INTERVIEW - Book sheds new light on Jim Morrison's death

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - For 36 years the official story was that on the last night of his life, rock legend Jim Morrison went to a film in Paris, fell ill and died of heart failure in his bath at the age of 27.

A group of tourists are seen viewing a mural of rock legend Jim Morrison, the late lead singer of the band "The Doors," near the boardwalk in Venice Beach, California in this July 19, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/Files

Now Sam Bernett, a former Paris nightclub manager, claims in a new book that the flamboyant lead singer of The Doors died on July 3, 1971 in the men’s bathroom of his club, the Rock and Roll Circus, apparently after taking a heroin overdose.

Though rumours had swirled for years about the circumstances of Morrison’s death and Bernett was regularly pestered by reporters investigating it, he kept his story quiet until his wife suggested writing a book.

“Jim Morrison’s friends and his fiancee Pamela Courson chose a story where there was no drug, no alcohol, no overdose. I did not want to dispute that out of respect for his family and his entourage,” Bernett told Reuters in an interview at the legendary Flore cafe in the heart of Saint-Germain des Pres, one of Morrison’s favourite Paris haunts.

So why write a book now?

“I just wanted to tell the truth once and for all. I only wrote what many people know. I am just telling the facts,” said Bernett, who once worked for the New York Times.

In the French language book “The End: Jim Morrison”, Bernett claims that on the night of his death, Morrison went to the club and was joined by two men who sold him heroin. At one point he noticed Morrison had gone.

A bouncer broke down the door of a locked lavatory cubicle and Morrison was discovered slumped on the toilet seat.

“The flamboyant singer of The Doors, the beautiful California boy, had become an inert lump crumpled in the toilet of a nightclub,” Bernett writes in the book.

He said he asked a doctor friend to examine the singer.

“His face was grey, his eyes closed, there was blood under his nose and a white foam around his slightly open mouth and in his beard, he was not breathing,” he writes, adding “The doctor was talking of a mortal overdose”

Bernett said he did not see Morrison take any heroin that night, but said he was known to snort the drug because he was afraid of needles.

He claims the two drug dealers insisted Morrison was only unconscious and carried him from the club. At the singer’s apartment, Morrison was thrown into a bath in an attempt to revive him, he believes.

Bernett says he wanted to call for help at the club, but was ordered to stand aside by his boss, who did not want a scandal.

“I strongly opposed it but I was 26 at the time. I was not the owner of the club”, he said.

Shortly after Morrison’s death, Bernett quit the club and went on to become a radio personality, rock biographer and a vice president of Disneyland Paris.


Morrison moved to Paris in March 1971 after he was convicted of indecent exposure at a 1969 concert and promoters started to cancel his shows. He arrived in Paris accompanied by Courson.

There he wandered the streets, carrying a plastic bag containing his writings and partying with his friends. He had put on so much weight he was barely recognisable.

“He was slowly committing suicide. He was in such bad shape that the doctor who examined him thought he was 57 years old,” says Bernett.

Bernett says he was not a close friend of Morrison.

“For four months he came almost every night to my club...He was very friendly with me but I was not close to him. He could be very difficult, very self-destructive,”

At the Rock and Roll Circus club, Morrison hung out with all the era’s hipsters. Singer Marianne Faithfull, movie director Roman Polanski, painter Salvador Dali and even a grandson of Charles de Gaulle were club regulars.

“I introduced Jim to Johnny Halliday,” says Bernett, fondly recalling “surreal” scenes of the two young rockers stumbling together out of his club in early morning hours.

Bernett says he wanted the book to also retrace a “time of incredible creativity” though he insists he has no nostalgia.

“It’s all great memories. I was very young. I had the best club. It was truly the musical hub of the whole world...It was baby boomers in their twenties discovering music and all sorts of freedoms,” he said.

Asked if any modern day rock star reminded him of Jim Morrison, Bernett said: “There was Kurt Cobain but he is dead too... Maybe Kate Moss’s boyfriend ... yes Pete Doherty is a bit like that, but to me he is no superstar like Jim was.”

Bernett’s account contradicts that given to police by Pamela Courson, who said the couple went to the movies before falling asleep. She claimed Morrison awoke in the night feeling ill and took a hot bath, and that she later found him dead in the tub.

Morrison was buried on July 7, 1971 in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. There was no post-mortem examination. Courson died of an overdose in 1974.