50 Years Ago: Jim Morrison Turns Himself In to the FBI
Disrespect for authority and public institutions was a big part of Jim Morrison's mystique, but even the Lizard King knew there wasn't any point in challenging the Feds. On April 4, 1969, the Doors frontman turned himself in to the FBI, facing one felony count of lewd and lascivious behavior and three misdemeanor counts of indecent exposure, open profanity and drunkenness.
The charges stemmed from the infamous Doors gig that took place in Miami on March 1, 1969, during which a visibly intoxicated Morrison slurred and stumbled his way through a show before allegedly exposing himself to the audience. Although there really wasn't any evidence to support those particular charges, Morrison's lawyers advised him to cooperate with the authorities, setting in motion a long legal process that wouldn't really shift into gear until the trial started on Aug. 12, 1970.
While he denied being guilty of public indecency, Morrison freely admitted the self-destructive tendencies that fed into his onstage behavior.
"I think I was just fed up with the image that had been created around me, which I sometimes consciously, most of the time unconsciously, cooperated with," he told Circus. "It was just too much for me to really stomach and so I just put an end to it in one glorious evening. I guess what it boiled down to was that I told the audience that they were a bunch of f---ing idiots to be members of an audience. What were they doing there anyway? The basic message was to realize that you’re not really here to listen to a bunch of songs by some good musicians. You’re here for something else. Why not admit it and do something about it?"
It didn't help that Morrison was generally a fairly provocative guy -- by 1968, the FBI had put together an 80-page file on him -- or that he'd been arrested onstage during a 1967 concert in Connecticut. According to the prosecution, the Miami show found Morrison "[pulling] out all stops in an effort to provoke chaos among a huge crowd of young people. Morrison’s program lasted one hour, during which time he sang one song and for the remainder he grunted, groaned, gyrated and gestured along with inflammatory remarks. He screamed obscenities and exposed himself..."
In other words, despite the lack of corroboration, the charges were destined to stick -- and they did. On Sept. 20, 1970, Morrison was found guilty of indecent exposure and profanity -- a pair of misdemeanor charges -- and the felony charge and the misdemeanor for drunkenness were dismissed. Released on a $50,000 bond and returned to Miami on Oct. 30, 1970 for sentencing, Morrison received six months of hard labor and a $500 fine for public exposure and 60 days of hard labor for profanity, which were set to run concurrently.
To Morrison's fans (and, more importantly, to his lawyers), the whole thing seemed like a witch hunt, and he immediately set about arguing an appeal. He died before the case could finally be settled, but in 2010, then-Florida governor Charlie Crist pardoned Morrison, calling his conviction a "blot" staining his record for "something he may or may not have done."
"What I do know is that if someone hasn't committed a crime, that should be recognized," said Crist. "We live in a civil society that understands that lasting legacy of a human being, and maybe the last act for which they may be known, is something that never occurred in the first place, it's never a bad idea to try to right a wrong."