On November 17, 2008, United States Navy Rear Admiral George Stephen “Steve” Morrison died at age 89. He was the father of The Doors’ lead singer Jim Morrison and may be one of the most reviled men in rock ‘n’ roll history. He was even accused of sodomy by a woman who wrote a “memoir” about her affair with Jim Morrison. But in truth the Morrisons, junior and senior, were estranged during Jim’s musical career and fans comment on and judge both without having known either. There is anecdotal evidence that in his last days, Jim talked fondly of his family and father and may have even been contemplating a rapprochement. As always, though, the truth of any family lies within it.
Steve Morrison was born in Rome, Georgia on January 7, 1919 and entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1938, graduating in the spring of 1941. He was assigned to the minelayer USS Pruitt at Pearl Harbor and witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Morrison met Clara Clarke in Hawaii in 1941 on a blind date, and they were married in April of 1942. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Morrison applied for flight training and was transferred to Pensacola, Florida, where their first son, James Douglas Morrison, was born on December 8, 1943. After graduating flight school in 1944 Morrison was stationed in the South Pacific for the duration of the war, while Clara and son Jim lived with Morrison’s parents in Florida.
After the war, Morrison was assigned to secret nuclear weapons projects in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Morrisons would also have two additional children, Anne (born 1947 in Albuquerque) and Andrew (‘Andy,’ born 1948 in Los Altos, California).
It was while the Morrison family was moving to New Mexico that they supposedly witnessed the aftermath of a car crash in which a truckload of Indian workers were hurt. This incident greatly affected the young Jim Morrison, then approximately four years old. Jim later related that he had the sensation of the souls of one or two of the Indians having jumped into his soul. He became distraught and his mother calmed him by telling him it was all a dream, probably cementing the incident in young Jim’s mind. After Jim’s death the family was asked about the incident and they didn’t give it much credence, chalking it up to Jim’s active imagination. In the “Indian and the Coyote,” Jim mentioned that the incident stuck with him because he realized his parents didn’t know what was happening any more than he did, and it was the first time “I tasted fear.”
The Morrison family moved frequently as Steve Morrison’s career advanced. During the Korean War, Morrison was assigned to Seoul, Korea and took part in actions against the North Koreans and Chinese, earning a Bronze Star. In 1958 Morrison was promoted to Captain and assigned to the Pentagon. It was in Alexandria, Virginia that Jim Morrison’s study of literature and music intensified, and he would often steal away to the Library of Congress to find and read arcane books or sneak off to the blues bars outside of town.
In 1963 Morrison was given command of the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard. During this command a young Jim Morrison visited his father on the ship and was struck by how his father had absolute control, giving the order for the ship to leave the harbor with a barely perceptible nod. In stark contrast, at home his mother was in charge and the Captain took orders from her.
After Jim graduated from the UCLA film school, he started The Doors with fellow student Ray Manzarek. Jim wrote home to his parents telling them of his plans to be a singer. His father replied that he thought it was a “crock” and that Jim was wasting his time. Jim never spoke to his dad again.
As Jim Morrison was living on Dennis Jakob’s rooftop, writing the first songs/poems that would become the basis of The Doors, Steve Morrison was playing a pivotal role in the Gulf of Tonkin Incident that escalated the Vietnam War. In 1966, with US involvement in Vietnam at its peak, Morrison was promoted to Rear Admiral at age 46.
In his later career, Steve Morrison was named Commander Naval Forces Marianas and was in charge of relief efforts for Vietnamese refugees after the US had officially withdrawn from Vietnam. Morrison retired from active service in 1975.
In an odd coincidence, Admiral Morrison was the keynote speaker at the decommissioning ceremony of the USS Bon Homme Richard on July 3, 1971, the same day his son, Jim Morrison, died in Paris.
After the Navy, Steve lived quietly with Clara in Chula Vista and Coronado, California, declining most interview requests and volunteering little information about Jim or The Doors. In the early ’90s, Steve did visit Jim’s grave in Paris, and he ordered and installed the famous headstone, which reads “KATA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY” (literally “Following one’s own demon” but more often translated as “True to his own spirit”). Mr. Morrison also joined John Densmore’s ultimately successful lawsuit against Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger over the use of The Doors’ name.
Shortly before his death in 2008, Steve donated a number of Jim’s childhood items, including writings and drawings, high school report cards, his college diploma, and his Cub Scout uniform, to a Doors exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Originally published November 17, 2012 and appears in The Doors Examined.