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September 1, 2021


This story originally aired on Sept. 1, 2021.

Fifty years ago, on July 3, 1971, Jim Morrison — lead singer of the rock group The Doors — died in Paris. It was the first year of NPR and Mike Walters, an early host ofAll Things Considered, worked his way up to that news by reciting a few relevant lyrics from “An American Prayer,” a song written by Morrison: “We live, we die, and death not ends it / Journey we more into the nightmare / Cling to life our passioned flower.” 

Morrison’s death was a cultural milestone of NPR’s first year. The Doors had just released L.A. Woman, an album so memorable it still lives and breathes, half a century later. The title track is one of the great rock songs of that period: “Driving down your freeways / Midnight alleys roam / Cops in cars, the topless bars / Never saw a woman / So alone, so alone,” Morrison sings on the rock classic, a vignette about people at the margins of society. 

Morrison often wrote about alienation, drawing millions of fans, including generations of high school kids who could relate. Listeners were also entranced by the band’s unmistakably dark sound. When Morrison performed, he and the band packed auditoriums with their theatrical screams and pulsating electronic music. And by 1971, the year of NPR’s story, The Doors had played some of the biggest gigs, like the Hollywood Bowl and The Ed Sullivan Show.Article continues after sponsor message

That spring, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter moved to Paris, where he had plans to develop his poetry. But, a few months later, he died of a cause that was listed as heart failure, though no autopsy was performed. The initial news of Morrison’s death and funeral was kept quiet to avoid the attention that surrounded the passing of such other rock personalities as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

“Morrison’s death was heartbreaking,” says Anthony Decurtis, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. “You know, he lived hard for someone to die at 27, certainly. And it was a big, big loss. I think Morrison had much more work to do. We all have missed out on that.

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