What Really Happened To Jim Morrison?
The new issue of Classic Rock features the most detailed account yet of Jim Morrison’s last days, including 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 Bernett’s accounts of what happened on that fateful night. Come back tomorrow for a new interview with the eye-witness who backs up his story.
Interview: Max Bell
Sam Bernett: “I was in the club that night, July 2, and Jim came in at about 1am, July 3. He was at the bar as usual. He was with some friends who I didn’t know. He was expecting people to bring him some stuff for Pamela. He was often there in doing that to little cafes and dealers in the street in Saint Germain to take home for her. He was waiting. He drank, we talked I listened. I was busy as the club manager. I wasn’t always next to him. I bought him drinks. Some guys came and then for some 20 minutes he wasn’t at the bar. He disappeared. Could have gone anywhere. Then the girl in charge of the upstairs cloakroom… looked for me.
“She was worried because one door had been locked for a long time and people were complaining they couldn’t get in. They banged on the door, anyone there? No answer. So I checked with her. No answer indeed. I didn’t know Jim was behind the door. I called my security guy to smash the door open and inside was Jim. Sitting on the loo with non-reaction, like sleeping or knocked out, his trousers slightly down. He was sitting with his head down and his arms down, like a dead guy.
“I shook him. I looked at his face, no reaction. He had foam on his nose and lips. I told the girl to get a doctor. I had a friend a customer there every night – he was in the club. He came, looked at Jim, started a little check up. [Then] he looked at me and said: ‘That guy is dead.’ I said immediately: ‘Call the firemen, paramedics.’ Suddenly two guys who had been in the club with Jim came and said: ‘No, he’s not dead, he’s fucked up. Don’t call the police, don’t call his family, we will take him back home.’
“I said: ‘No, that’s impossible. We have to call the police and medical people.’ ‘No,’ they said, ‘forget it. We’ll take him out the club. Can we use the back door? Not the front door.’ ‘No! You can’t.’ Then the club owner was called, everyone hanging around now – not Paul Pacini [the club owner], his right hand man. He said: ‘Don’t call the police; we don’t want problems or trouble. They’ll close the club and we’ve got a scandal.’
“I said: ‘You can’t do that’ and he said: ‘I’m the boss, you do what I say.’ The two guys packed him up and they took him out the club through the Alcazar [the club adjoining the Circus], then to the street door opposite the Rue de Seine and the entrance to the Circus. The club was closed; the cabaret was over, apart from a few people who looked to see what was happening.
“From then I don’t know what happened. They took him to the apartment. I was told this – they put him in the tub and waited an hour and a half, people calling the paramedic. Pamela was in the apartment, out of her mind, screaming. Completely stoned.
“When I wrote my book [published in France in 2007, The End – Jim Morrison] I went to the policeman and the paramedics. The fireman told me he knew he’d died earlier: ‘This guy’s been dead for a couple of hours.’ The police commissioner told me the same thing: ‘We knew there was something wrong with the story.’ I don’t know why – but he said: ‘It’s summertime – look I’m going on vacation tomorrow.’ He wanted to wrap it quick so he signed the papers. He didn’t believe the story he was told in the apartment. It was strange and phoney but he let it go.
“I couldn’t tell you [the name of] some other person who was in the club. I couldn’t put it in my book [for legal reasons]. But I’m giving you my witness account. What happened after and why with the cops and everyone else who didn’t tell the truth, who covered it up, I don’t understand. My friend the doctor was positive he was dead. I won’t say his name because he’s dead but his family are alive.
“I waited 35 years to tell my story because I got fed up with people asking me questions every time Jim’s death date came round. My wife said: ‘Stop moaning and write your book then.’ I didn’t keep my mouth shut before that – I just didn’t go to the press of my own accord. I remember at a dinner party I was sitting next to Oliver Stone’s mother – this is when he was making the movie of Jim and The Doors. And I told her: ‘Look, I know what happened, if your son is interested.’ I told her what I knew but Stone didn’t bother with that version. Maybe she never told him! But you know, the American version of Jim’s death is rubbish. Nonsense. The French version is closer to the truth. Americans can be naïve.”
Did you ever think the heroin episode was just a ghastly mistake? That he thought he was taking cocaine, for example?
“Yeah, I have often thought did he take heroin by mistake. It is possible of course. Or was the heroin for Pamela or actually for him? But it wasn’t the first time he was scoring. I don’t think he was trying to commit suicide. There was no reason for him to sniff 90% pure heroin but maybe that was his mistake. That stuff was strong enough to kill you in less than a minute if you didn’t know what you were doing.
“But you see heroin was very much in the underground scene in Paris, especially with musicians. Even more than cocaine which was still pretty rare. Heroin was big with the demi monde, a la mode with people like Chet Baker, it especially circulated with the black jazz guys in the clubs on the Latin Quarter.
“As for Morrison. I know he was fed up with being a pop star. He wanted to stay in Paris and write his poetry. That’s what he always told me. ‘I’m tired of the Doors. I want to quit.’
“He did that. He quit for good.”
* See this month’s Classic Rock for the full story of the making of LA Woman and the last days of Jim Morrison.