They come by the thousands from all parts of the world. Some were not yet born when The Lizard King reigned. They leave trinkets, drugs and graffiti acclaiming him. Jim Morrison was the songwriter and lead singer for The Doors. He skyrocketed to fame with his iconic 1967 hit “Light My Fire”. He continues to hold that fame even though it has been more than forty years since he tragically died in 1971 in Paris. By his presence alone, he has made Père Lachaise in Paris the most visited cemetery in the world.
Cimitière Père Lachaise is situated on Boulevard de Ménilmontant in Paris’ 20th arrondisement. Approximately one million people have been buried here in the past two hundred years of the cemetery’s existence. The list is long, but it includes about every French literary and artistic figure and many international celebrities such as Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Oscar Wilde and Chopin. Entrance is free.
On my last visit to Paris I had only two sites that I absolutely had to visit—the Palace of Versailles and Mr. Mojo Risin’s (an anagram of Morrison’s name) gravesite. I had seen Versailles decades ago but I had never been to the grave of The Lizard King (the name came from a line in one of Jim’s later songs).
It was mid-day and mid-week when we entered the burial ground. Cobblestone pathways meander among the graves and private mausoleums on a hillside shaded by huge, leafy trees. Although there are numerous maps throughout the property showing the final resting place of many of the famous, I only wanted to see one. Due to its placement, we actually walked past the site. At the bottom of the hillside we asked and someone pointed back up the path. I knew when I saw the graffiti-covered wall of a mausoleum that had been blocked from our view on the first pass that we were in the right spot, but I couldn’t figure out why Jim Morrison would be buried in a mausoleum with an unmistakably French surname. It was then that I saw the barriers that surround his grave behind the mausoleum. The grave was in a roughly triangular space between other graves and small mausoleums. We were the only people there until a woman joined us. Finally, I had seen the most renowned Rock’n’Roll shrine in the world. I gave me a chill to actually see it since I remember when The Doors were hot and when Jim Morrison unfortunately joined ‘Club 27’, a group of musicians such as Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and most recently, Amy Winehouse who all had the dubious distinction of dying at the age of twenty seven.
Jim Morrison died while taking a bath in his apartment in Paris on July 3, 1971 where he had gone a few months earlier to get his life together and to get a grip on his addiction to alcohol and drugs and to escape some legal problems. It is widely assumed that Mr. Mojo Risin’ accidentally ingested heroin that his girlfriend had just bought for herself. He did not use heroin and such a large dose was a certain death sentence. There was never an autopsy performed, as French law at the time did not require it, so the cause of his death is still speculative.
His headstone simply states his name and birth and death dates. It also has a quote inscribed in ancient Greek, oddly put there by his estranged family. It translates as “True To His Own Spirit”.
All hail The Lizard King!