No rock singer embodies the youth counterculture of the late Sixties more than Jim Morrison. The singer, poet, and songwriter of The Doors was born in Melbourne, Florida, in 1943. But he skyrocketed to stardom and spent much of his time in California after forming The Doors with fellow UCLA film student Ray Manzarek in 1965.
So, why is Morrison, an American through and through, buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris? The cemetery is one of Paris’ most visited tourist attractions, and it’s also the final resting place of other famous artists and poets, such as the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde.
Much of the reason why Morrison was buried there, and his gravesite still remains there, is because he happened to be in Paris at the time of his death. It also has to do with the mysterious circumstances of his passing.
Leaving For Paris
Morrison told The Doors his intention to leave for Paris after they finished recording L.A. Woman in Los Angeles. It would be the last album Morrison ever made with the band. In March 1971, he joined his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, in Paris at an apartment she rented.
Some say Morrison wanted to escape the one-dimensional rock star life he was living in America. He also likely needed a break from the endless partying and drug binges, and he was potentially facing jail time because of an indecent exposure charge. Let’s not forget Morrison was a poet, too, so he may have wanted to spend time writing poetry in the City of Lights.
In letters to friends, Morrison said he went on long walks alone through Paris. He shaved his beard and lost some of the extra pounds he’d gained in previous months. He spoke to John Densmore on the phone to ask how the new record, LA Woman, was doing commercially. It was the last member of The Doors he would speak with before he passed away.
Dead at 27
Morrison was found dead on July 3, 1971, in the Paris apartment where he stayed at about 6 a.m. He died at 27 years old. The official cause of death was heart failure, but French law didn’t require an autopsy, so one wasn’t performed. His girlfriend, Courson, later said that Morrison’s last words as he was bathing were, “Pam, are you still there?”
Plenty of conspiracy theories have sprouted up over the years about Morrison’s cause of death, but nothing has been confirmed. Some say he died of an accidental heroin overdose. But because there was never an autopsy, no one knows for sure. His death was also kept secret when it happened, as his girlfriend and others tried to hide it from the press and the public.
Morrison died two years to the day after Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones had passed away. He also died approximately nine months after Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. All of these musicians died at age 27, which led to the emergence of the infamous “27 Club urban legend.”
The Chaotic Aftermath
So, Morrison died in Paris, which explains why he was buried there. But why not fly his remains back to America? Why not bury him in Los Angeles? Or bury him in Melbourne, Florida, where he was born? Part of the reason he was buried in Paris turns out to be the scrambled reaction to his death in the immediate aftermath of it.
The Doors’ manager Bill Siddons heard the rumors about Morrison’s death soon after it happened. But Morrison had long been the subject of death hoaxes and rumors, so he initially waved it off. Siddons talked to Morrison’s girlfriend, and she told him The Lizard King was fine.
But Siddons sensed something was awry, pressed the girlfriend, and she revealed the truth. He took the first flight to Paris he could get and made it there by the following day. Still, they kept the situation quiet. The girlfriend had his death certificate say, “James Morrison, poet.” She did this partly to give their French-born friend time to secure a gravesite in Père Lachaise, Paris’ largest cemetery. They thought Morrison’s reputation as the American rock-n-roller would mean they would never get a grave site approved, so they had to be sneaky about it.
The Doors’ manager, Siddons, didn’t even inspect the body in the casket. There was a brief funeral with half a dozen people in attendance, and Morrison was buried in an unmarked grave in the Poet’s Corner of the cemetery. Everything was done hastily, and everyone left quickly afterward.
Morrison’s gravesite ended up without a headstone in the sixth division, grade five, the second row of the famous cemetery. A plaque left there a few days later would be stolen, replaced, and stolen again. A sculpted bust of Morrison in 1981 was vandalized and also stolen. A 30-year lease was taken on the gravesite, which Morrison’s family eventually renewed in perpetuity years later.
The Final Resting Place
The fact that Morrison’s death and burial were so mysterious and happened in such haphazard fashion has fueled the fire of fan conspiracy theories. After all, only a few people even saw Morrison’s body, and the band’s manager, Siddons, wasn’t one of them. To this day, his official cause of death is disputed because there was never an autopsy.
There are many theories about how Morrison died, including heroin overdose or complications from a two-story fall from an LA hotel a few months before. Some even believe, outrageously, that the whole incident was a hoax and that Morrison is still alive and faked his death.
We’ll never know for sure. But one thing’s certain: Morrison’s gravesite is in Paris in one of the city’s most treasured tourist attractions. In 1990, Morrison’s father placed a flat stone at the grave with a bronze plaque with an inscription translating from Greek to “true to his own spirit.”
Die-hard Doors and Morrison fans know about his burial site, and many have visited the gravesite over the years to pay their respects. I have read that visiting Morrison’s grave is pretty straightforward, and it’s easy to find in the cemetery, among other famous artists lying at rest there.
A Florida politician lobbied to have Morrison’s gravesite moved to the singer’s hometown in 2016, but his idea was ridiculed and quickly shot down. Only Morrison’s family and his estate could move the remains, and it doesn’t look like that will ever happen. Jim Morrison may be an American rock ‘n roll legend, but his final resting place will likely always be in Paris.
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