Pam Courson is one of the best-known characters in The Doors’ story, but also probably the least understood. She’s surrounded in more rumor after her death than even Jim Morrison. Courson was Jim Morrison’s “cosmic mate” and common-law wife.
Courson was Jim Morrison’s muse, as he wrote songs such as “Love Street” for and about her. She’s there in “Celebration of the Lizard” in the lines “her dark red hair/The white soft skin.” References to Courson also appear in “Roadhouse Blues,” as “keep your eyes on the road/your hands upon the wheel” were reportedly driving instructions Morrison gave Courson, and she’s present in “You Make Me Real,” the coda to “Peace Frog,” “Blue Sunday,” and the very autobiographical “Queen of the Highway.” “Orange County Suite” is Morrison’s final ode to her.
Courson was born in Weed, California, on December 22, 1946, and lived the rock ‘n’ roll life much as Morrison did. Before she met Morrison she was rebelling on her own, cutting classes in school, smoking cigarettes and hitchhiking to L.A. It isn’t known when she met Morrison. Oliver Stone’s movie ‘The Doors” has Jim meeting her on Venice Beach, while Ray Manzarek says it was at The London Fog. Even before Courson met Morrison, she was interested in design and fashion and with Morrison’s money she opened a boutique on Santa Monica called “Themis.” Morrison invested heavily to decorate the shop, it had feathers on the ceiling, and soon Courson was buying the “hippest clothes from around the world.”
Courson was also Morrison’s equal in daring and adventure, including driving without headlights on Mulholland Drive (a famously long and winding road in the Hollywood Hills). Courson’s and Morrison’s relationship was volatile and they frequently fought, with Courson throwing plates and cups at Morrison (Morrison said to Danny Sugerman that “that chick has one hell of an arm”). Both Courson and Morrison were involved with others but despite these frequent woundings they always returned to each other. Courson was involved in drugs (as was Morrison) and her drug of choice seemed to be heroin. Courson was with Morrison in Paris in the spring of 1971 where he died under mysterious circumstances in the bathtub.
Pam reportedly blamed herself for Morrison’s death. Many think Morrison may have gotten into Courson’s heroin, and in combination with the alcohol in his system, it arrested his heart. Ray Manzarek recalled seeing her once after Morrison’s death and all she could do was cry while Manzarek held her.
After Morrison’s death, Courson’s life spiraled out of control. She sued The Doors for control of Morrison’s share of the royalties. Some people claim Courson took to prostitution after Morrison’s death. Such claims are unverified and seem to come from those that feel animus towards Courson.
Courson became more involved in drugs, and in what was perhaps attempt to relive her early years with Morrison, she took up with an UCLA film student who had started a band. Shortly before her death Courson was awarded Morrison’s share of The Doors’ publishing rights. In an almost self-fulfilling prophecy, she died on April 25th, 1974 at age 27.
Jim Morrison’s life and career on the Sunset Strip are legendary but Courson was also able to inspire some legend. She’s supposed to have inspired Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” and The Eagles’ “Hotel California” is also said to have been inspired by Morrison and Courson’s relationship.
Originally published December 22, 2013.
Pam Courson may be the only member of the 27 club that was never a rock ‘n’ roll star herself. She earned fame the hard way, alongside Jim Morrison. Courson was Jim Morrison’s long time girlfriend, ‘cosmic mate’, muse; the person that was with Morrison from before he was a rock star until Paris and beyond.
Courson was a good match for Morrison as she reportedly could match him in derring-do. If Morrison drove the winding roads of Mulholland Drive at night without lights, Courson matched the challenge. She equaled Morrison in the intake of drugs, as many believe it was Courson’s heroin habit that led directly or indirectly to Morrison’s death. And of course in affairs both she and Morrison engaged in sexual relationships with other people.
After her return from Paris, and after Morrison’s death, Courson was broken up and breaking apart at the seams. Her grief over Morrison’s death was nearly inconsolable. Ray Manzarek reported that he went to talk to Courson when she came back from Paris and all she could do was cry while Manzarek held her. Some of Courson’s grief could have been guilt over Morrison’s death either in her introducing Morrison to heroin or that Morrsion got into her stash thinking it may be cocaine.
In any event Courson blamed herself. Courson’s life spiraled out of control, she sued The Doors for Morrison’s quarter of the royalties, and in an effort to relive the past she took up with a UCLA film student who was in a band, and her drug habit worsened. In what was probably a self-fulfilling prophecy, Courson was found dead in her apartment of an apparent heroin overdose by her mother on the morning of April 25, 1974. She was 27 years old.
Originally published April 25, 2014.