On March 1st, 1969, while playing at the Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami, The Doors put together their most controversial performance of their career and one that signalled the end of the band forever. It was a performance that has since been said to have “derailed the band”, sending them flying off-piste and towards doom. It resulted in The Doors’ enigmatic frontman Jim Morrison being found guilty of indecent exposure and setting off a chain of events that would, ultimately, lead to his death.
By 1969, Jim Morrison had become an icon of the counterculture movement. Because of it, The Lizard King had also become a fascination of the newspaper columnists and the collective public eye. He naturally drew in the tabloid press like a moth to aflame. Long hair, leather trousers, a penchant for poetry and a refusal to conform — he was low hanging fruit for tabloids, and they made sure to squeeze every drop of juice out of him that they could. Of course, the extra exposure helped the Doors, but it also increased media pressure on the band’s shows and the tension was beginning to hang heavily over their dynamic singer, who grew wilder by the day.
Morrison, who had been drinking heavily and had missed a connecting flight to Miami on the day of the show, arrived at the gig over an hour late as the crowd began to grow increasingly impatient. Rumours circulated that the venue, which was old, crumbling and without air conditioning, was oversold as promoters attempted to boost ticket sales. With a capacity of 7,000, attendees claimed at the time that Dinner Key Auditorium packed more than a massive 12,000 people into the show that evening. It was a potential powder keg of problems.
The poet-singer, already well known for making wild and outrageous remarks during shows, and deliberately meant to rile the authorities, began to lose interest during a performance of ‘Break On Through’ and, at one point, diverted from the song to address the crowd: “You’re all a bunch of fuckin’ idiots!”. It was not the king of the counter culture we had come to expect, he slurred into the microphone before finally shouting “what are you gonna do about it?”. The mask had begun to slip and Morrison’s disdain for the culture he had helped create was being seen.
Becoming increasingly manic, Morrison ordered the crowd to join him on stage before the police intervened. It was not the first time Morrison had flirted with a riot, or certainly tried to elicit a response from his audience, but this time it felt like it wasn’t in the name of freedom but in surly sulking.
With the room reaching worryingly high temperatures and Morrison’s behaviour becoming more and more concerning with every passing minute, the band’s manager Bill Siddons was near his wit’s end. Siddons later recalled: “The gig was a bizarre, circus-like thing, there was this guy carrying a sheep and the wildest people that I’d ever seen.” Morrison was about to kick it up a notch.
The speculation as to why Morrison led to getting undressed and, at one point, allegedly exposing his penis to the crowd is something which is constantly dwelled on and furiously debated. Equipment chief Vince Treanor, who later attempted to shed some light on the situation, once recalled that “somebody jumped up and poured champagne on Jim so he took his shirt off, he was soaking wet.”
It is at this point that Morrison told the crowd: “Let’s see a little skin, let’s get naked” as people in the crowd began taking their clothes off. Having removed his shirt, people claimed that Morrison held it in front of his groin and started to make hand movements behind it.
As Morrison continued to undress on stage, it has been debated by many as to what he said specifically. Some claim he said: “You didn’t come here for music did you? You came for something more, didn’t you? You didn’t come to rock ‘n’ roll, you came for something else didn’t you? You came for something else – what is it?”. He is rumoured to have added: “You want to see my cock, don’t you? That’s what you came for isn’t it? Yeah!”
Morrison was later quoted in Jerr Hopkins’ ‘No One Here Gets Out Alive as once telling Circus magazine the following: “I think I was just fed up with the image that had been created around me, which I sometimes consciously, most of the time unconsciously, cooperated with. It was just too much for me to really stomach and so I just put an end to it in one glorious evening. I guess what it boiled down to was that I told the audience that they were a bunch of fucking idiots to be members of an audience. What were they doing there anyway? The basic message was to realise that you’re not really here to listen to a bunch of songs by some good musicians. You’re here for something else. Why not admit it and do something about it?”
Despite the claims of thousands in attendance, Morrison and the rest of The Doors members always refuted the suggestions that he exposed his penis to the audience. At one point, Ray Manzarek actually described the incident as a mass “religious hallucination” due to the soaring temperatures inside the venue and the emotionally intense situation.
“They hallucinated. I swear, the guy never did it. He never whipped it out. It was one of those mass hallucinations,” he said. “I don’t want to say the vision of Lourdes, because only Bernadette saw that, but it was one of those religious hallucinations, except it was Dionysus bringing forth, calling forth snakes… And they started coming down on a rickety little stage, and the entire stage collapsed.”
Despite the denial, on March 5, the County Sheriff’s office issued a warrant for Morrison’s arrest under the claims that the singer ‘deliberately exposed his penis’ while on stage, simulated oral sex on guitarist Robby Krieger and was drunk and abusive at the time of his performance.
When asked if he exposed his penis, manager Siddons also refused the claims as pure rumours: “I mean, no one in the group saw him do it. Morrison said he did it, but not onstage. Like he had been tucking in his shirt or something and he might have slipped a little. But offstage.”
However, an extensive trial found Morrison guilty and, despite being offered a plea bargain that would have required The Doors to perform a free show in Miami, Morrison rejected the proposal, perhaps as an intrusion on his art. Instead, he was later convicted and ordered to serve six months in prison. Released on a $50,000 bond, Morrison began the appeal process and left with The Doors to finish their acclaimed album L.A. Woman.
As the album neared completion, Morrison left the band’s hub in America destined for France back in March of 1970. Tragically, on July 3, 1971, Morrison was found dead in his Paris bathtub. having reportedly been contemplating a return to the studio, his pending legal problems would never be resolved.
However, in 2007, Florida Governor Charlie Crist suggested the possibility of a posthumous pardon for Morrison, three years later, on December 9, 2010, that pardon was officially accepted.