Pam Courson, who Jim Morrison called his ‘cosmic mate,’ died on April 25, 1974, apparently of a heroin overdose. Even though a biography of Courson and Morrison explored their relationship in detail (“Angels Dance and Angels Die,” published 1998), for the most part Courson looms in the shadow of Morrison and The Doors, peeking out only rarely.
Biographers and even The Doors themselves are unsure exactly when Jim met Pam. Ray Manzarek has them meeting at the London Fog and that drummer John Densmore was the first one interested in her, while Arthur Lee has said that Courson was his girlfriend and in trying to emulate him Morrison somehow won her over. Other stories are a little more inchoate, saying they met around the time The Doors were playing the London Fog, or maybe a little before, and that they were attracted to each other because they both had a dangerous, adventurous side that pushed and challenged the other to greater degrees of risk.
Courson was born in Weed, California, on December 22, 1946, and lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle much as Jim Morrison did. Before she ever met Morrison, Courson was rebelling on her own, cutting classes in school, smoking cigarettes, and hitchhiking to L.A. Courson was interested in design and fashion, and with Morrison’s money she opened a boutique on Santa Monica Boulevard called Themis (after the Greek goddess of justice). Morrison invested heavily to decorate the shop, festooning it with peacock feathers on the ceiling, and soon Courson was traveling internationally and buying “the hippest clothes from around the world” to stock the shop. The store was opened by appointment only and had clients such as the actress Sharon Tate.
After Morrison died, Pam reportedly blamed herself for the tragedy. Many think that Morrison got into Pam’s stash of heroin and in combination with the alcohol in his system it arrested his heart. Ray Manzarek recalls seeing her once after Jim’s death and all she could do was cry while Manzarek held her.
Courson’s life after Morrison spiraled out of control. She sued The Doors for Morrison’s share of the royalties, and some have alleged she took to prostitution. (Such claims are unverified and mostly come from those with an animus towards Courson.) Danny Sugerman, in “Wonderland Avenue“, reports that Pam had taken up with a UCLA film student who had started a band, trying to relive her early years with Morrison. Shortly before her death, Pam won her lawsuit with The Doors and was recognized as Morrison’s heir. One thing that is undeniable is that she became more involved with drugs after Morrison’s death until, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, she died on April 25, 1974. Like Jim Morrison, she died at the age of 27 and under mysterious circumstances of what was likely a heroin overdose.
Originally published April 25, 2016. An earlier version of this story appears in “The Doors Examined”.