Anything and everything has been written about the tragic end of the Doors’ leader. But what really happened on July 3rd twenty years ago, no one has ever told. This is because Alain Ronay, Jim’s photographer friend who was the first to find the rock star in his apartment where he lay in the bathtub without breathing, had always kept quiet. Now, to defend Morrison’s memory, Ronay speaks out. He tells King all the details of that day, from the strange behavior of Pamela, Jim’s girlfriend, to the doctors’ incompetence, to the superficiality of the police in trying to hide the news of his death. He also remembers the happy days spent with Jim in Paris, the anguish of the singer poet, his desire to detoxify from alcohol and keep himself away from heroin.
A Frenchman and naturalized American, Alain met Jim in California in 1964. Since then they became close friends.
Friday, July 2, 1971: Jim and I were taking a walk in the Marais Quarter in Paris. The historic district served ony as a backdrop for our discussions which ranged from the Yoga teacher’s visit (Jim had asked me to be an interpreter for them – the topic of their discussion: man as a tightrope walker heading towards death) to analyzing Nietzche’s opinions on suicide. Jim was obsessed by death.
Everyone knew this, but rarely did he bring up this topic with me. That morning his words went back to that subject many times. I succeeded in tearing him away from his dark thoughts with Oscar Wilde.
Although neither of us had been particularly interested in him, Oscar seemed to lift our spirits considerably. A month earlier, when Jim and Pamela (Pamela Courson, Morrison’s companion, editor’s note) came to visit me in London, I reserved a room for them at the Cadogan Hotel near Sloane Square. I told them this was the place where Wilde was arrested.
While we were walking a connection clicked in my mind: in Paris Jim and Pam stayed in what they snobbishly called the Hotel.
“But, do you realize that Oscar Wilde lived here too? I said thoughtlessly. There’s even a plaque here near the door. I’m sure of it. Didn’t you see it?”
Jim didn’t answer, so I added, “Watch out you don’t follow too closely in his footsteps – you could end up like him.”
My words remained hanging in the air. Jim continued not to answer. What could he say? My ideas were completely out of place and I felt stupid.
Fortunately, a half empty store that faced a very narrow street allowed us to change the subject. A hand-painted sign informed us that we were at the Voix d’Orphee, but what this was really all about was not very clear to us. Even if Orpheus’ Voice didn’t mean much to me, it seemed however to interest Jim who insisted that I ask in French what went on in there. His mood soared when I told him it was a recording studio.
“Hey – It’s almost a good omen, isn’t it? I can finish my poetry record righthere – that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’ve no intention of leaving Paris. I’m happy here. I should get back to the tapes of my poetry that I left at Village Recorders -I bet the bootleggers have already pounced on them, and maybe they’re not fit for release-”
The stately houses and historic monuments disappeared when we got to Rue des Rosieres, a very colorful street full of little stores run by the most varied ethnic groups. While Jim was buying a pendant for Pam, I noticed for the first time that he tried to appear happy while I had the distrinct sensation that he wasn’t happy at all. There was an indefinable anxiety in his gestures. I knew him too well.
There was something abnormal and wrong with his behavior. Something incredible because Jim Morrison never begged anybody. He said nothing. He tried to take his time, to find excuses for me to stay with him. He was desperate. This, I saw clearly. But why? I didn’t ask. He would never have explained it.
In the past Jim was always successful in keeping his states of anxiety under control, even though I was usually able to pick up on them. However, towards noon there was no longer any need to guess. He was not making any effort to camouflage his strong agitation: he was shaken by a series of very powerful hiccups.
We ate in a restaurant specializing in Alsatian food. The fin de siecle decorations exploded in arabesques and art nouveau convolutions. Later in the afternoon we discovered a purveyor of cinematographic rarities, among which were some of Fritz Lang’s films. We stopped in front of the shoemaker’s where Jim had brought his new boots to be made wider. They weren’t ready yet. Every once in awhile the hiccups returned to violently shake Jim’s body. Apart from this his agitation grew worse. His nerves were visibly shaking and the reason for this was still unknown to me.
The state of his emotional upheaval reached its peak at his apartment at about 5:30 PM when I had to leave to meet Agnes Varda.
“Don’t go away” – he implored me. There was something abnormal and wrong in all this. Jim never implored, it wasn’t in his makeup. Then he tried to take his time and his tactics were obvious but foreign to his personality. As far as cheering you up and lifting your spirits he is the cleverest person I have ever known.
He was desperate. But why? I never asked him because I knew he would never tell me. First of all he wanted me to read the opening article of Newsweek at all costs. He seemed very serious in asking me to do this but I was already on my way out and I didn’t even look at the magazine cover. It took about half an hour before I managed to walk down the stairs and leave. Jim still tried to keep me with the pretext of a telegram he was supposed to send from the post office a few blocks away. He wanted me to help him with the French. Fortunately, a post office strke helped me in trying to get away, but Jim asked me if he could at least come outside with me. Opposite a cafe- in Place de la Bastille, Jim made his last appeal, – “Come on Alain, stay- Stay at least for a short beer with me, what do you say? Don’t leave-stay with me. Do it for an old friend.” – Hiccups continually interrupted his pleading.
The show of this sudden and unexplainable change confused and upset me, above all when compared to Jim’s behavior during the month just past which he spent with Pam. In that brief period he was happy, calm and free. Paris was good for him. He had gotten rid of the damage produced by fame and had found himself again. He wrote all the time, he went around town and about his business without being recognized and he had almost stopped drinking. He didn’t take drugs yet.
Pam’s habit hadn’t yet gotten to him. She led her own independent life in Paris and did not live with him. Therefore, with a few exceptions, Jim and I spent almost the whole month of June alone together. Our days were tranquil and were probably the best we shared. Jim’s repeated invitations to join him in Paris to relive “the good old days”- implied that he fully intended to bury the rock star in him. The promise was kept.
The purpose of the Paris vacation was to detoxify Jim of alcohol and for him to forget the anguish that his fame as a rock star had caused. In June of l971 Jim was very creative. He spent a lot of time writing poetry.
We went into a cafe on Place de la Bastille. We ordered and I asked the waiter to hurry. Jim suddenly closed his eyes while new waves of hiccups went through him. He was thoroughly concentrated in his efforts to get rid of them. When I looked at him I had the clear sensation that his face had assumed the aspect of a death mask. The feeling disappeared when Jim opened his eyes again. He scrutinized me, and as if waiting for me to lie he asked, “What did you see?”
“Nothing Jim, nothing.”
While we were ordering another round of beers, I realized that I really had to leave and I said to him, “Forgive me but I really have to go.” I rushed out and stopped next to the nearby subway entrance. I turned round to see him one more time. He was in profile and suddenly, as if he felt me looking at him, he turned and stared at me. All this lasted only a few seconds. Then I dashed down the stairs.
Agnes cast an impatient glance at me over the desk at which she was seated and repeated, “And so it seemed to you to have seen a dead man’s face.”
“Not a face,” I corrected her, “what I saw was a death mask.”
Agnes was busy looking, however superficially, for a letter in her file. I needed to see her eyes which were hidden behind her black bangs. I wanted to find out if she was indifferent, skeptical or if she was making light of the whole issue to calm me down.
“Should I go on?” I asked.
“Of course,” she answered impatiently, keeping her hand in the filing cabinet as if it were a bookmark and staring at me.
“What do you mean by mask?” she asked.
“I mean the type of make-up that is applied to people after they’re deceased. Jim had one of these in his book on Francis Bacon. It was a picture of William Blake’s face. He had that book when we were students and lived in my house years ago.”
“Now I understand, that’s curious”
“Curious – you could say something better than that – Looking at it made me ill.”
“I see that this has really made an impression on you.”
“Jim knew that you and I were supposed to have dinner together, but he continued to insist that I join him at the movies where I sent Pam and him to see Mitchum’s film.”
Agnes gave me an encouraging smile and said, “If you want, we could do without going to the Vietnamese restaurant – Go with them. Anyway, I’m tired and I have to go over the text of Tango.”
“Don’t even mention such a thing. I don’t want to go back. Let’s go and eat the Seven Spices or whatever the devil they call it.”
Agnes closed the shutters, turned off all the lights and the TV. Then she asked me almost incidentally, “Did he get rid of the hiccups?”
“What? No-not at all.”
Early the next morning, (I was finally resting after a night of insomnia), I got up with a start with the sensation that a telephone was ringing. Since I was a guest I never answered. But I wasn’t completely sure that it was the telephone in the wing of the apartment where Agnes slept that was ringing. I hurried across the entrance to the living room where the other telephone was. The line was free. A Calder mobile swung silently above my head while I looked around to find a clock. Light was coming in from the garden. It must have been about 6AM and I went back to bed with tense nerves wondering if the telephone really had rung.
When I had awakened for the second time, I was sure I heard the telephone ring. Outside the typical sounds of the market day coud be heard. I heard the thump of the mail that fell through the mail slot in the door. This meant it was 8AM. The mail always arrived punctually.
I got to the phone in time to say “Hello”- and hear the Yoga teacher, Monique Godard, excuse herself for calling so early in the morning. She was a nervous woman, smoked like a chimney, always wore very short skirts and was tall and stylish enough to be a model. Everything about her contradicted my knowledge of Yoga. Her ability as a healer had earned her an incredible reputation among her illustrious clients, the most exalted minds of Paris. She had great influence on them and although I entertained serious doubts as to her powers, I had contacted her hoping she would accept Pam as her patient. Nothing that could help Pam could be done soon enough.
“I’m leaving town and I won’t be back before you return to California,” she explained. “If your friend needs my help he must first see a doctor. I want him to have a check-up. You can tell him that. Does he have a history of drugs? Does he have circulatory problems? I must know this.”
“But I didn’t get in touch with you for Jim’s sake.” I reminded her. It’s for Pam. I thought I made that clear. “Weren’t you aware of this the other day when we were in their apartment? God, she was in bad shape.”
“Who, her? I would never take her, never. But as far as your friend is concerned, I want him to see a doctor immediately. I feel these things. It could even be too late. Well, I’ve got to go.”
“Wait- Are you hiding something from me? What-yes, well-all right, all right.”
“By any chance did you also call before? No? I thought it might have been you. Do you have to hang up?”
“Please wait – then you will look after Jim – take care of him. I won’t be here and I’ve been worried about him since yesterday. Yes. Thank you.”
“Have a good trip.”
This call upset me. I didn’t know what to do. I was short on ideas.
A few minutes later the phone rang again. It was Pam. She usually spoke in a soft tone of voice, but this time there was a note of fear.
“Can you speak a little louder?”- I shouted into the phone as if I too had the same tone.
“Jim’s unconscious and bleeding. Call an ambulance. You know I don’t speak French. Hurry up.” – Pam was sobbing. Then, she added, “I think he’s dying.”
I ran across the garden to the wing where Agnes was and knocked repeatedly at the door. She imediatey awakened. I didn’t know how to use the complicated Parisian phone system and I asked her to do it for me. Agnes grabbed her orange telephone while saying to me, “I don’t know Jim’s address. Write it on this paper – I’ll take you there, meanwhile, leave a message for the maid and Bernardo. Write that I had to go out on an emergency.”
“Why are you dialing the number over and over again? What’s going on?”
“Be calm. We’re not in the United States here. It takes time. Bring your passport along, you’ll need it.”
I told Agnes not to give Jim’s name, only the apartment number and I ran back across the garden to my room. When I returned Agnes was putting on a long madras dress over her nightgown while she talked on the phone, “She is American .. She doesn’t speak French. Send someone who speaks English – third floor, the door on the right.”
In my mind I was already on the way. I was trembling and peeing in my pants out of fright. Pam had always had a penchant for drama, but I felt that this time it would be different.
Traffic was at a standstill near the Ile de la Cite, where some students were demonstrating. They took advantage of the situation by trying to explain their reasons for the protest to the motorists. I tried to close the car window in the face of flyers they were trying to stuff into the car, but Agnes talked me out of it saying that it was getting unbearably hot.
Then Agnes managed to find a space between two buses that she could pass through with her old Volkswagen and in a flash we arrived on the Right Bank. She passed all the cars along the way weaving through the traffic, losing time only in the little one way streets around the Bastille. I wasn’t able to hold myself back from asking her, “In your opinion can there be a scientific basis to the fact that persistent hiccups are a sign of imminent death?”
“Where did you hear that?”
“My father told it to me when he got them in the hospital.”
“It’s not true. Don’t worry.”
“Well he died a few hours later and I never found out if it was a coincidence or not. I didn’t even think of it yesterday. Damn, it only I had.”
We saw the ambulance in front of the building and passersby were coming from other crowded streets to follow the unfolding drama. An official held back the crowd and escorted us to the front entrance.
“Is he all right?” I asked.
“You must inquire upstairs. I’ll take you there now.” he answered when Agnes was already on the stairs. The standersby were pushed back and had formed a human barrier on the landing. I questioned their faces to discover if there were any news, but I saw nothing.
I had a flashback: While I was coming up to the landing, just last week, Jim let a bundle of firewood fall (we had just bought wood for the fireplace). He was winded and couldn’t get his breath back. He complained staying that he needed the firewood to keep warm, in June.
“But do you feel OK?” I asked him. “Look at me, I’m ten years older than you and not exactly in such terrific shape, but I’m not winded either.”
The third floor door was flung wide open. I saw Pam standing all alone at the end of the entrance corridor, but I couldn’t see too well because of a group of officials standing in the way. They moved out of the way when I tried to reach Pam who told me that Jim was dead.
“My Jim is dead, Alain, he left us, he’s dead.” She added, “I want to be alone now, please leave me alone.”
I didn’t know where to go, so I waited for her to make the first move. She did so by going into the kitchen and leaving me in the foyer to realize what she had just told me.
I felt and thought nothing. A moment of impasse. Stunned as if boredom had assaulted me, I looked around trying to concentrate on something else. My glance fell on Jim’s boots which were standing erect in the other room. The right boot was slightly ahead of the left as in walking. I felt as if I had entered a state of deja-vu made possible by years of rehearsing the same script, a gift of Jim Morrison, rock singer, dramatic actor-friend.
Thanks for having prepared me to all this, Jim. It’s really been a great help.
Fuck you, Jim.
Agnes was at the entrance asking the official in charge if he was really sure that Jim was dead. He very courteously replied that they were unable to do anything for him since they had arrived at least an hour too late.
I saw Pam go into his room and didn’t trust leaving her alone so I asked Agnes to stay with her. “Do you know where her clothes are? She’s all wet”, Agnes asked me a few minutes later. I showed her the closet near the entrance close to where an official was standing. When she moved towards the other people I whispered to her, “Don’t tell them who you are or who Jim was. Let me do the talking. If they discover you’re a director they could get suspicious. We must let Jim pass for a normal American citizen.”
“But do you seriously think they’ll know who I am? Believe me, they don’t have any idea my films exist.”
“You were on TV recently. Agnes Varda is about to become a very familiar name to everyone.”
“Don’t exaggerate.” Agnes concluded going back toward Pam’s room.
I heard that they defined me as an American friend of his, in the living-room and I drew close in order to eavesdrop. There was a newly arrived police inspector who had come to find out how Jim was found in the bathtub. He was coming close to the bedroom.
I promised myself not to listen to anymore details in an effort to eliminate all information that would have made that death more real.
“The condominium’s concierge told me that you have lived here for over a month and that you too are American.” the inspector told me right away.
“I moved a few days ago to stay with another person.”
“How come you speak French so well?” he asked suspiciously.
“Because I was born in Paris, but I am a naturalized American citizen. Can we get this over with soon? I’m a little upset and I would like to.”
“Give me your particulars, those of your friend, and also of his girl friend – nationality, occupation – I would like to find out if he was using drugs.
He would find this out anyway when the medical examiner arrives.” He turned and asked the paramedic to fill out a complete report. The pause gave me time for an idea: Inverting Jim’s two names would have momentarily taken them off the track. For the moment it was all I was able to do.
“My friend’s name was Douglas James Morrison. He was American and a poet..” I waited until he had finished writing, then I added, “He was an alcoholic but he didn’t use drugs.”
Even if Jim’s death were to have been described by the medical examiner as that of a young American found dead in his bathtub, the newspapers would have reported the item anyway. And even if Jim’s names had not been reversed, there would have been readers astute enough to decipher the true identity of the deceased in question. His presence in Paris was no secret and this touch of deceitfulness was on the lowest level.
“Usually poets don’t have a luxurious life-style, monsieur,” the inspector observed. “How could he afford and apartment like this?”
“You see, he was a poet, but he had many business ventures.”
“Come on now, Victor Hugo was hardly born with a white beard and Rimbaud didn’t have one when he died.” I exclaimed. “Can we stop for a moment, all of this is making me feel ill-I would like to join my friends for a moment.” “That’s all for now,” he assured me, “and if the district medical examiner makes a satisfactory report, we will be able to issue a death certificate and a burial permit. Otherwise other doctors will be called in to work on the case.”
“How many others?”
The sign on Jim’s door read, “I’m sleeping don’t disturb” in Arabic and French. My glance lingered interminably on the door handle, before I decided to give it a half turn to open the door. I didn’t want to see Jim dead. The last time, when I saw him at the cafe – that’s the way I wanted to remember him. (So that’s the way everything has to end. What a squalid ending.)
Unexpectedly, the last of the policemen left the room where Jim was, leaving the door open. From my line of vision I was able to see his foot well. This last sad sight, framed by the doorway, replaced the memory of the cafe.
Pam stayed beside me and held my arm. She wore a white djelaba, a souvenir from their last trip to Morocco, that gave her a ghost like look.
“Did you give them Jim’s real name?” I asked her.
“No, and how could I have?”
“I just gave Jim’s name backwards. I mean I put Douglas first, then James. It could put them off the track for a while. Now hurry up and tell me how he died. We won’t be alone much longer.”
Methodically tearing the silk threads from the embroidery on her sleeve, Pam began to tell the story. “The other night we can home right after the movie. When we arrived we immediately begain to sniff heroin and Jim began to play his songs. He played all of them, one after another, even The End. Then we went to bed. Jim asked me to give him some more stuff, that’s how it happened that he took much more than me, especially since he’d taken some on his own during the day. We also did a little on the night before.”
“Who had it – you, Pamela?,” Agnes asked.
“Of course, I’m the one who keeps it.” Pam said these words in an unexpected singing tone, reaching almost falsetto, only to become normal when she turned to me and said, “Alain, you haven’t seen him yet. My Jim is so beautiful-go, go and see-Go.”
“And then what happened?” I asked, ignoring her suggestion.
“We fell asleep. I didn’t know what time it was when Jim’s heavy breathing woke me up. He was still asleep, but the poor guy had problems in breathing. I tried to wake him up but he didn’t react. I panicked and began to cry and hit him. I hit him hard once, twice, three times- nothing happened. I slapped him a couple of times. Then, he came to, but he didn’t seem much like himself. I was very tired but just the same I was successful in dragging him to the bathtub.”
The whistle of the teakettle gave Agnes a momentary pause to run out only to return a few minutes later with a glass and a spoon for Pam. “It’s hot cammomile tea. It will do you good.” I watched Pam sip slowly before asking her, “By the way, who opened the bathtub faucet?”
“I don’t remember. I woke up later in a cold sweat. Jim was not in bed with me. I found him in the bathtub, unconscious. Blood was running down his face, then he had those red marks on the right side of his chest. Suddenly, he began to vomit into the tub. Then, I ran to the kitchen to look for a basin. I went back to him and in the basin I saw little pieces of pineapple that we had for dinner and then blood. I had to empty and wash the basin three times. The third time I noticed a bloodclot. I was so tired and he told me he felt better or something like that, so I went back to bed and fell asleep again.”
“What can you tell me?”, the medical examiner asked me. “That he didn’t even smoke marijuana, not even in LA where joints are as common as cigarettes. And it’s only last night that”- I suddenly stopped talking. My nerves were shattered. I couldn’t even think. “I’m sorry.” the doctor informed me, “I can’t sign the certificate for natural death.”
Agnes reached out to caress her hand and told her that the paramedics had said that Jim had been dead at least an hour before they got there. Pam didn’t answer. She tore yet a few more silk threads from her sleeve and returned to telling the story, “He had such a serene expression. His head was slightly reclining and the water came up to his chest, up to here – he was smiling a little. If it hadn’t been for all that blood, he….”
“You know that bleeding to death is completely painless.” Agnes interrupted her. “He couldn’t know what was happening to him.”
At that point the telephone rang. But, before Pam grabbed it, Agnes warned her that it could be tapped. Therefore, all our conversations had to be from a public phone. I wondered if it could be the young count with whom Pam had run away at the beginning of the year, leaving Jim in Los Angeles. Pam had never named him directly while I lived with them. Every time she saw her Parisian friends, Jim and I withdrew to the most remote corners of the house until they all left. We never spoke about it and little by little I became convinced that Jim really didn’t care. His attitude was also consistent with his advice to me: he told me not to worry if Pam threatened to commit suicide. Looking back at the whole thing made me shudder. He made a deliberate effort to get away from her and vaguely, paraphrasing a line that he used in one of his concerts, he said, “There are only two choices you can make: each of us had made it. You and I are on the side of life, she is on the side of death. Neither you nor I can do
anything about it. Don’t worry about her.”
“But Pam has threatened to fill the house up to the ceiling with heroin-the Marseille affair. Did she really do it? Where could she get the money -from the count? Tell me.”
“I told you to fucking forget about it. Enough. I make it.”
After buying cigarettes I went back, making my way through the crowd picking up words like “death” and “young” and a word with which the Parisians label their xenophobia, “etranger”, which means foreigner. But I didn’t hear Jim’s name, nor his profession. For the moment the secret had been kept and the need for it to remain so increased when I looked at the greedy faces of the crowd waiting for some cheap thrills.
Going back toward the apartment, I saw two youths whose faces were vaguely familiar to me. Their tailors deserved to be spanked. I didn’t like them from the very beginning. I didn’t like anyone who never threw rocks at the police in ’68, and they were exactly the type that didn’t. I had hardly closed the door behind me when the two guys rang the bell. The tall one introduced himself as Jean, the short one as Jean-Louis. They asked for Pam. I explained to them that Pam couldn’t see anyone and I advised calling her the next day.
“Look, she was the one who called me.” Jean said aggressively. “I know everything. I really do.”
My silence was accompanied by some piano exercises. The notes came from the courtyard. I felt as if I were on stage in a play, exactly at the moment when the booing makes them bring the curtain down in a hurry. Agnes appeared stormily as deus ex machina. As his opening line Jean immediately said, “I lived with Pam for six months.”
“All right, but now you must leave.” Agnes answered back with the speed and precision that had earned her legendary reputation from the Venice Film Festival to the stage at Venice, California.
She would have thrown them out right away if Pam hadn’t intervened by calling Jean, telling him to come in. Pam and Jean were sitting on the bed that I had slept on when I lived there. They chatted quietly together. I knocked. “Please go away.” I told him nervously. “Don’t endanger the situation. You mustn’t be here when the medical examiner arrives with the police. Please don’t say anything to anyone. Do it for Pam. Terrible trouble could happen.”
On the landing, Jean told me that he was leaving for Marakesh, where he had a house. He would have arranged everything in case Pam had wanted to join them there. In case it should become necessary he would even make his London apartment available. In exchange, I promised to keep him informed of further developments.
“I can’t believe she has friends like them.” Agnes said shaking her head and closing the door after them. “They’re drug dealers.”
“Why not? What do you think? Just because someone’s a count should he win a prize for virtue? Tell me, do you believe what Pamela goes around saying? I think that it’s a classic case of the drug addict that casts her own companion in the same role.”
I wasn’t able to answer. Pamela had joined us.
“Pam, is there any stuff left in the house?” I asked.
“No,” she immediately protested. “The first thing I did was to flush everything down the toilet. There’s nothing left.”
“Agnes just told me that Jean found a hashish pipe under the carpet in the
foyer. If he took it with him we must be very careful.”
Jim’s desk in the other room was wide open until Pam jammed all his papers into it, including a whole bunch of prints of An American Prayer. She locked it ceremoniously and inspected the room, looking for anything that could have something to do with Jim. In her circular movement, her stare cut through me like a laser beam. I realized that she could even have accused me of theft. It would not have been a surprise and considering the stress she was under, who knows what she was capable of doing. I could have considered myself fortunate that she had locked everything up in front of Agnes.
Agnes’ interest in the whole matter showed no signs of abating, but it would have been compromising for her to stay, and I didn’t want her to get involved in all of this. After a few objections, Agnes resolved to leave.
She told Pam that she would prepare a bed for her at her house.
While Pam was leaving the room, I looked out the window. The crowd was slowly dissipating. I noticed a plaque to Victorien Sardou affixed to the opposite building. Captured by the imaginary rivalry between the playwright and Jim, I wondered if they would hang a plaque for him too. And how would they have defined him? Poet or singer? I would have to go back after a few years to find out – I must stay, I thought. I’m flipping out.
“Burn them in the fireplace, quick”, Pam told me, rushing into the room and handing me a pack of letters.
“We can’t. The police would smell the burning. It’s the hottest day of the year.”
Pam set fire to an envelope to light the fireplace and went out immediately afterwards to get more letters. Upon throwing the second batch of letters on the fire, she put it out. At that moment, I noticed that the letters had her handwriting. I wondered what she had written.
“Drug stories,” Pam said, reading my thoughts, “drugs and me, naturally, but this, this is about Jim and it’s better that they don’t see it. Here, read
I took the Los Angeles poice report, two photocopies yellowed with age. Jim was caught on the balcony of the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Babe Hill was also involved in the matter and the police found some marijuana.
“Was the ‘stuff’ Jim’s?”
“No, it was Babe’s,” Pam replied, while she picked up some 8mm film from the floor. “Last night we watched all the rolls of film taken on the trip: Granada, Morocco, Corsica. We also sang the sound track for it. What do you call those songs of Jim’s that goes, “run with me” and “let’s run” – You know which ones.”
“I don’t remember either … you didn’t tell me what you thought of the film I sent you to see.”
Pam smiled at the memory and said, “What a rascal. It’s really us, the two of us.”
A few letters that Pam was holding in her hand fell to the ground where they came to life lifted by the breeze from the window. They began to circle around the room. Finally, Pam was successful in finding what she was looking for at my feet.
“Do you think they will beieve it, if I tell them that this is my marriage certificate? I don’t think they know English.”
“It won’t work. You can see that it’s a request to make a marriage contract. The same word exists in French.”
“We did this in Denver, but we never ‘consummated’ it,” she said, smiling to herself as if sharing an intimate joke.
I noticed the book and the magazine that I had left there the day before and I explained that Jim had given me the opening article of Newsweek to read (here copy garbled unable to translate) I asked permission to take them. Pam answered me and began to clumsily leaf through the pages of the magazines, while I happened to (glance) at the cover for the first time. The title Plague of Heroin. What To Do about it.
What happened next was.. (garbled) ( Pam went and got a coat, I believe a fur coat and put it on) Alain says “Whose is it?”
“It belongs to a friend of mine, the owner of this place. Look, she’ll never give back the money that I paid in advance for the rent, therefore….”
“Come on Pam, take it off. Put it back. You can’t go around confiscating other people’s things. I beg you, don’t do it. You’ll look ridiculous in that in Los Angeles. You’re really in trouble here, can you imagine were the police to suspect you of foul play or homicide? Put that fuckin’ fur away. Did you hear me?”
Pam took off the fur and quietly finished her work of research and destruction. I asked myself for how much longer could I put up with her.
The whistling stopped only an instant before the doorbell rang. I guy stood there giving his personal contribution to the speculations of the neighborhood: he had announced himself with the Aria Vissi d’arte from Tosca.
The district medical examiner was a stocky man but he wore his clothes in a most elegant style. His black case made introductions unnecessary.
The Police Official had a very dry manner and he didn’t offer the least bit of sympathy for the situation in which we had found ourselves. He was completely amazed by the fact that the medical examiner had given us permission to leave the house. “Don’t think that this is a game,” he admonished with a very serious demeanor.
“Where’s the corpse?” he asked.
I pointed out the closed door, “There”.
He went ahead, stopped and turned impatiently, “Come on, Let’s go, You’ve got to come with me to lay out the body. This is the procedure.”
“I can’t. I’ve decided not to see my friend dead. I don’t want to remember him that way. I beg you, please do it alone.”
“No,” he insisted with authority.
Pam joined us. She seemed to be in a trance and her voice had an artificial sound.
“This is my very beautiful man, sir,” she said introducing him into the bedroom. She seemed so sad.
The doctor completed the exam in a few minutes and then returned to the
“Madame does not speak French. May I answer eventual questions?” I asked.
“Of course. How old was he? Did he take drugs?”
“Twenty-seven. No, he absolutely did not take drugs,” I replied rapidly. Then I added, “In fact, he didn’t even smoke marijuana, not even in Los Angeles where joints are smoked like cigarettes. No, truly. Absolutely out of the question.. In fact it was only yesterday that he…”- I suddenly stopped talking. My nerves were gone. I was losing control. Why had the doctor spent so little time? Was the case already closed? In our favor, or against us? I just couldn’t get it together.
Suddenly, I began to talk again as if I had been forced, “You should know that my friend was very pale the last time I saw him, a few hours before he died. He had hiccups that wouldn’t go away. I wanted to be sure to tell you this. He went to the doctor’s a month ago when he was in London and the doctor said…”
The doctor made a vigorous gesture with his hand to stop me. “All right, I understand” he exclaimed, handing me an address and an envelope. “Take this to the municipal building of the fourth arrondissement and go to the Civil Register department. They will give you a death certificiate,”
It was lunchtime when we reached the municipal building and the concierge told us to come back around two o’clock. We went to the closest cafe and ate lunch in silence. I was overcome by a sense of tenderness and my hand reached out to take Pam’s. I felt a strong sense of support for her and I kissed her wonderful red hair. She wiped her eyes and gave me a smile that could knock you out. The atmosphere was strongly perplexing.
“Pam, I don’t know how to tell you this. You are Jim’s heir. You have to go on for him. We need you. You’ve got to take care of yourself. Don’t do anything foolish. You know what I’m talking about. You know that I love you. I know it sounds corny, I’m sorry.”
She looked at me fleetingly with a dazed expression. Then, her eyes suddenly left mine to look up at the clock on the bell tower in front of us.
“What time must it be in Los Angeles?”
“Almost five in the morning. Why?”
“Wait before you call anyone. Wait until everything is done.” I said.
“I have to call my sister, Judy. I want her to run to the Doors’ cutting room to steal the earnings from Friends Party. It’s in the Clear Thoughts Building, opposite Electra. You know she’s just had a baby and she’s poor. I’ll offer her fifty dollars. She’ll do it. After all, she’s my sister.”
“But this is obscene, Pam.”
“Why? She needs money. Monday, during the screening of Jim’s film I will go there alone. You can’t come.”
Since it was Saturday, there was only one woman in the civil register department of the municipal building to take care of this work. It didn’t take her long to examine the contents of the envelope. The reason was simple: the death certificate due to natural causes had been denied.
The clerk made a telephone call and handed me the receiver, “It’s the chief. He needs to talk with you, monsieur.”
“I’m giving you ten minutes to return to the place of the deceased,” he told me. He was furious. “Who gave you permission to run around Paris, huh?”
“Give us fifteen minutes-the traffic is crazy.” I tried to add something but
I didn’t get an answer.
Pam was next to Jim when the police arrived. The chief had no intentions of dismissing the case. His manner was fry and there was not one shred of sympathy for our situation. He was amazed, as was I, that the medical examiner had sent us to the municipal building. The medical examiner of the Arrondissement (really, an area larger than a district) would come to make sense of the situation.
After having asked a couple of general questions, the chief had the apartment inspected. I looked at the fireplace and the surrounding floor in order to find eventual traces of Pam’s burning spree.
With sudden inspiration, I ran out of the room ad asked permission to use the bathroom. Once inside, I made sure that nothing was left, despite Pam’s “clean-up operation.” There was not even a speck of the stuff.
The chief was inspecting the bathtub. I avoided looking at it and stared straight ahead. “We would like to know when to remove the body,” I said.
How horrible, I thought to myself, thinking of the events of a few days earlier, while I was describing the end of a play to Jim, a play for which he didn’t want to stay to see the end. “It was the best part,” I told him. “Bob Wilson constructed the set in such a way that the audience had to stand up and go to it in order to see nude actors strewn here and there, pretending to be dead. In the middle was an old style bathtub in which there was somebody impersonating the David painting, the one about the assassination of Marat…What a scary touch, a ‘tableau mourant’ so to speak.”
“I don’t want to discuss the body now,” answered the chief, bringing me back to reality. “Moreover, get out of here, I have to do some important work here. Do you think this is a game?”
Even if a rock magazine was to later define Jim’s apartment as luxurious, Pam was sitting on the only decent piece of furniture. We remained in silence until the chief joined us to tell us that nothing new had come up, and that if the new doctor were to give the go ahead, we would really be able to have the death certificate and the burial permit.
“Monsieur, what do we now do with Jim’s body?” I asked very cautiously.
“Forget about the body,” he said .. “I asked you not to talk to me about it. And, if we have to send it to the police lab for final analysis? The corpse will remain here until further instructions. The only problem will be the heat of the next few days.”
“The only problem – the next few days – What the hell are you talking about?” I exclaimed, “Listen, you would hardly want to impose cruelty of that kind on madame? No, never.”
“Tell me what’s happening,” Pam wanted an answer.
“All right, monsieur. Now I’ve had enough. Please, both of you come with me, now.”
During the brief trip to the Quartier de l’Arsenal police station, I urged Pam to cry, to abandon herself to hysteria, in short, to do whatever she could to prevent herself from answering, thus contradicting whatever I would have said in French. To our advantage was the fact that she was always in a sate of stress. Even if they had tried to read her expressions, they wouldn’t have succeeded.. She knew how to disguise her emotions perfectly well. If only I had been able to do so – The greatest threat was inherent in my face: whatever I was experiencing could be seen immediately.
The chief inserted the form in triplicate into the typewriter and prepared
to listen to Pam.
“May I help you by interpreting?” I asked only too hastily.
His answer was terrifying. “That won’t be necessary. I understand English. Now, please be calm. Thank you.”
While I was trying to remember what he could have heard of the dialogue between Pam and me of a little while earlier, (did we say “Jim” by accident?) she was giving some dangerously detailed answers. For the moment, she hadn’t yet contradicted my version. But, a certain inconsistency lingered on her whole story, arousing the chief’s suspicions, especially in the part where Jim was throwing up in the bathtub.
The chief asked, “So, you abandoned Douglas to empty and wash the basin three times?” Bending over and resting his hands on his knees, he continued, “And where did you empty and wash the basin?”
There was only one place where she could have done it (strange that she didn’t understand that she would have had to go to the toilet that was separated from the bathtub, and moreover quite far). Pam answered, pronouncing the words syllable by syllable. “I used the sink in the bathroom.”
Surely, my thoughts were travelling in tandem with those of the chief. The bloodclot and pieces of food should have clogged up the drain. Why would she have used the sink? I held my breath. Then, something incredible happened. The chief skipped over her answer and asked me to act as interpreter in order to finish sooner.
Everything was going smoothly until Pam described the way she had slapped Jim to wake him up. The vehemence that Pam put into her telling of the story, added to the series of emotions she evoked, make the chief reflect. A siren rang out in the silence, while Pam and I avoided looking at each other.
“What relationship did Madame Courson have with the deceased?”
“I don’t know how to say it in French. She is practially his real wife.”
“I understand. She was his concubine.”
“Come on, be serious!” I protested with a bewilderd smile. “Isn’t there another way to define her position?”
“Did she have sexual relations with the deceased last night? Before he died, obviously.”
“You have no right to ask that. It sounds rather ambiguous and disgusting, don’t you think?”
The chief didn’t react and I calmed down. So, I asked Pam who answered me, “No.”
Fortunately, a clerk interrupted the questioning and told us to immediately return to the apartment. The second medical examiner was on his way.
Pam, who managed to contain herself all this time, blurted out on the street, “You will no longer speak in a language that I can’t understand, all right? You could say anything and I wouldn’t understand it. I’m sorry, but how can I understand you? I want to know everything you’ll say from now on, every word..”
I just had time to say, “You’ve got to trust me”, before bumping into the man who was coming. He was carrying a black leather bag.
The new doctor radiated affability. Even his handshake raised my spirits. Once inside, he immediately went toward Jim’s room, only to come out just as quickly, just as the other doctor had done. He examined the bathroom and finally joined us in the dining room. He told us that it was rather strange that a young man should die in the bathtub and added that he was in excellent physical condition, just like someone who was used to playing sports.
He was completely off the track. Jim was a loner. He had never joined a sports club- he swam rarely. His excellent physical condition probably derived from the fact that often, during his work, he would fall off stages or throw himself off rooves or out of windows that were part of stage sets. Even though Jim had never been vain, this posthumous complement would surely have pleased him.
Recently he had lost weight, especially because he had stopped drinking.
“Monsieur, what will we do now with Jim’s body?” I asked. “Forget about the body, I told you.” I told you not to discuss this problem. It’s possible that the police have to subject it to analysis. Therefore, the body is to remain in the (bedroom??) (bathtub??), just where it is now.”
“But, what are you saying,” I shouted. “You can’t impose that kind of cruelty on madame.”
I observed this vivid, ruddy complexion and I hurried to say what I had not said before, that Jim liked to drink alcoholic beverages. He immediately reassured me, saying that in France, very many people drink. I told him about Jim’s recent experience with doctors: the nighttime call to the doctor from the London hotel because he had breathing problems, the medicines for asthma that were precribed for him by the doctor (even if it hadn’t been diagnosed), the coughing fits that had gone on for the whole preceding month and his difficult recovery period.
He smiled to me paternally and said, “We, too, want to resolve this matter. Now, I’ll go to the police station where I’ll write the report. You both look very tense. Rest for half an hour or so, then join me. I will tell them you’re cominglater.”
Pam joined us and he said, “Au revoir, madame. I beg you to accept my most sincere condolences.” He shook her hand, then took her wrist to feel her pulse. He made an affirmative gesture with his head to communicate that all was going well. Then, he left. Poor Pam began to cry. Until that moment, nobody had shown her care. This had done her good.
Then she dried her tears and changed her attitude.
“I want Xanax. Give them to me now!” she yelled.
“I got rid of them so they wouldn’t find them.”
“You have no idea of the face you make when you lie. All right, I don’t care. Anyway, I still have some hidden someplace or other. I have to calm down, you see? It’s so simple.”
She had become frenetic and began to run from one room to another, searching at random. I figured that she was looking for her pills, but I couldn’t make sense of the jar she had in her hand. In Jim’s study, she found a fifty franc note and stuck it into the jar. Then, she spotted Jim’s shirt hanging on the door handle and rummaged through the pockets, fishing out a few coins that she put in the jar, while she looked at me triumphantly. When she finished her tour, the jar was still half empty.
“In all, I have only two hundred dollars,” she announced. “Usually, I call Los Angeles when we need money. How will I pay for Jim’s cremation? I’ll ask Agnes- she already offered, even though I’m not sure I want to go to her house tonight.”
“As you know, I don’t have cash on me. But, if they accept credit cards, and I think they do, we can use mine. Do me a favor. Don’t ask Agnes for the money.”
“Why, don’t you trust me?”
“Of course, I trust you,” I told her with little conviction. “Now, it’s nine o’clock on Saturday morning in America, and the banks will be closed. Let’s see-Oh, shit!- They’ll be closed until seven o’clock Tuesday morning, Paris time. You know that Sunday’s the fourth of July, don’t you? Therefore, the banks are closed also on the next day, aren’t they? You can consider yourself lucky if you’ll be able to have the money by Wednesday afternoon, For God’s sake!”
Pam had a sudden idea which it up her face, “We can ask Bill Siddons to bring the money here personally. After all, the Doors’ manager must be good for something. I know Bob, the accountant, but he would never send me the money. He doesn’t like me and what’s more, I don’t like him either. Of course, I could also tell him that Jim asked for the money.”
“But, do you realize that Jim’s estate will be frozen? Why don’t you talk to Max Fink, the lawyer, and let him explain to you how things work in cases like this – the legal documents and all the rest? Jim always trusted him, and we can count on the fact that he will maintain professional ethics of secrecy about Jim’s death.”
“I don’t like him much either.” said Pam, even though she would change her mind later.
“I beg you not to speak to anyone except Max. And remember – a minute ago you talked about cremation. Well, don’t even think of it. Here in France, it’s like admitting you know something about a crime. Here, they usually don’t give permission for it and, worse yet, they would request an autopsy. Therefor-forget about it. And if you’re thinking of sending the body to the United States, the law provides for a casket that is to be opened for inspection and other hassles. I know this because I had my father’s body shipped across the ocean in order for it to be buried.
Pam did not want to grasp this.
“I want to disperse his ashes in a wonderful place. A place he would have loved. I will ask Agnes to show one to me. After all, she’s a director.”
“Enough, I beg you- Listen, we’ve got to bury him and we’ve got to do it in a hurry, before the press gets wind of what is going on. Otherwise, we are in deep shit. By the way, Agnes knows one of the most important big shots of the European press, and I think if she were to ask him, he would keep everything quiet. No, better yet- It just occurred to me that once I took this guy’s wife to a Doors’ concert. I took her backstage and introduced her to Jim who was really nice to her. She adored him. I bet she would help us. Maybe we could be successful in manipulating the press.”
I stopped for a moment to make sure Pam was following me.
“I’m thinking of Pere Lachaise, the cemetery where Chopin, Delacroix, Piaf and Isadora Duncan are buried. Even Alice B. Toklas is there. You see Pam, in this country, people have respect for artists. Even Jim was really respected. He was not just a rock idol. He would finally have ended up in the Larousse or in the Guide Michelin, not on one of those idiotic maps they sell on Hollywood Boulevard. He wouldn’t even have been part of those guided tours of the stars’ tombs.”
“Is Rimbaud there too?”
“I don’t know – I don’t think so. Didn’t he disappear in Africa?”
“You know, I think perceptions remain in the body after death. So, if they should bury him, Jim would feel the earth falling on top of him .. He would even be able to hear what people were saying around his tomb…”
I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to answer such a statement.
“So, what’s wrong with that?” I asked her. “We wouldn’t say anything bad about him.”
While I was waiting for Pam’s approval, another reason occurred to me for wanting Pere Lachaise. “I have to tell you about something that happened a week ago,” I told her. “Jim and I were walking when all at once he saw a distant hill and pointed it out he asked me to go there. When we arrived, we realized that it was the cemetery, and that it had just been closed.”
“What a pity”- I said. “I wanted to see it for a long time.”
“Right,”- he told me. “I will come back.”
Why, I asked myself, had he used the singular and placed so much emphasis on it? I had no intention of leaving Paris at that time.
“Maybe he was trying to tell us something.” Pam said.
“Do you know what to do to get in touch with the Morrisons? It would be the thing to do – even to get their permission.”
“We don’t have to worry about that.”
“Poor Andy, I would like him to find out about his brother from me, rather than from a newspaper.”
“Don’t worry about him. It’s OK. He’s a big boy now.”
The rapid unfolding of events didn’t give me time to really think of all the details. For the moment, the only important thing was to give Jim a quiet burial far from the “Big Top.” Meanwhile, the story that Pam had told me was just a story and I couldn’t figure out how much truth there was in it. Maybe she had contributed to Jim’s death. Not only her. There were probably also some other factors. If drugs had killed him, I didn’t want it to be found out. I was ashamed of it and, as I had occasion later to explain to Pam, there was something else: I didn’t want Jim to become a myth to follow. The mystery that we built around Jim’s death, his legend, suited me more than fine.
A few minutes later, Pam began to rummage through the last drawer of a small piece of furniture.
“It was Jim’s.”she explained. “But he didn’t care for it too much.”
I was behind her and I could see that she was looking at the few photographs of Jim. I looked away from the pathetic inventory of souvenirs … all the memories he and I had shared. I remembered them all very well and began to cry.
“Hey, we’ve got to go back to the police station. Look at what time it is,” Pam reminded me.
“Please give me Monsieur Morrison’s passport,” our old friend told us as his welcoming statement. “I must send it to the American Embassy. It’s just a formality.”
The chief was therefore about to discover the exact sequence of Jim’s name. We had to avoid giving him the passport.
“We left it in the apartment. I would have to look for it,” I cautioned him. “Do you feel like waiting for me or do you prefer that we bring it there in person? In any case, the Embassy offices are closed until Tuesday since we’re celebrating Independence Day. Besides which, it’s late. Don’t you have to go home for supper?”
“All right, you can do it yourselves and as a matter of fact, it is late.. I’ll be at your place again tomorrow morning. Try to be there. Until then you can do what you like.”
“Monsieur,” I said suddenly, “and the body?”
“I had asked you not to talk about the body yet- Leave it where it is for now.”
We had just arrived home, when Pam went to see who had rung the doorbell. A minute later she shouted to find out if I had ordered that ice cream.
“No, and I don’t think it can be done in Paris. Why?”
“Please come here and talk to this guy.”
I was surprised by that man’s extraordinary look. Only the little moustache, the walking stick and the oversized shoes were missing for him to become the exact impersonation of Charlie Chaplain. His clothes and hat were just right and his face was exactly the same.
“It’s not ice cream”- were his first words. “It’s only ice, dry ice. And it’s not for you-it’s for the corpse”
I looked at him with wide open eyes and invited him to enter.
“Come in. It’s back there in that room.”
When what’s his name left the room, he handed me his card and said, “I will keep you informed about the schedule of my visits. Let me know how the situation is tomorrow. Believe me, I’ll do my best, but this heat is against us.”
I told him that Pam intended to spend the night next to Jim.
“Based on my many years of experience,” he said, “I really advise against that.”
The Ice Man returned several times on Sunday and informed us that on Monday, the situation would be almost impossible to sustain.
Pam seemed exhausted, but her determination made her go on. She insisted that having Jim in the house gave her a feeling of security. She told me that if it were up to her, she would keep it like this forever.
On Monday, after some new ice was put in place, we received a phone call from London. Some rumors were circulating, something to do with Marianne Faithfull’s statements, something to do with Jim’s death. Pam, who had answered, said nothing.
The party was about to begin.
There was no time to lose. Agnes’ connections with the press would continue to keep the newspapers quiet. Meanwhile, I made an appointment with a well known lawyer, in case unfortunate complications with the police should arise. Luckily, growing pressure forced Pam to make a decision. She gave approval for burial.. To Pere Lachaise’s.
I organized everything with the span of a day.
Meanwhile, I could no nothing to change her mind – Pam slept with Jim every night. She was stubborn. I hated to imagine the whole scene and the effect this could have had on her. Moreover, another thing happened to complicate matters. She was beginning to get nasty with Agnes, who treated her like a daughter. As far as I was concerned, Agnes was of immeasurable help.
“Remember,” I said to Pam, “Agnes hardly knew Jim – They never saw each other alone and she has always been very correct. Do you remember when Jim told you that Agnes would probably be your only friend in Paris if something difficult should come up. What a prophecy…”
“I will never set foot in that woman’s house again,” were Pam’s last words.
The Bigot Funeral Parlor, located on the street next to Notre Dame, was so close to the great cathedral that it could almost be taken as a part of it. Even if this very crowded place seemed to be the same age as its venerable neighbor, it certainly didn’t make it seem any better. The cathedral’s shadow made it a dark place – and what’s more there was a single low wattage light bulb in use. It all suited my mood which was particularly black at that moment.
Monsieur Guizard, the owner, quickly took care of the formalities with highly professional expertise. At this point, I’d come to believe that he took care of everything there was to do there, when his assistant arrived. His appearance, his broken nails, led me to suspect that he personally took care of the burial work. He had a map of the cemetery so that he could choose the location for the tomb.
“Everybody wants to be buried at Pere Lachaise’s. There’s hardly any room left. What was your friend? A writer, wasn’t he?”
“Well really, he was a poet.”
“Ah, in that case, we are in luck. Believe it or not, there is still room in Division 89, where another famous American writer is buried. His name is Oscar Wilde. Do you know him?”
“No I beg you. Not next to Monsieur Wilde. Isn’t there another place?”
“Here. But it isn’t really in a beautiful position.”
“No, it’s all right. It’s OK. Thank you.”
The year in which I made my only visit to Pere Lachaise’s, I passed by the hotel on Rue des Beaux Arts. For the first time, I read the commemorative plaque on the side of the main entrance. It says, more or less: “In his hotel, Oscar Wilde, the English poet and playwright died on….”
Translated from Italian – originally published in KING & I – copyright 2002-2008 by Alain Ronay
Text provided by http://archives.waiting-forthe-sun.net/
All photos by Alain Ronay unless stated.