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Jim Morrison: An Alternate History

What if Jim Morrison hadn’t died on July 3, 1971?

Aged Jim Morrison (Sachs Media Group/Rock and Roll Heaven Project)

Jim Morrison’s biography is well known having been told in biographies and as part of The Doors hagiography. One of the most frequently asked questions among Doors fans and even the general public at large, is what would Jim Morrison be doing if he were alive today? Doors fans argue that he would have come back to The Doors, others that he would have become an actor or a writer. Robby Krieger once offered a vision of Jim Morrison as an Elvis like entertainer in Las Vegas. I think we can create an alternative history of Jim Morrison had he lived based on plans Morrison himself suggested and extrapolations from his interests.

July 3, 1971, 4am, Paris, France. Jim Morrison wakes up after falling asleep in the bathtub after a night of drinking. The water is freezing cold, Morrison wraps himself in a warm robe and goes back to bed. He feels the beginnings of a hangover, but he knows he can sleep most of it off. As he gets into bed he’s careful not to wake Pam.

August 1971. Jim starts feeling revitalized. The time away from L.A. and the time to do nothing except be has started making him feel relaxed and he is able to finally decompress and find himself again. He comes to the conclusion that although he’s feeling better he can’t recreate the creative burst he felt on Venice Beach six years earlier. Morrison calls John Haeny, the Elektra engineer who helped produce the poetry recorded on his 27th birthday in L.A. and for which Morrison has a contract with Elektra. Haeny arrives in Paris to find Morrison committed to the project and bursting with ideas for music. They rent studio time in Paris and cut an album in a couple of weeks during very relaxed recording sessions. Morrison adopts the same discipline he had when he and Michael McClure were working on the screenplay of The Adept, no drinking until recording for the day was finished. Morrison realizes his extended poem An American Prayer is the centerpiece of the album and names the album after the poem.

November 1971. Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore release Other Voices. The album is credited to The Doors and it becomes apparent to the general public that Jim Morrison isn’t returning to the group. Elektra and The Doors releases a dual press release announcing Jim Morrison’s parting ways with the rest of The Doors and his forthcoming album of spoken word poetry, An American Prayer.

The Doors “Other Voices” October 1971

January 1972. Jac Holzman, wanting to recreate the specialness of the release of The Doors first album in Morrison’s new poetry album, only releases An American Prayer in that month, again to give the album Elektra’s full attention and support of their now formidable marketing department. The art work on the album uses the artwork Morrison commissioned from T.E. Breitenbach in 1970 and uses original music from Lalo Schifrin, who counts among his credits the music from the movie Cool Hand Luke and the theme music from the TV series Mission: Impossible. The album receives critical acclaim and becomes the best-selling album of spoken word poetry, eventually receiving a Grammy.

Morrison, gaining creative confidence and control decides to accede a bit to Pam Courson’s wishes that she and Jim have a normal life. He buys an old church in the French countryside that will be renovated into their home. In the meantime Morrison wanting to finish ‘old business’ works on his manuscript of Observations While on Trial in Miami. Using the notes he took during his Miami obscenity trial he edits and expands the notes into a book. The book is observational as well as philosophical with a surrealist edge to it and provides a look into the American judicial system of the time. It becomes an underground hit and is considered by many to be one of the last great writings of the 1960’s counterculture movement.

Morrison now wanting to turn his attentions to film rediscovers the screenplay Break in his files written by a young Oliver Stone. The surrealist imagery of Stone’s based on his Vietnam experience intrigues Morrison. He tracks Stone down and they meet in Paris. Morrison options the film for a $1000 with the condition that Morrison will star in and direct the film. With Jim Morrison’s involvement, the film is easily financed and filmed in Toronto in early 1973. Morrison calls on film school friends Frank Lisicandro and Paul Ferrara to shoot and edit the film. The film is released in late 1973 and while it doesn’t have widespread distribution does become a cult favorite on the midnight movie circuit. Break is credited with being an early example in the indie-film and the director as auteur movements.

By 1976 Jim Morrison, who has reduced his drinking down to Eugene O’Neill binges once or twice a year realizes drinking is not serving him well, he’s starting to look older beyond his 33 years and is hampering his creative endeavors he enters A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous). Although since 1971 his life has been lower key, he is one of the first celebrities to acknowledge having an alcohol problem and publicly seeks help. In doing so, Morrison starts to peel away the public’s perception of a stigma attached to alcoholism. A side effect of this is Morrison acknowledges his relationship with Pam Courson isn’t a healthy one for either of them and ends their ten-year relationship. Wishing to avoid a drawn-out Lee Marvin/Michelle Triola like litigation (Morrison thought he’d seen enough courtrooms) agrees to give Courson a monthly stipend.

Morrison starts hearing from film school friends that former UCLA alumnus Francis Ford Coppola is filming a movie to be called Apocalypse Now and wants to use The Doors song The End in the film, Morrison wants the part of Willard. At first Coppola is resistant remembering Morrison’s drunken and disruptive actions in The Doors, but Morrison is able to withhold the permission to use The Doors song and takes a copy of Break to Coppola’s house to screen for him, after seeing the film Coppola is convinced and casts him in Apocalypse Now.

The producers of Altered States see Morrison in Apocalypse Now and are so impressed they want him to star in their movie. Morrison, familiar with the Paddy Chayefsky novel and seeing this as a chance to advance his film career agrees to play the lead as long as he can direct. Morrison argues that based on past experiences he has some insight into the subject matter and he throws in the use of a Doors song as well. The producers agree and Jim Morrison stars in and directs Altered States which is released in 1980.

Trailer for “Altered States”

With the release of Apocalypse Now and Altered States and their attendant success a Jim Morrison/Doors resurgence happens. Rumors fly around of a Doors reunion, record sales start to mount up and in December of 1981 Rolling Stone Magazine makes Morrison the cover story with the headline “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, He’s Back.”

Rolling Stone Magazine

With Rumors of a Doors reunion flying around for a few years, Morrison and the other members of The Doors get together for the first time in years and bury the hatchet on the old wounds and agree to play Live Aid in Philadelphia in July of 1985 and celebrating the 20th anniversary of Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek forming The Doors in July of 1965. Fans, critics and organizers agree The Doors reunion is a stunning success with the band playing a selection of songs throughout their active years as a band. It is hailed as the highwater mark of the concerts.

Doors fans may wonder if any of this is possible? This article was written with extrapolations of Jim Morrison’s actions and wishes in mind, as well as extrapolating on events in society at large and how they might affect Morrison. As I was writing this a sense of sadness overcame me for what could have been. Jim Morrison’s talents were many and his potential was within his grasp all he had to do was find a way.

The End?