Finding Jim Morrison in Paris
By Glenda Winders
When most people arrive in Paris the first places they want to go are the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but my rocker husband had other priorities. We went to those places, too, of course, but what he wanted to do first was visit Jim Morrison's grave. We had arrived on an evening Eurostar from London, so we went to our hotel that night and set off by Metro the next morning.
If the name isn't familiar to you, Morrison was one of the founders and the lead singer of the musical group The Doors, who took their name from Aldous Huxley's book "The Doors of Perception." In fact, Morrison was a poet at heart, writing or co-writing much of the music they played. Their first hit, "Light My Fire," launched them into popularity in the 1960s. It also got them into trouble when they sang about getting "higher" on the iconic "Ed Sullivan Show," and Morrison got into trouble on his own by performing outrageous acts onstage at other venues. He called himself "the Lizard King" from a line in one of his own poems: "I am the Lizard King/I can do anything."
Despite all that, he is still considered to have been a musical genius, in part because the lyrics he penned were timeless and universal, rendering them still popular and relevant today. By 1971, however, Morrison's fast Los Angeles lifestyle and dependence on alcohol and drugs had taken their toll. He took a sabbatical from the group and in March of that year moved with his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, to Paris in the hope of rehabilitating himself. But on July 3 she found him dead in the bathtub of a heroin overdose.
He was ostensibly buried at Pere Lachaise Cemetery, but since only Courson and another friend saw his body, a theory exists that he faked his own death and is peacefully living out his days in the Seychelles islands. In fact he had described doing exactly that to bandmate Ray Manzarek. Nevertheless, off to Pere Lachaise we went. Not a rock fan? Never heard of Morrison or The Doors? Stay with me anyway. In searching for Morrison we found a lot more.
Pere Lachaise Cemetery, named for Louis XIV's confessor who lived on the property, opened in 1804 by order of the Emperor Napoleon. It is one of the most visited spots in Paris and the most visited cemetery in the world. Developed on 110 acres with 5,000 trees as a park cemetery, the necropolis now contains 70,000 burial sites.
Morrison's grave is among the three most frequently visited, along with Oscar Wilde and Frederick Chopin, but many other famous creative people rest in this beautiful spot, too -- writers Honore de Balzac, Marcel Proust, Colette and Richard Wright; artists Jacques Louis David, Georges Seraut and Eugene Delacroix; actors Sarah Bernhardt and Yves Montand; dancer Isadora Duncan; and other composers and musicians that include Edith Piaf. The oldest identifiable remains are those of star-crossed lovers Heloise and Abelard. In order to be buried here a person has to have lived -- or died -- in the French capital city.
The tombstones range from flat and unassuming to grand monuments with the cobblestone walkways that wind among them marked by signs to help identify the various sections. Morrison is said to have taken walks here during the short time he lived in Paris and commented to Courson that it was where he would someday like to be buried. We didn't reach his Division 6, plot No. 30 gravesite with the help of a signpost, however. We found some men working and asked, "Morrison?" Without speaking they pointed the way.
The burial place we found was not the original that was surrounded by shells or its replacement that contained a bust of the singer. Visiting fans helped themselves to pieces of it as souvenirs, and eventually it was stolen. His remains now lie beneath a grave curb and a headstone installed on the 10th anniversary of his death. The inscription, written in Greek, says "True to his own spirit." A fence encircles the site to prevent vandalism from happening in the future.
That being the case, Morrison devotees began leaving used chewing gum on a nearby tree as a tribute to his rebellious spirit. They also leave flowers as well as incense, cigarette lighters, bottles of whiskey and drug paraphernalia.
Morrison was born in Florida and went to college in Los Angeles, where the band formed at Venice Beach and became famous as the house band at Whiskey a Go Go on Sunset Strip. We definitely have more pilgrimages to make to those places. In the meantime, I'm lobbying for a trip to the Seychelles.
WHEN YOU GO
A Metro stop at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery makes it easy to reach from any part of Paris: www.paris.fr/equipements/cimetiere-du-pere-lachaise-4080.
Glenda Winders is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate, Inc.