I like to look over the obituaries in the print edition of the New York Times—there are a lot of interesting stories there. Today, I couldn't help noticing this beautiful face in the paid death notices section.
Figuring this lady had to have been an actress, I glanced at the information: died aged 90 in Santa Barbara, Calif., cancer, nothing about acting. I didn't really register the name, just turned the page. Then I turned back, thinking, "No, no, she was someone I need to know about." I'm glad I did because this lady was Pamela Courson's mother! Every true Doors stan (and viewer of Oliver Stone's 1991 biopic, The Doors) knows that Pamela Courson was the petite redhead who was Doors lead singer Jim Morrison's common-law wife and "cosmic mate," with him in Paris when he died in a bathtub, aged 27, on July 3, 1971.
Pam and Jim at a shoot for Themis, Pam's short-lived clothing boutique.
I've written before that the Doors were THE big band when I was in high school, even though by then Jim was dead 10 years. That was due to the best-selling Morrison biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive, which came out in 1980, with an extremely well-chosen cover photo. By the following year, Jim was such a phenomenon that he made the cover of Rolling Stone with the cover line: "He's hot, he's sexy and he's dead." I still have my original copy of the book.
I have kept this book for THIRTY-THREE years.
I think I was as fascinated with Pamela as I was with Jim. I always identify with the women more and it seemed her story got short shrift, though she obviously mattered a lot to Jim.
I always liked this photo of Jim and Pam. From No One Here Gets Out Alive.
For a lot of people, Pamela was a polarizing figure—the Yoko Ono of the Doors. Jim Morrison fanatics are like other music fanatics who tend to blame any convenient female for the downfall of their beloved male idol. Pam supposedly encouraged Jim to be a poet in Paris rather than a rock star, though if you read anything about Jim at all, you come away with the impression that he was impossible to steer in a direction he didn't want to go in.
Pam and Jim in France in 1971.
Even worse, to Pam haters, were the contradictory accounts she gave of the last night of Jim's life.
I took this picture of Jim's grave in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris in 1996.
If Jim died of a heroin overdose—which is a widely held theory—then Pam's detractors say it had to be all her fault because heroin was her drug of choice, not his. If she didn't give it to him herself, then maybe one of her dealer friends murdered him. I'd argue that she couldn't force him to take anything he didn't want to take. Jim was a massive alcoholic who had used other drugs—just because his friends thought he didn't use heroin doesn't mean he didn't do it. He wouldn't be the first person or the last to claim that he didn't touch that stuff. If only the French authorities had performed an autopsy! But with no evidence of foul play, no autopsy was done, leaving the door open for Pam's enemies to spin their stories, as well as the conspiracy theorists who claim Jim didn't die at all, but faked his death in order to get away from the hectic rock-star life.
Graffiti on Jim's grave in 1996.
After Jim's death, Pam moved back to California, where she had both grown up and lived with Jim. By all accounts, she was devastated, often living with friends who took care of her. Jim's will left everything to Pam, with the stipulation that if she died within three months of him, the estate would pass to his brother and sister. She didn't get any money for a couple of years because she got tied up in lawsuits, but she settled everything in 1973, only to die of a heroin overdose—like Jim, at the age of 27—on April 25, 1974, leaving no will. It was less than three years after Morrison's death, but more than the three months mentioned in Jim's will, so, interestingly, after her death, her parents, as Pam's next-of-kin, inherited Morrison's entire estate. Jim's parents then sued the Coursons. From what I can tell online, the court reaffirmed the Coursons' rights, but some arrangement was reached with the Morrisons so that the two families shared in the estate.
In a story that Rolling Stone ran about Pam's death in its June 6, 1974 issue, attorney Max Fink, the co-executor of Jim's will, claimed that the entire Morrison estate was worth $350,000 to $400,000 at the time. I wonder how many millions it is worth now?
Pamela's parents hoped to bury her next to Jim in Paris, but it proved to be too complicated to get her body overseas, so she was buried in California under the name Pamela Susan Morrison—Pam had referred to herself as Mrs. Morrison after she and Jim took out a couple of marriage licenses, although they never sealed the deal.
You can glimpse a few seconds of Pamela in motion starting at 2:06 here, apparently from 1972, but keep the volume off because it's some weird shit.
Turn the volume back on for this brief audio of Jim and Pam speaking (Jim orders out for food; he doesn't know the address because they're at a friend's place). The full conversation with Rolling Stone's Ben Fong-Torres is here. For more Pamela pictures (and style inspiration), check out Pamela Courson Inspirations and She dances in a ring of fire.