From Lizard King to Ledger King: Catching Up With Jim Morrison of the Doors

As Published in People Magazine, May 1986.


So long, Woodstock and brown acid; hello, Smith-Barney and high-yield bonds.

The 1960s’ granola-eating hippies are today’s yuppies: high-earning financial professionals who populate spacious high-rises in the best parts of Manhattan. Nobody embodies this generational shift quite like former Doors lead singer Jim Morrison. As one of the most famous, popular — and controversial — rock stars of the late 1960s, Morrison performed many classic songs that became the soundtrack of a generation, including “Light My Fire,” “Break On Through to the Other Side,” and “The End.”

But Morrison led the Doors to as many lows as he did “highs” — Morrison occasionally experimented with drugs throughout his career. For example, while intoxicated at a March 1969 concert, he tried to incite a riot, and stripped off all his clothes, on stage. He was arrested for indecent exposure .

“I didn’t want to be dead at 27 years old,” Morrison says as he takes a sip of mineral water in his large office overlooking Broad Street in Manhattan. “I wanted a long, fruitful life. When I woke up in a bathtub in Paris in the summer of ’71 with no memory of the previous three days, that’s when I knew I needed a change.”

A few days later, Morrison checked himself into a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Bern, Switzerland. He didn’t tell anyone — not his girlfriend (now his wife) Pamela, not even his Doors band mates.

“We thought Jim was dead, man,” laughs Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, now a top record producer, via phone from Los Angeles, where he’s mastering the hotly anticipated second album by Glass Tiger. “Everybody did. We thought Jim went to Paris and shuffled off for good.”

The facility utilized an innovative health and fitness to overcome addiction — a meat-free diet called “veganism,” daily sessions of an Indian stretching regimen called yoga, as well as various sports. In fact, it’s in rehab where Morrison first got interested in what he now calls his “number-one paunch-fighter”: racquetball.

Morrison completed six months of rehab (“I haven’t touched anything worse than a cigar since”), before working on a series of cooperative vegetable farms in France, Switzerland, and Belgium for more than three years. It was at a farm outside of Brussells that when none of the other farmers — primarily ex-hippies and American college students — had any idea how to handle money, Morrison offered to help. Morrison realized he didn’t just have a knack for money — he had a passion for it.

“It made sense to me the way nothing had ever made sense to me before. Numbers coming in, numbers going out, with this little number left over called ‘profit.’ I’d finally found my calling.”

Morrison returned to the United States in 1975 and enrolled in the Wharton School of Business (he had no academic records, but talked his way into the prestigious school’s finance program — the dean of admissions was a huge Doors fan). He graduated in just three years, and with honors.

Today, Morrison has dropped out of the rock n’ roll spotlight, but he’s still a superstar in other circles. He heads up James D. Morrison Financial Services, a stock trading and financial services company. Forbes estimates the company’s worth at $5 billion. The only thing he’s interested in “breaking on through” today are federal tax loopholes and profit barriers for his upscale clientele, which include financial “rock stars” like Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken, and Bernard Madoff.

He’s also a philanthropist, reportedly donating millions to the American Enterprise Institute, U.S.-government-backed peacekeeping efforts in Nicaragua, and the Just Say No Foundation, for which Morrison sits on the board of directors.

[pictured: (clockwise) Morrison, First Lady Nancy Reagan, Pat Boone, actress Soleil Moon Frye]

“But don’t get me wrong, I still take part in ‘drug deals.’ Every day in fact. I help Pfizer and Upjohn keep their billions safe and growing!” Morrison says with a laugh before putting a golf ball into a Hammacher Schlemmer automatic putt-returner.

But while Morrison is by all accounts happy with his life, not everyone wishes him well. Director Oliver Stone has announced plans for a biopic about Morrison and the Doors, of whom the director has been highly critical. “Morrison sold out his generation, but not as much as he did himself,” Stone said on a recent episode of Thicke of the Night. “He just wants more houses, more cars, more money. More, more, more. For this guy, greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Stone plans to cast Michael Keaton as Morrison.

Morrison is still in touch with his former band mates, but denies rumors that he’ll reunite with the band in 1987 for a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band’s first, eponymous album. That’s not to say he hasn’t been tempted — the songs that became Steve Winwood’s recent smash comeback album Back in the High Life were first offered to Morrison. He does, however, still dabble in his other first love: poetry. Morrison doesn’t collect any royalties for (and even denies credit for) his most famous poem, “Footprints.” The millions generated by reprints each year are split between an unnamed Swiss charity and the Ayn Rand Foundation.

Perhaps most importantly is that Morrison is at peace with his past — and can even take a joke about his former wild and crazy long-haired self. “Last week I went to this charity dinner for the Central Park Zoo and they had me up there on stage with Joan Embrey – The Tonight Show lady, right? She comes out with this baby komodo dragon, and some cheeseball — pretty sure it was Milken — shouts out, ‘All hail the lizard king!’”

Brian Boone's work has appeared on Funny or Die, Adult Swim, Splitsider, and McSweeney's. Follow him on Twitter.