Over the years, the music industry has had a number of our most iconic rock stars taken long before their time under mysterious circumstances. Many of the deaths tend to be related to drug overdoses, while autopsy evidence can help determine the cause for death, there are often still confounding theories as to how the individual died. Who else was present? Did they commit suicide? Was it an accident? Was it a murder? Unfortunately, in many of the cases documented, we will never know the full truth.
In July 1969, the body of 25-year-old Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones was pulled from his swimming pool in Sussex. It is known from the autopsy that he had drowned, but little else is understood, leading to a number of different theories sprouting up over the past 50 years. In 1979, Sid Vicious of Sex Pistols’ mother found him dead in a New York apartment. The cause of death was determined as an overdose from heroin and quaaludes; however, Vicious had just been released on bail after being charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend Nancy Spungen. There are a number of confounding theories surrounding this case as well due to the circumstances — some even suggest that Vicious’ mother had given him the overdose intentionally as the two had had a very rocky past.
So what happens when an autopsy isn’t even performed? Of course, the conspiracies become all the wilder. When Jim Morrison of The Doors died in Paris, France, on July 3rd, 1971, fans were left with very little explanation as to how their hero had passed. Earlier that year, Morrison had moved to Paris after being convicted in the US for indecent exposure and open profanity after he allegedly exposed himself on stage during a Miami gig in 1969. He was sentenced to six months in jail and while he was appealing the verdict he decided to take off for Paris.
While in Paris, Morrison lived in a fourth-floor apartment in the Marais with his partner Pamela Courson, during a time when many believed the musician was attempting to clean up his life. The widely accepted story states that it was Courson who had found Morrison’s body in the bathtub of their apartment. Worried that she might be linked to the death, had the authorities known about the drug overdose, she gave an ostensibly false account of events explaining that he was her cousin and that he had suffered a heart attack. The French authorities waived an autopsy by Courson’s request and allowed her to hastily bury her lover near ‘The Poet’s Corner’ in Père Lachaise Cemetery, a location where the bodies of Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Gertrude Stein were also laid to rest. After the funeral, just two days after his death, the sad news was made public.
As no official autopsy was conducted, the general assumption is that Morrison had died of an overdose; Courson attested to this too in some of her later depictions of his death before she, too, met an untimely death in 1974 following an overdose in Los Angeles. The hasty burial and lack of evidence naturally stirred up some interesting conspiracy theories as to what really happened that night in 1971.
One theory, popularised by a British journalist in the 1980s, suggested that Morrison’s death had been a carefully orchestrated murder committed by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The motive behind such an eventuality would be an effort to oust an important icon of the burgeoning counter-culture that the western world had been experiencing over the previous decade. Other similar theories point fingers towards the French secret services or claim it was a Zionist plot.
The exact location of the death has been widely accepted as the bathtub of the flat Morrison had been staying in; however, some people have alleged that eerily, Morrison in fact died in the toilet of a Paris nightclub named, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus. Bernett, the manager of the club, where Roman Polanski and Marianne Faithfull had been regulars, once claimed that a couple of drug dealers had dragged Morrison’s body into a taxi and returned it to the apartment. He claimed that the owner of the club had kept this to himself for fear of scandal. Bernett wrote in his book The End: Jim Morrison: “The beautiful California boy had become an inert lump crumpled in the toilet of a nightclub. We were certain he’d been snorting heroin because there was foam coming out of his lips as well as blood.” Other claims state that he had overdosed in the club, but succumbed to it a day or two later.
In 2014, Marianne Faithfull said that her then-boyfriend Jean de Breteuil, a famous celebrity drug dealer in France who had also supplied Keith Richards, had supplied Morrison with the drugs that he overdosed on. “He went to see Jim Morrison and killed him,” she told Mojo magazine. “I mean I’m sure it was an accident. Poor bastard. The smack was too strong? Yeah. And he died”.
Some claims over the years have stated that Morrison perhaps hadn’t died at all and had just faked his death to start fresh and leave the troubles of his past life behind. The Doors organist Ray Manzarek has stated that he could back this theory based on conversations he remembered having with the troubled frontman in 1970. It appears that Manzarek isn’t alone with this theory; in 2016, reports from fans plagued the internet after a Morrison doppelganger had been seen in Oregon living under the new name of William Loyer.
It appears there is always going to be an air of mystery when someone so iconic is taken from us at such a young age, especially under such opaque circumstances. Where evidence lacks, for better or worse, conspiracy thrives. Unfortunately, we can’t be sure exactly what happened on that night in 1971 as we lost one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th century, but what we can be sure of is Morrison’s creative genius.