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- December 22, 1980
- Vol. 14
- No. 25
A Decade Later, the Heirs of Jim, Jimi and Janis Reap the Troubled Legacies of Rock
Jim Morrison: His lighted fire still burns
More than nine years after he was found dead of a heart attack in a Paris hotel bathtub on July 3,1971, Jim Morrison is achieving the kind of commercial acceptance he spurned as the influential but self-destructive lead singer of the Doors. The group's backlist LPs are expected to sell more than a million this year. A remastered Greatest Hits package of Doors classics is currently bulleted on the charts. Director Francis Coppola reached back to the Doors' haunting The End as the theme song of his Apocalypse Now. Most surprising of all, perhaps, is the enormous success of Morrison's biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive. Co-written by rock hagiographer Jerry (Elvis) Hopkins and Morrison's former factotum Daniel Sugerman, the book had been rejected for five years before it was published this spring by Warner Books. It shot to No. 1 on the trade paperback lists, is in its seventh printing and has sold 230,000 copies.
Curiously, the prime benefactors of Morrison's estate include his parents, whom Jim did not see in the last seven years of his life; he once ordered his record company to say they were dead. Jim's father, Steve, a 60ish retired Navy rear admiral, has settled in San Diego. He and Jim's mother, Clara, share an estimated quarter-million dollars a year in royalties and earnings with Morrison's in-laws. They are Columbus "Corky" Courson, 62, a retired Orange County school principal, and his wife, Penny, parents and heirs of Jim's common-law wife, Pamela, who died of a heroin overdose in 1974.
Jim's parents, shunning public life and the media, leave it to the Coursons to manage artistic rights for the estate and to defend their son's reputation. Thus it's Corky who denounces the Hopkins-Sugerman collaboration as "a sensationalist document put out to make money. They missed Jim's tender, loving side." Whatever the book's literary merit ("I'm no Irving Stone," admits Sugerman), the co-authors defend their portrayal of Morrison as "a complex person—a friend, a poet, a writer, a drinker and a ladies' man." As Sugerman delicately puts it, "I wanted him to come out looking good, but he had no guilt and never compromised."
The volume is full of grist for the mythmaker mill, tracing the life of James Douglas Morrison from birth in Melbourne, Fla. on Dec. 8, 1943. After a nomadic military brathood, Jim began his transformation from an energetic UCLA film school graduate to an influential rock revolutionary calling himself the Lizard King. The Doors (so named from poet William Blake's phrase "the doors of perception") were punk prototypes whose offstage excesses and brilliant music combined to make them America's premier band of the late 1960s. The book also chronicles Morrison's turbulent courtship of Pamela Courson, his grim bouts with alcohol and the law (he was convicted of indecent exposure and open profanity onstage in Miami) and his mystery-shrouded final days in France. Morrison fans continue to insist that he has not died at all—even though the body was seen by Pamela, a few of Jim's close Paris friends and a medical examiner before it was interred in the famed Père Lachaise cemetery.
The surviving Doors—Ray Manzarek, now 41, Robby Krieger, 34, and John Densmore, 35—put out two more perfunctory albums before disbanding in 1974. They still receive some $250,000 apiece annually from their Doors' work, and the take should double or triple this year. "People keep asking when the band that did the Apocalypse Now soundtrack is going to tour," Manzarek notes sardonically. Sugerman now manages Manzarek and with Hopkins is currently negotiating a movie deal based on the book.
Cars, meanwhile, still cruise L.A. with bumper stickers reading: ON THE EIGHTH DAY GOD CREATED THE DOORS. And Corky Courson, who has encouraged a reprinting of Morrison's book of poetry, is still troubled by telephone calls asking about Jim. "People don't want to let Jim die a natural death," Courson muses. "They just don't want to let him die."
Janis Joplin: The Pearl left her fortune tidy
Barely a few years before her death, Janis Joplin had fired off a gloating missive to a doctor who had predicted that she would never see her 24th birthday: "Look, I made it." But on October 4, 1970, just hours before she was to record a scorcher called Buried Alive in the Blues, she died alone in her room at L.A.'s Landmark Hotel of a heroin overdose.
Already the raspy-voiced outcast from Port Arthur, Texas has been the subject of two biographies, the thoughtful Buried Alive, by her publicist Myra Friedman, and the lurid Going Down with Janis, by Peggy Caserta (a self-proclaimed ex-lover) and Dan Knapp. There was also a film documentary, not to mention a Joplinesque melodrama, The Rose, starring Bette Midler. (Janis was known as the Pearl.)
Awash in feather boas, Southern Comfort and old hurts (she had been cruelly nominated "Ugliest Man on Campus" at the University of Texas), Janis belted out troubled tunes like Piece of My Heart and was rock's first and perhaps only queen. No less a modern contender than Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac calls Janis a pivotal influence and "the most charismatic woman singer I have ever seen."
Though she seemed out of control, there was also an ordered side to Joplin, a vestige of her oil engineer father and business college registrar mother. As Janis had requested, she was cremated, her ashes scattered from a plane over the coastline of California's Marin County. She had also earmarked $2,500 for two memorial gatherings for her friends in New York and in California. Rights to royalties and her possessions were bequeathed in equal portions to her parents, Seth and Dorothy, and to younger siblings Michael and Laura.
Brother Michael, now 27, was in high school when Janis died and says he took a half dozen years "to deal with it." While Joplin's death was assumed by some to be a suicide, Michael notes that the coroner judged it as accidental. "Suicide jibes with her image, but not with Janis. I can't imagine it was premeditated." He adds that her lawyer had just two days earlier given her a prenuptial contract so she could marry a young Berkeley student, Seth Morgan, son of a wealthy East Coast family.
Settling Joplin's estate has been similarly tidy. She had prepared a careful will and had lived to record only three studio albums and a modest stockpile of unreleased material. Her lawyer and friend, Robert Gordon, who handled the details, has never revealed the amount of money involved, though it was considerable. "My parents have totally stayed out of promoting the legend," says Michael. "They don't like the weirdos who are still attached to Janis."
Indeed, the whole family moved to Prescott, Ariz., where Michael opened up a glassblowing and crafts enterprise named Fantality (after Janis' own coinage combining fantasy and reality). Laura, 31, who has a Ph.D. in education and does learning research in Denver, and drives the restored '65 Porsche Janis had painted psychedelic. An attempt to turn their childhood home into a Janis Joplin museum failed, and it was later demolished by an operator who tried to sell souvenir bricks, as well as brick chips encased in plastic lockets.
Michael says that at first his financial inheritance may have slowed his creativity. "Struggling artists have always produced more," he says, a statement that could refer to his sister and her enduring impact. "Janis was a hell raiser," he reflects. "She did things that people feared doing themselves. She tore up ground right and left, and that's why she was idolized."
Jimi Hendrix: The Voodoo Child still wins polls
James Marshall Hendrix literally and figuratively set his guitars on fire, playing with an incandescent ferocity that welded his R&B roots to acid rock. For three short years he reigned as one of rock's seminal stylists, creating classics like Purple Haze, Foxey Lady and Voodoo Child. Then, on September 18, 1970, he died, suffocating on his own vomit in a hotel room in London's Notting Hill Gate. (Traces of barbiturates were found.) Yet a decade later Hendrix remains eerily immortal. This year, for example, he won by a landslide the rock guitarist poll in Musician magazine. And this fall radio station KZOK in his native Seattle began a drive to rename a park for him and erect a statue. At least four documentaries have been made over the years, and two more movie projects are in the works.
Unlike Joplin and Morrison, Hendrix was an instrumentalist whose tireless performing and informal jamming produced enough material not only for 16 official LPs but additional tape for an estimated 70 to 80 bootleg releases. So when Hendrix died intestate, predators and hangers-on moved in. Some of his early proceeds had disappeared allegedly in a shadowy Caribbean corporation even before he died, and the posthumous rip-offs included a memorial drive supposedly for the benefit of Hendrix's estate and black youths in Seattle. That's where Jimi at 15 formed his first band, the Rocking Kings, with a borrowed guitar. As Hendrix remarked ironically in 1969: "Once you are dead, you are made for life." He left an estimated $21,000 in cash, plus copyrights, claims to royalties, reels of unreleased tape and his share of the Electric Lady Studios in New York. A Warner Brothers Records executive reports that Hendrix will sell gold once again this year, and that will generate probably another $500,000.
His sole heir, his dad, Al Hendrix, ended up with one bass guitar, some personal effects and undisclosed annual amounts. (Jimi's mother, Lucille, died when he was 10.) The elder Hendrix, now in his 60s, sold rights to his son's later works for a lifetime annuity on the advice of L.A. lawyer Leo Bran-ton. "Mr. Hendrix has done very well," says Branton, whose clients have included Nat King Cole and the Black Panther party. After open-heart surgery last year, Al, who had been a gardener, retired, but he is well enough to play frequent golf. (Jimi's younger brother, Leon, 30, who runs a courier service, had no claim to the estate.)
The Hendrix litigation hasn't all been financial. According to Branton, there were two paternity suits (Hendrix never married). Branton reports that the case of a Minnesota woman was dismissed because in New York, where she filed, paternity cannot be established after an alleged father's death. A Swedish judge, however, declared Jimi the father of a son, now 10, but the child was not awarded any support.
Brother Leon traces some of the labyrinthine complexities of the Hendrix legacy to their source. "People would rip him off right in front of his face, and when he'd find out he'd always forgive them," says Leon. "Jimi didn't want to think about business problems. He wanted to think about music."
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