The Mystery Of Jim Morrison’s Death And The Theories Around It

Published March 20, 2018
Updated April 28, 2021

Since no autopsy was ever performed, some theorize that Jim Morrison's death didn't go down like it was reported. Others believe he never died at all.

Jim Morrison And The Doors

Mark and Colleen Hayward/Getty ImagesJim Morrison and The Doors posing for their debut album cover.

Jim Morrison’s death left the music industry in mourning and a legion of fans in shambles. He had captivated millions as frontman of The Doors before joining the 27 Club of singers who died untimely. Only once grief subsided did fans begin to question Jim Morrison’s cause of death — which remains mysterious to this day.

While Morrison was found dead in a Paris bathtub on July 3, 1971, contradictory tales of how he got there have muddied the waters. The official narrative has him wake up ill and take a bath when he died. Others claim he overdosed on heroin at a nearby club long before.

Morrison’s downfall began years earlier, however. He had revealed his genitals at a Miami, Florida concert in 1969 and was convicted of indecent exposure and profanity. With promoters canceling the band’s upcoming shows and Morrison’s appeal pending, he moved to Paris in March 1971 with his girlfriend Pamela Courson.

What happened in July has baffled fans for years. Courson said Morrison fell asleep after a normal night out, but woke up feeling ill and ran a bath before he died. A Paris nightclub manager and his bartender, however, recalled seeing Morrison dead hours earlier — after meeting two drug dealers in the bathroom of their club.

The Official Story Of Jim Morrison’s Death

Pamela Courson met Jim Morrison in Hollywood, California in 1965. The redheaded art student had recently dropped out of school when she found herself at a Doors show on the Sunset Strip. It didn’t take long for Morrison to call Courson his “cosmic mate” and the couple to fall in love.

Jim Morrison And Pamela Courson

Estate of Edmund Teske/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesBoth Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson died of heroin overdoses at 27.

When The Doors released their debut album in 1967, however, Jim Morrison was one of the most famous singers in the world. The couple’s drug-fueled relationship suffered infidelities and tumult but always ended in reconciliation.

It appeared the couple’s move to Paris during Morrison’s legal trouble was everything they needed. While they weren’t married, they certainly behaved as though they were. In March 1971, they rented an apartment at 17 rue Beautreillis on the Right Bank of the Seine River.

While some accounts have Morrison looking unhealthy at the time, available images taken in his last days depict a calm and hardy face. Unfortunately, the morning of July 3, 1971, proved appearances were deceiving — as Jim Morrison was found dead in the bathroom of his home.

Jim Morrison Lying On Stage

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesJim Morrison performing in Germany in 1968.

Courson called authorities who arrived too late to revive him and declared him dead of heart failure. Police naturally had some questions and suspected drugs, but Courson maintained they had merely gone to dinner and a movie and listened to music at home before going to bed.

She said Morrison woke up ill in the middle of the night and took a hot bath while she continued sleeping. With no autopsy ever performed, Courson’s narrative was taken at face value — until notable Paris nightlife figures elaborated on the story.

How Did Jim Morrison Die?

On April 25, 1974, Pamela Courson was found dead of a heroin overdose herself. She was the sole heir of Morrison’s will but died a month before the document was settled. Rock and Roll Circus manager Sam Bernett came forward with claims of his own in 2007.

Jim Morrison Backstage

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty ImagesJim Morrison taking a breather backstage.

His book The End: Jim Morrison purports Morrison died in a toilet stall of the club. Morrison had certainly spent countless nights at the venue, often alongside Courson. On July 3, 1971, however, Bernett saw him enter the bathroom with two drug dealers at 1:00 a.m.

When Morrison failed to reemerge, Bernett had a bouncer kick the door down to find him unconscious. Bernett alerted a doctor — a regular at the bar — who confirmed Morrison was dead.

“The flamboyant singer of ‘The Doors,’ the beautiful California boy, had become an inert lump crumpled in the toilet of a nightclub,” wrote Bernett. “When we found him dead, he had a little foam on his nose, and some blood too, and the doctor said, ‘That must be an overdose of heroin.'”

Jim Morrison Death

John Pearson Wright/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty ImagesFlowers and graffiti cover the grave of American rock singer Jim Morrison in the Pere Lachaise cemetery, Paris, France, 1979.

French writer Patrick Chauvel recalled the same. He was tending bar that night and suddenly found himself helping people carry Morrison up a staircase. With no ambulance called, Chauvel believed Morrison had died already or passed out from various substances.

“I think he was already dead,” said Chauvel. “I don’t know. It was a long time ago, and weren’t drinking only water.”

Bernett maintains that the two drug dealers responsible insisted that Morrison was merely unconscious. He wanted to call an ambulance but was warned by his boss to stay silent. Ultimately, Bernett believes that the drug dealers carried Morrison’s body outside and drove him home — dumping it in the tub as Courson slept.

The Legacy Of Jim Morrison’s Death

The most widely accepted account of Jim Morrison’s death is that he and Courson spent the night doing heroin and listening to music together. They snorted the drug since Morrison afraid of needles. Unfortunately, that particular heroin was too strong for Morrison.

Courson hoped a warm bath would alleviate his symptoms. Unfortunately, it was all for naught. With the singer dead, she waited until morning to notify authorities and feigned ignorance. The theory is rather baseless, however, as she never reaped any financial rewards.

Jim Morrison Grave

Barbara Alper/Getty ImagesJim Morrison’s tombstone.

According to singer Marianne Faithfull, it was her ex-boyfriend Jean de Breiteuil who supplied Morrison with the heroin that killed him.

“I mean I’m sure it was an accident,” she said. “Poor bastard. The smack was too strong? Yeah. And he died.”

As no autopsy was ever performed, countless theories have emerged. Some suggested Morrison faked his death. Others claimed he moved to New York City to recite poetry or left for Oregon to open the Jim Morrison Sanctuary ranch under the name of Bill Loyer.

Ultimately, Jim Morrison was buried three days after his death in a small ceremony at the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, France. That is, unless the rumors are true — and a body double was interred, instead.

Now that you’ve read about Jim Morrison’s death, learn about pervy classic rock songs that are way filthier than most people realize. Then meet Cynthia Plaster Caster, the groupie who made molds out of rock music’s most famous penises.

Aimee Lamoureux
Aimee Lamoureux is a writer based in New York City.