End," he sang “Mother, I want to…” then barred his teeth and snarled “F—- You!” He refused to see her again. Nor did he ever again see his father, a Navy admiral. “Father?” he sang in “The End,” “I want to kill you!”
George Morrison, the only son of a Methodist laundry owner in Georgia, was a career Naval officer. He had named Jimmy after General Douglas MacArthur, and expected his son to follow his footsteps. Soon after the boy was born in the middle of World War II, his father shipped out to fly Hellcat fighters in the South Pacific. After the war, he was promoted to become the youngest admiral in the history of the Navy.
Due to the admiral’s career, the Morrisons were always on the move. By age four, Jimmy had already lived in five different places, coast to coast. Since his father was gone for long periods, his mother Clara became the disciplinarian. Jimmy grew rebellious. Returning home from duty, his father, accustomed to thousands of men obeying his command promptly and without question, had no patience with his first son’s insubordination and backtalk. He spared no effort trying to get the boy on the straight and narrow.
In disciplining his eldest son, George Morrison used a military “dressing down” approach: he would humiliate the boy to submission and apology. When this became less effective with his precocious, increasingly rebellious son, Admiral Morrison got old-fashioned. According to one biographer, Stephen Davis, the father beat his son with a baseball bat. Jim also confided to his lawyer that his father had sexually assaulted him, and that he never forgave his mother for allowing it. Clara dismissed the charge as one of her son’s malicious lies. “In spite of his medals,” said Jim of his father, “he’s a weakling who let her [his wife] castrate him.”
Moving from town to town and school to school, though the admiral’s son never grew close to anyone, he made friends quickly. His classmates found him funny, if scary at times, and elected him president of his fifth grade class. At George Washington High in Alexandria, Virginia, Jim made the honor roll with little effort. He had an I.Q. of 149.
While Commander Morrison was busy at the Pentagon, Cape Canaveral, or on the Navy golf course, and Clara at officers’ wives club meetings, the teenage Jim was holed up in his basement room devouring Kerouac, Blake, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, de Sade, Burroughs, and Frederick Nietzsche.
In 1962, Morrison entered Florida State University. Free of adult supervision at last, he was determined to “try everything” now. He started experimenting with drugs at FSU.
After his junior year, the wayward son saw his father for the last time. His mother insisted he wear new clothes and get a haircut, so as not to look like a “beatnik” on arrival in San Diego where the admiral commanded the Navy’s largest carrier. Jim begrudgingly consented. But no sooner did he board the USS Bonnie Dick, than his old man sent him to the ship barber for a regulation Navy buzzcut. Then he let his shorn son blow off steam by shooting dummies in the ocean with a machine gun.
Against his parents’ wishes, Jim transferred from FSU to the UCLA Film School, among the most radical liberal arts programs anywhere. A few years after his graduation, his kid brother, Andy, brought “The Doors” debut album home, saying “You’re not gonna believe it, Mom – it’s Jimmy!”
According to biographers, Clara had wanted to hire a private detective to track her oldest down, but her husband had forbidden it. So she now contacted Jim through his record company, Elecktra.
Inviting him home “for an old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner,” Clara pleaded over the phone, “Will you do your mother a big favor? You know how your father is, will you get a haircut before you come home?” Jimmy told her he had a previous engagement at the Fillmore, but would get her tickets to his Washington concert where he would say his final and fond goodbye to her in “The End.”
Eighteen months later the self-described “Erotic Politician” played at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, Florida, his home state. “I wanna change the world,” he roared drunkenly to the audience of 13,000. “ Let’s see some action out there! No limits. No laws!” Then he exposed himself. Allegedly. “It was a good way to pay homage to my parents,” he said afterwards. “
Morrison was arrested for Lewd and Lascivious Behavior, Indecent Exposure, Open Profanity, and Drunkenness. He did not contest the last charge, conceding that he was” too drunk to remember” if he exposed himself. The Doors themselves insisted that the crowd had suffered a “mass hallucination.”
Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek added: “He was trying to throw off the mantel of stardom… He found it too heavy. The very thing he wanted was the thing that destroyed him. How ironic. How tragic.”
Now, four decades later, Florida’s lame duck governor, Charlie Crist – 12 at the time of the Miami concert — has announced his intention to pardon the star.
Admiral George Morrison, who died in 2008, also made his peace with his son. He traveled to Jim’s grave in Paris and installed a plaque of his own making. Translated from Greek, it reads: True to his own spirit.