TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – This is the end for 40-year-old convictions that left Jim Morrison marked with what today would be considered sex-offender status. Florida’s Clemency Board, egged on by departing Gov. Charlie Crist, pardoned The Doors’ long-dead singer Thursday on indecent exposure and profanity charges stemming from a wild concert.
Some people who were at the Miami show March 1, 1969, insist even today that he exposed himself, though others in the audience and Morrison’s bandmates contend he was just teasing the crowd and only pretended to do the deed. Crist, tuned in to the controversy by a Doors fan, said there was enough doubt about what happened at the Dinner Key Auditorium to justify a pardon.
The board, which consists of Crist and a three-member Cabinet, voted unanimously to pardon Morrison as they granted several other pardons Thursday. At the hearing, the governor called the convictions a “blot” on the record of an accomplished artist for “something he may or may not have done.”
He said Morrison died before he was afforded the chance to present his appeal, so Crist was doing that for him. Board members pointed out several times that they couldn’t retry the case but that the pardon forgave Morrison and negated his sentence.
“In this case the guilt or innocence is in God’s hands, not ours,” Crist said.
Morrison had received a six-month jail sentence — never served — and a $500 fine for the 1970 convictions, which carried consequences for the band. Ray Manzarek, The Doors’ keyboard player, said Miami was supposed to be the start of a 20-city tour, but every venue canceled after Morrison’s arrest.
“We had the mandate of heaven, and I think at that moment, he lost the mandate of heaven,” Manzarek said. “In the recording studio, the magic stayed, but I think at that moment in Miami, the live performance magic left for a little while and then came back intermittently.”
Morrison’s appeals were never resolved. He was found dead in a Paris bathtub in 1971 at age 27.
Manzarek and Doors guitarist Robby Krieger supported the pardon because they say Morrison never exposed himself, though they agreed Florida’s move will have little affect on Morrison’s wild, outsized, drug-addled rock ‘n’ roll image.
“Jim’s legacy is one of Dionysian madness and frenzy and of a chaotic American poet. I don’t think that the Miami episode has altered his image one iota,” Manzarek said.
The pardon isn’t enough for Patricia Kennealy Morrison, who says she married Morrison in a ceremony that was never made official. She wanted the convictions expunged and called the pardon “a complete cheap, cynical, political ploy.”
“I have a real problem with the semantics of a pardon. The pardon says that all his suffering and all that he went through during the trial, everything both of us went through, was negated,” she said.
Kennealy Morrison says she exchanged vows with Morrison in a Celtic pagan ceremony. Morrison left his entire estate to another woman, Pamela Courson, a longtime girlfriend who was with him when he died. Courson died in 1974.
Kennealy Morrison said Morrison’s convictions led to his demise, and that of the band. She said he felt like he “had been made a scapegoat of the counterculture movement.”
“He cared about it. It affected him deeply. In fact, I think it was one of the contributory causes of his death, actually. It certainly destroyed The Doors, pretty much. They didn’t perform so much as a group after Miami, after the verdict came through,” she said.
Manzarek and Krieger said Morrison’s main interest in appealing the case was avoiding jail time.
“He wouldn’t give a (expletive)” about a pardon, Krieger said. “He would think it was old news.”
Here’s what most people who were at the concert agree on: The Doors went on stage late. The auditorium was oversold and wasn’t air conditioned. Morrison was drunk and stopped in the middle of songs with an anti-authority, profanity-riddled rant.
A live lamb was brought on stage at one point, and Morrison also grabbed a police officer’s hat and threw it in the crowd. The singer took off his shirt and fiddled with his belt, and fans poured onto the stage.
“There were 100 photos offered in evidence at the trial, photos of everything — Jim with the lamb, Jim with the hat, on the stage collapsing, riot in the audience. Not one photo of Jim’s magnificent member,” said Manzarek.
“It never actually happened. It was mass hypnosis,” he said.
Krieger added: “Nobody would like to have that charge hanging over their head even if they are dead. I’m sure his family would be happy to see that go, especially since it never happened.”
While Morrison denied exposing himself, he defended the use of nudity in theater even after his arrest. And he never toned down his lifestyle.
The fact that Morrison didn’t change his life is exactly why he shouldn’t have been pardoned, said retired Miami police sergeant Angel Lago, who came to Tallahassee to speak against the pardon. While he wasn’t on the police force at the time of the concert, he said a friend testified at the trial that Morrison exposed himself. He firmly said his friend wouldn’t have lied under oath.
“The man is not worthy of this. I don’t care if he was a poet, I don’t care if he walked on water,” Largo told reporters during a break in the meeting.
Crist, a Republican-turned-independent, began considering a pardon for Morrison in 2007 after fan David Diamond of Dayton, Ohio, contacted him, and began pursuing it after he lost a bid for U.S. Senate last month. He steps down as governor next month.