What Really Happened To Jim Morrison? Part Two
The new issue of Classic Rock features the most detailed account yet of Jim Morrison’s last days. Yesterday on the CR website we published an interview with Sam Bernett, the man who claims Morrison died in the night club he was managing at the time, the Rock’N’Roll Circus. Today we publish a new interview with the eye-witness who backs up his story: Patrick Chauvel, now an esteemed war photographer. In July 1971 he was finanacing trips to Vietnam by working in the Rock And Roll Circus club in Paris.
Interview: Max Bell
Patrick Chauvel: “I was working in the Rock And Roll Circus from time to time between trips to Vietnam. I saw Jim Morrison many times at the Circus. Well, we all did a lot of liquor – he was in the mood of a guy who’d say often that he didn’t recognise himself in his fans, it made him off balance, when he was a good-looking rock star. I think he thought the fans were stupid. He said he wanted to get rid of his fans and lose them by changing his look – so he became fat and bearded.
“Sometimes he came in to the club with friends; he was rarely on his own… I didn’t even recognise him on several occasions… Sam Bernett knew him ’cos he was in charge of the club. He entertained the club. His job was to get people from the jet-set in. He’d imitate Johnny Halliday or he’d be dancing. Sam was always sociable. I remember that Cameron Watson [Parisian club DJ who announced Jim’s death hours before the official time of death] was there too.
“Jim would come in and sit on a couch. He’d be separate to others in the club. He didn’t dance and he didn’t make a big noise…I saw him with a few people and always drinking. But then it was a club! He was interested in [my friend] Sky. He was pretty friendly with him. Yeah, they knew each other. They had the Anglo Saxon thing in common [ie, they both spoke English], and the Vietnam War, and the Indians.
“Because Sky was a half-breed he interested a lot of people. Sky told me that Jim started writing a poem about him – about his father, who was a Scot, dying – driving drunk and dying in a car crash, and then what happened to his mother and sister, and being alone and going back to the reservation. His mother was left with two young kids – Sky and his sister – back in Tucson, Arizona. They had to leave and go back to the reservation where they came from. Sky’s father was a petrol engineer. He met Sky’s Apache mother when he was looking for petrol on the reservation. That’s how they met.
“On the night in question Jean Marie, the Rock And Roll Circus club boss, spoke to several guys, and me, and said, ‘We’ve got a problem here…’ They called in a doctor and asked us to stay and to make the night shorter… We had to take him out of there because – that’s the end of the club…. if they find Jim Morrison dead in the club… it’s not good for the club…
“Was I scared? Hmmm… Nobody knew about it apart from two or three guys, possibly – the boss, maybe Cameron knew, Sam definitely did. He knew. They all just wanted to keep it real quiet. They were embarrassed by it - so they took him via the two clubs connection, the Rock And Roll Circus and the Alcazar, which connect through the cloakroom and up the stairs… to the street door backstage.
“The boss was afraid of having a doctor or a newsman saying anything, so they evacuated Jim to the backstage of the Alcazar… et voila into the car! I helped carry him in a blanket, yes. I can’t say 100 per cent he was dead, but he was not moving that’s for sure… I thought, yeah it [was] bizarre – but I’d just come back from Vietnam to nightclub work, I had seen a lot of weird things going on…
“He was put into a Mercedes. I don’t know who took him away. They took him home is what they told me. I didn’t see it leave, no. I helped put him in and then went back into the club because they wanted everything to look as normal as possible. They put him into the backseat very gently. That’s why I thought he was still alive. I saw that shape. That heavy shape on the backseat.”
Did you know the people who put him in the car?
“Yes. Most of them.”
Who were they?
“I remember one name. Dominique Petrolaci, a Corsican name, who was another barman, the main barman probably. He shot himself shortly afterwards. Not a long time afterwards, at a party, he put a shotgun through his mouth. In front of everybody.”
It’s a heavy story.
“A lot of drugs, yeah. How can I put this? It was a very free time for sex and that kind of stuff, and what comes with it is a lot of people lose their girlfriend or boyfriend and there’s a lot of jealousy. So there’s a lot of high tension. It looks like freedom but the price was hard. Me? I was in and out making money to go back to Vietnam and coming back six months later.”
Did you spend a lot of time in the club?
“I wasn’t inside so often. Cameron Watson was – he was trying to avoid the draft in Vietnam, which is why he was in Paris. I remember a newspaper article that appeared a few days after Morrison’s death that said – rough translation – ‘Jim Morrison is dead but his corpse keeps moving around’… Something went wrong somewhere. The question is always asked. I gave my story to a lawyer because I wanted to write a book, and he told me only to do it if you turn it into a romance – a fiction.
“Everybody is either dead or a fiction now… The real details we don’t talk about. That nightclub was heavy. It was heavy – gangsters, nightlife, bad cops, Mafia? Oh well, yes. Once there was a gunfight outside the club. I used to carry a bayonet on me every night. [Laughs] Because that was crazy but it was necessary. There was another club called La Bulle – which I know Jim Morrison used to go too sometimes – and there was a triangle of these places Rock And Roll, La Bulle and Sherwood. Big clubs, all more or less in same area, all heavy clubs.”
Did Morrison come in to score heroin?
“Morrison scored heroin? He didn’t need to buy there – I don’t think – I have no idea. I heard this: that the guy he was used to getting drugs from had changed. He’d been arrested or something. So he [Morrison] had a harder time finding some. So he got involved with a new guy, and the heroin was not the same type at all. It was a lot more pure, or whatever, and he [Morrison] didn’t know that. And he overdosed.
“I never saw him take it, so I can’t answer that. He wasn’t so much drunk in the club, but he was alcoholised I’d say. I didn’t see him the morning after. But in the evening he seemed heavy on the words, a bit emotional… Or he’d get up and say something loud. Usually he was quite an easy and quiet guy. But he had this thing where he seemed like he had something he wanted to say in his eyes, he was awake, he wants to say or do something with a lot of energy, but it wouldn’t go past his mouth. It just passed through his eyes for a moment. He was fed up.”
How often did you see him in that summer?
“I don’t know for sure. I can’t remember. I did see him for three nights in a row, once. I thought I could play guitar, so I talked music to him and a few friends, but it became embarrassing, so I decided to stop that forever. And then I saw him on and off, and many times I didn’t even know whether he was there, because it was a pretty big club on two floors. So, there was usually the thing – he had a group of people who would gather around him, or sit next to him, or even if they didn’t talk to him they were hanging around. There must be photos. I remember people taking photos of him, sitting on that couch, in his space.”
Was he the biggest star in the club?
“No. There were lots of stars in the club. [Johnny] Hallyday etcetera. Often there was a lot of fist fighting in that club too. Often it would end up in the staircase up from the dance floor, and then the street. Yeah, a lot of French stars went there and to l’Alcazar next door. Actors from the play Hair, which was playing in Paris…
“Sky told me once that Jim wanted to replace him in Vietnam. So he could get an honourable discharge, rather than being a deserter. Jim was fascinated by the story of the Indian. He wanted to go to Vietnam and replace him for a while.”
Sky and Jim got on well?
“Spent many hours. I wasn’t with Sky all the time in Paris, when he was completely crazy. I’m sure they met pretty often. I think Jim was looking for that kind of philosophy – Sky was taken with the idea of pure Indian derivation – Indian ideals and Mother Earth, that kind of stuff: the Earth is our mother, the Sky is our father, and Morrison was taking that stuff pretty seriously.”
Did Morrison ever turn up with Pamela?
“Well, there was often this blonde, often the same one. I don’t know if that was his wife or not [Pamela was red-haired]… I did see him at his table with other girls. I remember I saw one girl called Cochise a few times. Despite her name she wasn’t Indian. She danced like crazy in front of his table. She was often there. She was a beautiful dark haired junkie. She died of AIDS.
What is your verdict on the official story of Jim’s death? Bullshit?
“At first I didn’t think it was bullshit. I thought they took him back and he was unconscious and he died trying to take a bath later…trying to get his wits together… But they sent in the doctor [at the club]… He’s probably dead too! [laughs] He probably died of a heart attack reading the news…. [laughs]
“So… I didn’t think much. Now? I think it’s a waste of somebody fantastic. I’d still do what I did because it wasn’t me trying to serve a scandal of someone who is dead. If he was dead it didn’t change much. They called a doctor before they carried him out. Was he dying? I don’t know. They called the doctor in the club. I remember that. The doctor wasn’t already there [in fact, Bernett says he was – Ed.]. I also remember they closed the toilets. They put one guy in front of the toilets and said it was broken down. It was the women’s toilets.”
So this is the true story?
“I’m not the only one telling that story and we were all there… So I don’t see why there’s any doubt that he did not faint in his bathtub. He definitely took a trip in that car – the Mercedes – from that nightclub. There is no doubt about that. That is sure. HE WAS THERE THAT NIGHT. THERE IS NO DOUBT ABOUT THAT. THAT IS DEFINITE. Now, did he die in his bathtub? Next day they said, or the rumours said, they stripped him and put him in that bath tub in very hot water – very hot so the doctor who confronted the death couldn’t take an accurate temperature of the body… He would make a mistake… So maybe that’s true. I don’t know.”
And the next day?
“I tried not to think about it. I hope I slept with a girl. Did I think about what had just happened? Not really. I don’t recall… I felt bad… because a lot of young people were going down in a stupid way. It was pretty violent [in Paris]. I got stabbed a few days before that night, fighting in the street in front of the club with knives, so it didn’t surprise me really. When I think of it now – coming back from Vietnam with guys dying in your arms every day – even in Paris, having a knife fight in Paris – it was a strange time.
“The Circus wanted to employ Sky as a bouncer but they changed their mind quickly because he didn’t know how to fight. He just knew how to kill. He was incapable of a fistfight. He would grab the guy and break his neck. His enemy is in front of him? He grabs him and it’s over in a second. They would have needed a bus to evacuate people, not a Mercedes. It wasn’t a good idea to employ him…”
* Find out more about Patrick Chauvel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Chauvel
See this month’s Classic Rock for the full story of the making of LA Woman and the last days of Jim Morrison.