Thursday, 31 March 2016

L.A. Woman And The Last Days of Jim Morrison Part 2

By Max Bell, Classic Rock Magazine, August 2010

Here on May 7 a young Frenchman called Gilles Yepremian came across Morrison being evicted from the Circus by the bouncers, after he sunk too much whiskey and rearranged the furrniture.

“He was totally drunk. Nobody recognized him,” says Gilles. “I got a taxi and we drove down the Seine. At the lights, Jim saw some policemen and he rolled down the window and shouted, ‘Fuck the pigs!’, so the driver kicked us out. I got another taxi and Jim was so pleased he tried to tip the man hundreds of francs. He was laughing uncontrollably. I didn’t know where he lived, so I took him to the apartment of my friend Hervé Muller.”

Muller and his girlfriend Yvonne Fuka opened the door to find Morrison lurching in his face.

“Hervé! Meet Jim Morrison. He’ll have to stay with you”. Morrison fell on Muller’s bed. They left him, passed out. The following afternoon Morrison took his new pals to the bar Alexander where he downed Bloody Marys and an entire bottle of Chivas Regal. He insulted nearby diners and became increasingly abusive. Gilles: “When he was sober he just looked like an American student on holiday. Very quiet and shy. Once he became drunk he was a madman.”

In May, Morrison and Pamela had dinner chez Muller.

“Play a record if you want,” young Hervé told Morrison. Jim settled on Buffy Sainte-Marie. Later he and Pam were so taken with the Corsican wine Fuka served they said, “Let’s go there!” They travelled to Marseilles again, where Morrison lost his passport and wallet. They waited two days for a replacement passport then flew to Ajaccio. On return they stayed at L’Hotel briefly before moving back to the apartment. Pam hired them 19-year old French-Canadian Robin Wertle.

“Neither Jim nor Pamela spoke French,” said Wertle. “My job included everything from getting a cleaning lady, typing letters, calling America,buying furniture, a typewriter for Jim, and making arrangements for him to show his films.”

He never did. Back in Paris, Morrison described his adventures to old friends Frank and Kathy Lisciandro, and suggested they visit: “There’s a room for you here”. He sent his attorney Max Fink a postcard of Moroccan scenes. “Dear Max, it’s a beautiful spring in the ‘City of Love’. Just got back from Spain, Morocco & Corsica – Napoleon’s birthplace. Take a vacation! The women are great & the food is gorgeous. Love, Jim x.” In late May, Morrison called John Densmore, expressing delight at his copy of L.A. Woman.

“He’d just got the finished album,” recalls Densmore. “Jim told me what a great place Paris was, and he said he was definitely coming back to LA. He didn’t know when. He said good things about the band... He sounded happier than when he left.”

Jim and Pam Coulson

Morrison resumed an acquaintanceship with Jacques Demy and his wife Agnes Varda, leading lights in the cinematic French New Wave.

 “We had a common friend in Alain Ronay,” says Varda, who has seldom spoken in depth about Jim until now. “We saw The Doors in Los Angeles in 1967 when Jacques was filming The Model Shop,” recalls Varda from her Parisian home. “In 1970 he’d visited the set for my film Lions Love – he appears briefly.”

Alain Ronay was a student at the UCLA Film School in 1964; the older man was a post-graduate. Jim also turned up on set with Ronay for Demy’s film Peau D’Ane (Donkey Skin). During that initial visit to Paris, Morrison went to a birthday party for Varda’s 10-year-old daughter Rosalie.

“I think he liked us because we never asked him for anything,” says Agnes. “He was drunk that afternoon; drunk but happy. He drank a lot of brandy. Other times I saw him in my courtyard. He used to visit us and eat. He sat in my yard for many hours. Didn’t talk much. Didn’t like to gossip. I never even took his photograph. His wish in Paris was to write poems.

“I wasn’t like a private friend where he’d come and have dinner on his own. It was always in company. He sat in my kitchen in what’s supposed to be his time of craziness – he was OK. I didn’t bother him, and I wasn’t constantly bothered about him.”

In June, Jim and Pam flew to London, staying at the Hyde Park Hotel, which they hated. Pam resumed her liaison with the Count, who had the keys to Keith Richards’ and Anita Pallenberg’s house in Cheyne Walk, where the smack flowed while Keith was away in Nellcôte, South of France, starting the sessions for Exile On Main St. The Count was now juggling between Pamela, Jean Paul Getty Junior’s wife Talitha, and Marianne Faithfull.

In her autobiography, Faithfull describes de Breteuil as “a horrible guy, someone who had crawled out from under a stone. Somehow I ended up with him... It was all about drugs and sex”.

In London, Morrison met up with McClure. He recalled a riotous evening “in the Soho clubs. The Bobbies busted us for being drunk and disorderly. Finally we decided to take a taxi to the Lake District, and got busted again. I guess taking a taxi all that way isn’t done ordinarily”. Morrison invited Alain Ronay to London.

“I moved them to the Cadogan Hotel, near Sloane Square,” says Ronay, who now lives in Los Angeles. “It was a time. No paparazzi. I never saw Jim sign one autograph. We went to the theatre, did all the usual things. I returned with them to Paris and moved into the apartment. Pam had her own life entirely. She wasn’t always around, but for the whole of June I lived with Morrison, practically 24 hours a day. I won’t deny he was a dark and complicated person, or that Pam was a basket case. But strike the fact that Jim was despondent, or drug addicted, or terminally depressed. He was living his dream, and that had nothing to do with rock. He was delighted at the success of L.A. Woman, but his pleasure lay elsewhere.”
Jim Morrison and Pam Coulson

Even so Morrison must have been getting studio withdrawal symptoms, since on June 15 he hooked up with two American street musicians who met him after sinking whiskey at the Café de Flore. Jim persuaded the buskers, who were crucifying Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Marrakesh Express, to join him at a local jingle studio where they recorded a few drunken rambles including Morrison’s poetic ode to Pamela, Orange County Suite. The engineer gave Jim the tape box on which he scribbled a band name, Jomo And The Smoothies. The Lost Paris Tapes, as they became known, ended up in a white plastic bag from La Samaritaine department store which Morrison left at Phil Dalecky’s apartment but never retrieved.

One mid-June day, with Paris sweltering in a heat wave, Morrison collected kindling wood from the courtyard at Beautreillis for the fireplace. Carrying it upstairs with Ronay, he was soon out of breath. “What’s up with you?” Ronay recalls saying, “I’m 10 years older than you, and I’m not having a problem”. Morrison laughed the incident off, but was sweating heavily. He had started coughing up blood again so, at Pam’s insistence, he revisited an American doctor. He renewed a prescription for the treatment of pneumonia and respiratory problems.

In the final weeks of his life, Jim and Pam’s relationship reached breaking point. Faux suicidal, Pam often spent nights with the Count, while sharing her saner moments bullying Morrison over his lack of writing activity. Morrison wasn’t ready to admit defeat. He wrote to Elektra’s business director Bob Greene on June 28. “Paris is beautiful in the sun, an exciting town, built for human beings.

Speaking to Bill [Siddons] a while back I told him of our desire to stay here indefinitely.” Pamela had plans to buy an old property, maybe a disused church, where Jim could stop being a rock star and become a poet. Morrison asked Greene “for a sort of financial statement in general? Also a copy of the partnership agreement, if it was ever completed".

Funds running out, he told Greene to turn over Themis to the trust of Pam’s sister and her husband – “we’d like to be completely clear of any involvement” – to organise new credit cards – “we could use them made out in both our names” – and to send a cheque for $3000. “House bills are catching up.” Touchingly he also asked Greene to make sure his dog Sage was well looked after. “Send Judy [Pam’s sister] 100 bucks for the dog". It didn’t sound like Jim had any plans to return to California at all.

Jim loved going to the bookshops like Shakespeare And Company near Notre Dame. He was fascinated by the atmosphere of unrest in a Paris still recovering from the riots of 1968. He wrote brief verses, often sitting on a bench in the tranquil Place des Vosges – his favourite haunt. In The Sidewalkers Moved, composed a few days before his death, he wrote ‘Join us at the demonstration’.

Jim, Pam and Ronay spent June 28 in Chantilly; they had lunch at Hotel de l’Oise, where Ronay took the last known pictures of the singer. In one he’s hugging Pam. In another he gives Ronay his best lop-sided grin. “An idyllic day,” says Ronay. Back in Paris that night Pam got hold of more heroin. She later told friends that Jim started experimenting with the drug to keep her company, “snorting lines off his credit card”.

On July I Morrison was spotted by an American fan dining alone, drinking white wine and munching a croque monsieur in the bar Le Mazet after he and Pam had a blazing row in a neighbourhood restaurant near Beautreillis, witnessed by two German students who shared their table. Herve Muller hadn’t seen Jim since they went to a performance of Robert Wilson’s en vogue play, Le Regard Du Sourd [Deaf Man’s Glance], at Theatre de la Musique on June 11. Muller recalls that Ronay turned up during the interval, and they left the theatre with Morrison. They retired to a cocktail bar called Rosebud, where Morrison was hassled by fans, moved on to La Coupole, then to Pam’s druggy haunts in Saint Germain accompanied by two flamboyant gentlemen – “minets bizarres” – before Morrison and Pam spent the small hours drinking at Café de Flore, Les Deux Magots, and Brasserie Lipp, with various debauched socialites. Muller never saw Morrison again.

He did phone the singer’s apartment around midday on July 3, however.

 “A rather strange sounding Ronay answered the phone,” Herve recalled in his book Jim Morrison Au-Dela des Doors. “He said Jim and Pam have gone away for the weekend. And yet Jim Morrison had already been dead, apparently, for four or five hours, in a hot bath.”

Ronay thinks Muller may have called a day earlier. Morrison said he didn’t want visitors.

“So many people have exploited their liaisons; like that awful journalist [Tere Tereba] who bumped into Jim once at La Coupole restaurant, and suddenly she’s writing detailed dialogue about their supper [‘chocolate mousse for the ladies, please’] – it’s nonsense.”

Jim Morrison is the only performer in rock history to have been arrested on stage during a performance (in New Haven, Connecticut, Dec. 10, 1967

Jim Morrison, Frankfurt

Having spent most of five weeks living with Jim, Ronay moved out of the apartment and into a room at Agnes Varda’s house on Rue Daguerre, where the filmmaker was working on dialogue for the script of Last Tango In Paris with director Bernardo Bertolucci. The film, starring Marlon Brando, released in 1972, about an American exiled – and dying – in Paris was, some said later, influenced by the Morrison story.

On the morning of Friday, July 2 Morrison and Ronay walked in the Marais. Morrison bought Pamela jewellery. They ate at Ma Bourgogne, a restaurant specialising in the rich food of Alsace, where Morrison’s hiccoughing fits returned. Jim called at the cobblers to collect some boots. Despite Ronay’s insistence that Jim was not despondent he was agitated. After beers at Café de Phare, Ronay left for a dinner date with Varda. Morrison begged him to stay: “One more short beer! C’mon. Do it for an old friend". Ronay agreed. Morrison’s hiccoughs were raging now. Ronay looked at Jim alive for the last time in the Place de la Bastille. He saw a face like a death mask. Sensing his stare, Morrison asked: “Well – what did you see?”.

At Varda’s house, Ronay recounted his unsettling afternoon. They went for dinner around the time Jim and Pam supposedly went to eat a Chinese meal. Ronay had recommended the couple go to see the film Pursued, a Freudian Western set in New Mexico, starring Robert Mitchum, about a young boy whose family is wiped out.

Two of the last known photos of Jim and Pam, 28 June, five days before his death. Later that night, Pam said later, Jim started snorting heroin

What happened in the hours between Ronay’s departure that late afternoon, and the eventual death of Jim Morrison now becomes a mystery. At 5.40pm the following day, July 3, Pamela gave her official statement to policeman Jacques Manchez, via Ronay’s on the spot translation. The previous evening, she told Manchez, she felt ill, so Morrison dined alone in ‘Le Quattier’, Rue Saint-Antoine where he apparently ate sweet and sour Chinese washed down with plenty of beers. When he returned they – or maybe just Jim – went to the cinema Action Lafayette to see La Vallee de la Peur/aka Death Valley/aka Pursued. Much to Morrison’s annoyance the movie was badly sub-titled.

Bored and opiated, Jim returned around 1am, July 3. As usual they built a fire – despite the warmth of the night. Jim started drinking whiskey. He tried to write at his desk, in the spiral-bound reporters pad that will become known as his last French Notebook. For the third day in a row he sniffed heroin off a mirror. He and Pam watched a sequence of their on-the-road-in-Europe Super-8 cine movies.

Pam tells Manchez: “My friend [not once in her statement does she refer to Jim by name] appeared healthy and seemed very happy – but I noticed there was something not quite right about him. Later we played some records that I found in the bedroom and we played music for two hours lying on the bed... I think we fell asleep about 2.30 but I can’t say when exactly. The record player turned itself off.”

Manchez asks: “Did you have sex with the deceased?” Pam replies: “No, we didn’t have sex last night. About 3.30am, I think – there isn’t a clock in the bedroom – my friend wakes me with the noise of his breathing. He was so noisy I got the impression he must need help. I wanted to help my friend. I asked him, did he want a doctor? No. He said he was OK, and he was going to take a hot bath. He got in the bath and then he called me because he felt sick... I took him in an orange saucepan, and my friend threw up the meal he’d eaten and I noticed... some blood clots.

“He is sick three times. Third time it’ s just blood... I tipped the pan into the basin... then I washed it. Now my friend says he feels strange. ‘But I don’t feel ill enough for you to call me a doctor. I feel better now... It’s over... Go to bed!’ he tells me... ‘I’m gonna stay in the bath, and I’ll be in with you later’.

“I thought he seemed better, because he’d been sick, and his colour had returned, so I went back to bed feeling reassured. I don’t know when I went back to sleep, but I woke up later and realised my friend wasn’t in bed with me. I ran to the bathroom, and saw he was still in the bath with his head back as if asleep. He had blood round his nostrils. I thought he must be ill, or he’s unconscious. I tried to pull him out of the bath but it was impossible for me. At that point I called Mr Ronay and he came with Mrs Agnes Demy [aka Varda], and they called the police station for me.”
That was Pam’s statement. What she didn’t tell the police, but did tell Ronay was this: Jim returns and listens to Doors albums, fixating on one particular song – Not To Touch The Earth [from the album Waiting For The Sun, which references the death of John F. Kennedy]. The couple take more heroin. Jim carries on drinking. At 3am the couple start nodding out on the 86% pure smack that’s slithering through the French underground scene. If Pam’s testimony to the police is to be believed, she is woken by Morrison’s coughing fit. He runs a bath. The vomiting. The sleep. As dawn breaks, Pamela wakes to realise that Morrison is still in the bathroom. In an awful reminder of the Cars Hiss By My Window lyric – ‘Can’t hear my baby, though I call and call’ – she thinks she hears him cry out, “Pamela – are you there?”. On finding him in the bath, Pam realises Jim Morrison is either dead or dying. She calls Ronay and Varda, and possibly Count Jean de Breteuil.

Until recently, these have been accepted versions of events. In 2007, however, Sam Bernett, a French-born former New York Times journalist and author of several books on French culture, published a book that confirmed a story that had circulated around Paris for 36 years.

Sam Bernett had been the house manager of the Rock’n’Roll Circus since its opening in 1969. According to Bernett, Morrison turned up at the club around 1am and ordered a bottle of vodka. Morrison was no stranger to Bernett either.

Bernett: “I was in the club that night July 2 and Jim came in at about 1am, July 3. He was at the bar as usual. He was with some friends who I didn’t know. He was expecting people to bring him some stuff for Pamela. He was often in there doing that, or going to little cafés and dealers in the streets in Saint Germain. He was waiting. He drank, talked, I listened but I wasn’t always next to him. I bought him drinks. About 2am two guys came and then for 20 minutes he wasn’t at the bar. He disappeared.”

The two men were apparently dealers connected to Jean de Breteuil. Their real names have been lost to time, but it’s alleged that one was nicknamed ‘Le Chinois’, the other ‘Le Petit Robert’. Bernett was next alerted by the cloakroom girl on the first floor.

“She was worried because one door had been locked for a long time and people were complaining they couldn’t get in. They banged on the door: ‘Anyone there?’ No answer. So I checked with her. No answer indeed. I didn’t know Jim was behind the door. I called my security guy to smash the door open and inside was Jim. Sitting on the loo with no reaction, like he’s sleeping or knocked out, his trousers slightly down. He was sitting with his head forward and his arms down – like a dead guy, actually. I shook him, I looked at his face, still no reaction. He had foam on his nose and lips. I told the girl to get a doctor. I had a friend, a customer there every night – he was in the club. He came, looked at Jim and started a little check-up, then he looked at me and said, ‘That guy is dead.'” Bernett made to call the emergency services but the two dealers reappeared. ‘He’s not dead. He’s just fucked up’. [they said] ‘Don’t call the police, don’t call his family. We take him home, we know where he lives’. I said, ‘That’s impossible! We have to call the police and the medical people’. ‘No!’ they say. ‘Forget it. We’ll take him and we’ll use a back door’. Then the club owner’s right hand man appears and confirms: ‘No trouble, no police. We don’t want any scandal. They’ll close us down’. I said, ‘You can’t do that!.' ‘No, I’m the boss – you do what I say.’

"The two guys packed him up and they took him out the club through the Alcazar out t the street door opposite the Rue de Seine, and the entrance to the Circus. The Alcazar had closed, the cabaret was over, apart from a few people who looked to see what was happening. They took him to the apartment. I was told this – they put him in the tub and waited an hour-and-a-half before calling the paramedic. Pamela was in the apartment, out of her mind, screaming. Completely stoned.”

Bernett maintains his silence for 36 years, and then writes a book, The End – Jim Morrison [2007, Prive] outside of France it is greeted with scepticism. But in a new interview with Classic Rock, Patrick Chauvel (now an award-winning war photographer – a profession that risk their lives to report the truth) bears out Bernett’s version.

Says Chauvel: “Jean-Marie Riviere, L’Alcazar boss and a king of the Parisian music halls and night club scene got involved. He spoke to several guys including me, and said, ‘We’ve got a problem here’. They called in a doctor and asked us to stay around and, to make the [story] shorter, we had to take him out of there because if they find Jim Morrison dead in the club, that’s the end of the club.”

In his capacity as an employee, Chauvel did what he was told. “Was I scared? Hmmm. It was a waste of somebody fantastic. Nobody knew about it apart from the few guys, the boss, Sam definitely, and maybe Cameron [Watson, a Parisian club DJ]. They all just wanted to keep it real quiet. It was an embarrassment so they took him via the tunnel between the clubs, which connected the cloakrooms, and up the stairs to the backstage street door. The boss was afraid of having a doctor or a newsman say anything, so they evacuated Jim, et voila, into the car.”

And he helped?

“Yes, I helped carry him in a blanket. I can’t say 100% that he was dead, but he wasn’t moving. That’s for sure. Yeah, I thought ‘This is bizarre’, but I’d just come back from Vietnam. I’d seen a lot of weird things. Anyhow, he was then put into the back seat of a Mercedes. I don’t know who drove the car. They took him home, is what they told me. I didn’t see the car leave, no. I helped put him in and then went back inside the Circus. They wanted everything to look as normal as possible. I remember they put him into the back seat very gently, and that’s why I thought he might still be alive. I saw that shape, that heavy shape.”

And what did Chauvel think had happened to Jim? “I heard that the guy he was used to getting drugs from had changed, been arrested or something,” he says. “So Morrison got involved with a new guy that night, and the heroin wasn’t the same at all. It was a lot more pure, and Jim didn’t know that. And he overdosed.”

If this account is correct, and many in Paris believe it to be, the official Pam Courson story must be substantially fictional. Chauvel even recalls the people who assisted.

 “I knew most of them by sight. I remember one name: Dominique Petrolaci, a Corsican. He was the head barman and a good friend who got me my job. He shot himself shortly afterwards at a party – put a shotgun through his mouth in front of everybody.”

Count Jean de Breteuil
Theories surrounding Jim’s death are legion. During research for this piece a Parisian source offered the notion that Pamela wasn’t in the apartment that night, but was sleeping with an extremely famous [unnamed] French celebrity. But Count Jean de Breteuil was definitely spotted hanging around the street with a friend by Alain Ronay.

“He looked like a ruffian,” Ronay told Varda who recognised the man as well. “I wanted to spank his tailor,” was Ronay’s quaint appraisal.

We’ll never know whether Pam was home when the men arrived with the body. What we do know is Marianne Faithfull’s claim that Pamela phoned Jean de Breteuil, at around 6am.

According to Faithfull’s autobiography, “We were staying at L’Hotel. Suddenly Jean had to leave. He slammed out the room. He didn’t come right back. He returned in the early hours very agitated. I was fucked up on Tuinals. For no reason he beat me up. I asked him, ‘Did you have a good time there?’ He replied: ‘Get packed, we’re going to Morocco.'”

Faithfull claims Jean was “scared for his life. Jim Morrison had OD’d, and he had provided the smack. He saw himself as dealer to the stars. Now he was a small time dealer in big trouble. Jean took me to Tangier. It was a disaster. We were horribly strung out. In a panic before he left Paris he got rid of all his drugs.”

To make matters worse, the Count had been boasting that it was he who had sold Janis Joplin the fatal heroin that killed her in October 1970. On Saturday July 3, Jean and Marianne arrived in Marrakech and stayed with his mother at the infamous jet-setting hang out Villa Taylor. The noted musicologist Roger Steffens had dinner with them and others that evening. He described an extraordinary night in a letter to his family dated July 9.

“The Countess’s son, Jean, the handsome 21-year-old jet-setting playboy who inherits his late father’s title this November, arrived unexpectedly in Marrakech last Saturday,” he wrote. “The pair had just come from two violent days in Paris, which began with an auto crash, included an attempt by Jean’s best friend to slash his wrists and culminated in a call from another old girlfriend of Jean’s, Pamela Courson, who was staying in Paris with her husband [sic] Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors. She begged Jean to rush over to her place, and when he arrived they found Morrison dead in the bathtub of an apparent overdose of drugs. All these being too much, Marianne and Jean hopped a plane for Marrakech, and a peaceful, retreating week.”

Today Roger recalls: “Jean and Marianne seemed very high and spaced out as they recounted the story. They were very upset... I met Jean through his mother, the Countess de Breteuil, second wife and first love, though a commoner – of the late Count. Jean was the apple of his mother’s eye, but in reality a profligate drug-dealer who left a long trail of disasters in his wake.”

He certainly did – they included Talitha Getty, Pamela Courson, Jim Morrison and himself. De Breteuil died within the year in Tangier, of a massive heroin overdrose.

Marianne Faithful declined to be interviewed for this story.

There was no official autopsy because the medical examiner claimed not to have found any evidence of foul play (French law). The death certificate does not show a cause of death

Alain Ronay and Agnes Varda reappear in the official story when Pamela calls them at around 8am on Saturday, July 3.

“Please call an ambulance. I think my Jim is dying. He is in the bath. He has blood around his nose. Please call for me.” Varda now says: “Pamela called my house and I answered. I called for the firemen – les pompiers. In an accident you always call them, they are the first assistance – like paramedics. I told them: ‘Go right away to this address. There is a scene there where maybe someone is out of life.'

Ronay gave the exact address. We went together, we arrived, and the fireman said, ‘It’s too late – he’s already dead’. Then the doctor comes [Max Vasille, Varda’s family doctor], and does what doctors do. But it was hopeless.”

What do Varda and Ronay make of Bernett’s account? To Ronay, “Bernett’s story about the toilet is ridiculous. Check the physical probability. People would notice a body. How did they carry it out of a club onto Rue Mazarine into a taxi and up three flights of stairs without anyone seeing them? It’s impossible.”

Agnes Varda is even more damning. “I never read his book but I know what he says is rubbish. All I know is I saw Jim Morrison a few days before he died and he didn’t look good. He was not in good shit – this I remember. Then Pamela called me in the morning and she says he doesn’t look good.

Alain calls me the day before and Jim’s not in good shape – so it was nothing special. He wasn’t well. But look: I’m not the one holding his hand. Don’t ask me what other people think. Don’t quote me on someone else’s silly book.”

Is it silly? Bernett and Chauvel don’t think so.

“At first I didn’t think the official story was bullshit,” says Chauvel. “I thought they took him back and he died in the bath, trying to get his wits together. But why send for a doctor before they carried him out? As soon as it happened they closed down the toilets, and put a guy on guard and said they were broken. It was the women’s toilets. I’m not the only one telling this story. I don’t think there’s any doubt that he did not faint in the bathtub. He was definitely there that night. There is no doubt about that.

“Next day they said, or the rumours said, they stripped him and put him in that bath tub in very hot water – very hot so the doctor who confronted the death couldn’t take an accurate temperature of the body. He would make a mistake [estimating the time of death] so maybe that’s true. I don’t know.”

Far from being a story that lay untold for over 30 years, rumours were rife in Paris, with even local papers picking up on it.

“I remember a newspaper article [in Le Parisiene] that appeared a few days after Morrison’s death,” recalls Chauvel. “[It] said – rough translation – ‘Jim Morrison is dead but his corpse keeps moving around.’”

The first official who saw Morrison’s dead body was Alain Raisson, the French fireman/paramedic. Now living in Rio, he confirms the story of his arrival at the apartment with a team of five. The body was warm, so the team hurriedly tried to revive the singer.

“We carried him onto the bed, to do cardiac massage,” he says. “We tried to revive him and failed. It was a short, intense, very real and brief encounter.” The warmth, they realised later, had come from the still warm bath. The doctor who arrived a few minutes later was amazed when told that the man dressed in a Moroccan gown was only 27.

“He looks much older. I would have said a 57 year-old,” the doctor exclaimed.

He was happy to suggest that the patient had died of natural causes. Heart failure, possibly brought about by respiratory problems, was his verdict. No need for an autopsy. When Bernett wrote his book he contacted Raisson and the chief paramedic. “The fireman told me he knew Morrison died much earlier. He said ‘This guy’s been dead for a couple of hours, at least’.’ The police commissioner told me the same thing. ‘We knew there was something wrong with the story’, he said. ‘But, look it’s summertime and I’m going on vacation tomorrow’. He wanted to wrap it up quick so he signed the papers. He didn’t believe the story he was told in the apartment. He said it was strange and phoney, but he let it go.”

By 9am that Saturday the local police were swarming all over Rue Beautreillis and a small crowd of onlookers had gathered on the street. Courson and Ronay managed to leave the apartment on two occasions: to contact an undertaker, and to secure a Death Certificate at the Town Hall – much to the Chief of Police’s annoyance. Before he arrived, Pamela managed to flush her stash of heroin down the toilet and burnt a selection of Jim Morrison’s letters and notes.

“Why?” she was asked later, as the grate smouldered. “They mustn’t read this... this stuff,” she announced, in her singsong voice.

In the small hours of July 3, some hours before the official time of death, a strange thing happened. At club La Bulle, DJ Cameron Watson made an announcement over the tannoy after being approached by two men. Cutting the music Watson called for silence. “Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Morrison has died tonight at the Rock’n’Roll Circus”.

Rumours soon tore through Paris. The Corsican mafia had killed Morrison. A Marseilles hit man had assassinated him. He’d died after a fight with the Count and his henchmen. He’d committed suicide. The CIA had given him the fatal OD. There were bloody daggers under his bath. He’d got two bullet wounds in the head. There were bruises on his body... Amidst the conjecture, what is certain is that – rather than take the body to a morgue – Courson agreed to the French tradition of keeping Morrison’s corpse in a coffin in the bedroom. Every so often an ‘ice man’ turned up with large blocks and canisters of dry ice to keep the body relatively fresh.

“That’s the way we can do it in France,” says Varda. “The Spanish do it. The Jews and Arabs do it. The body is in good condition. [We did the] same with my husband Jacques Demy. We don’t put it in a fridge or under the bed.” But contrary to reports that Pamela slept with Jim’s body, Varda says, “Pam was not alone after Jim died. She stayed at my place and she went back to the apartment in the day. People were with her at all times. The secretaire [Robin Wertle] was there. The police and the undertaker had keys to Rue Beautreillis. When people say that Bill Siddons organised Jim’s funeral at Pere Lachaise – no, he did not. I did that. I helped with all the arrangements. It wasn’t easy getting a foreigner into Pere Lachaise. Anyway Jacques and I organised with Alain. The secretaire [Wertle] did nothing. I only noticed her at the funeral when I saw I was standing with another woman. There was no priest. It was all done quickly and properly. Just normal. Is it lucky to have been there? Would you love to have been there? The man was dead! I wish he were still alive. He cannot be replaced. Voila!”

Ronay’s twist is different again. “I buried Morrison in Pere Lachaise,” he says. With deadly irony, Morrison apparently visited the cemetery at the end of June and was much taken by the artistic bent of the inhabitants. “It was my idea. I was the only person at the funeral parlour. I picked the site. I went alone. Agnes had nothing to do with it. Bill Siddons can’t take credit. Can he speak French? Give me a break. Enough already. Robin Wertle? Nothing to do with it. She’s disappeared. I guess like in all good mysteries she reappears later. “Pam was contacted by Siddons. She had no money and she was losing control. Agnes was good to her. Agnes drove me to the funeral. Pam wanted Jim buried in L.A. for God’s sake! What? And have bus tours stopping every two hours?”

On Monday July 5 Doors manager Bill Siddons received a call from Clive Selwood in the London Elektra office telling him, “Three journalists have called me and asked if Morrison is dead”. Siddons spent six hours calling Pam, reaching her at noon.

Siddons: “I told her, ‘I’m a friend. I’m coming to Paris now’. It was a weird flight. I wasn’t going as an official representative of The Doors; I simply went to help her. I got to the apartment on Tuesday morning while all the local workers were in the cafés drinking their coffee and brandy. Pam was alone. She was coherent, but totally distraught. She’d hit the wall. I cooperated as best as I could.

“I was only 21. I had no tools to deal with this. We ran round the city all day. She filed a report at the American embassy [the form ‘The Death of an American Citizen Abroad’] and we went to the funeral house.”

There was a story that he’d arranged for a more expensive white ash coffin in which to bury his friend. “That’s untrue,” he says. Siddons’ first impression on meeting Jim Morrison when he was the Doors teenage roadie had been, “he scared me to death”. He had no desire to see his friend’s body, which was now finally sealed for burial. The fact that no one from The Doors’ camp saw Jim’s body became one of the cornerstones of the ‘Jim is alive’ conspiracy theory. It’s not one to which Siddons subscribes.

“We buried Jim on Wednesday 7,” he says. “It was morning. His body was picked up at the apartment. I travelled with Pamela and the secretary Robin Wertle to the cemetery. Ronay and Varda followed separately...”

There were four unknown pallbearers. “Everyone was distraught, but it was a nice little goodbye ceremony. Pam said some words. I don’t remember what. [She recited some words from Morrison’s poem The Severed Garden]. I don’t know what happened to Robin. I haven’t spoken to her in 20 years. She wanted nothing to do with the obsession. She was clear on that. She served Jim and Pam very well – and Jim and Pam are gone. I have a high regard for Robin. She was a class act.”

None of The Doors, or anyone at Elektra, was invited to the funeral.

“But that’s not weird at all,” says Siddons, who released a statement on Thursday, July 8 after flying back with Pamela to Los Angeles. “We – I – wanted the funeral low-key. I saw what happened with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Jim was buried with the respect and consideration he deserved as a great poet and artist. I don’t know about the theories surrounding Jim’s death. All I know is Pam told me he died of a heart attack. She simply said, ‘I went to check on him... and he was no longer with us.’”

Back in LA, the remaining Doors heard the news via Siddons’ telephone call.

Ray Manzarek says, “In one way I wasn’t surprised at all. Jim broke the circle. When I heard he was dead I said, ‘See! That’ll teach yer – you can’t burn the candle at both ends!’. Yeah, I thought his excesses would do him in. Of course we were devastated. We went into the studio the next day to work. It was security. It was like my brother had died.”

James Douglas Morrison’s final notebook contained the harrowing message: ‘Last words, Last words. Out’. Also a chilling self-assessment: ‘Regret for wasted nights & wasted years – I pissed it all away – American Music.' July 3, 1971. Paris. It was to be Jim Morrison’s last hitchhike into the unknown.

Classic Rock Magazine, Issue 148, August 2010

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