The Doors, like their fans, waiting for 'The Doors'

February 28, 1991|By Gary Graff | Gary Graff,Knight-Ridder

"The program for this evening is not new,

You've seen this entertainment through and through.

You've seen your birth, your life and death,

You might recall the rest.

Did you have a good world when you died?

Enough to base a movie on?"

-- "The Movie" by Jim Morrison

TEN YEARS ago, Rolling Stone magazine ran on its cover a picture of Jim Morrison, the late singer of the rock group the Doors, with the arresting legend: "He's hot, he's sexy and he's dead."

It was a decade after Morrison had died of a heart attack at age 27 in Paris, but the Rolling Stone story was about the Doors' new life. With the 1980 publication of the best-selling Morrison biography "No One Here Gets Out Alive," the release of "The Doors Greatest Hits," which sold 2 million copies, and the use of the group's Oedipal epic "The End" in the film "Apocalypse Now," Morrison and the Doors arguably enjoyed more popularity in death than in life. The group's music, originally released in 1967-71, became a fixture on rock radio; the cult of personality that surrounded Morrison rose to mythic proportions.

This week, 10 years after that revival, Doors mania gets another jump-start. "The Doors," a film by Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone, opens tomorrow after considerable buildup and controversy.

"There's still a part of me that just doesn't believe anyone can capture on film how it was," says former Doors drummer John Densmore.

But if Stone's opus, which stars Val Kilmer as Morrison, relights the fire, there will be plenty of merchandise for old and nouveau Doors fans alike: Elektra Records, the band's label since its origin, is planning a soundtrack album as well as a 25th anniversary boxed set for 1992; a fresh video collection titled "The Soft Parade" will be out soon, and at least six new books are slated for publication during 1991.

For a group that effectively died as a creative unit when Morrison passed away -- though surviving members Densmore, Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger carried on for a couple of years -- the Doors continue to show remarkable signs of life.

"I love it," says Manzarek, 56, the Doors' keyboardist. "To me, it's a process. Every five years, there's a new generation of 15-year-olds discovering the Doors. They get a taste of it and go, 'What was this stuff about, Dad?' Then you get an opportunity to say what the psychedelic fusion was about -- peace, make love, not war."

Densmore, who last year published "Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and the Doors," takes a decidedly less hippie view. "Val Kilmer, who I think did a wonderful job playing Jim, said, 'Well, John, at least the music will always be there when this giant Hollywood movie blows over,' " Densmore, 45, says.

"To me, that's what's most important. I really feel incredibly proud about the stuff lasting so long. I know Jim dying has certainly helped the myth and all that stuff, but we all worked really hard on those songs. I mean, someone from the Monkees could have died, but I don't think those songs would hold."

"Hold" may be an understatement for the Doors' enduring success. According to Elektra, the group's albums have sold more than 45 million copies. And now, with hits like "Light My Fire," "LA Woman" and "Roadhouse Blues" still receiving heavy airplay, they sell an average of 750,000 copies per year.

The songwriting royalties earn an estimated $1.2 million a year for the remaining Doors (all consultants on the film) and for the estates of Morrison and Pamela Courson, his common-law wife who died in 1974 of a heroin overdose. (She's played by Meg Ryan in the movie.) The movie producers -- Imagine Film Entertainment, Israeli mogul Sasha Harari and ubiquitous promoter Bill Graham -- also paid the group $750,000 for the rights to their stories for the $40-million film.

Sales of Doors T-shirts and other souvenirs bring in another $2 million. And Morrison's grave in Paris' famed Pere Lachaise Cemetery is dotted with graffiti and gifts from constant fan pilgrimages.

So the Doors -- named from a William Blake quote that inspired Aldous Huxley's book "The Doors of Perception" -- are still big business.

The group came together in 1965, when Morrison, the son of a U.S. Navy rear admiral, and Manzarek (played in the film by "Twin Peaks" star Kyle MacLachlan) were studying film at UCLA. Manzarek was a classically trained musician with an interest in the blues, while Densmore (Kevin Dillon) and Krieger (Frank Whaley) had roots in jazz. Atop this mixture would be Morrison's lyrics: image-rich poems drawn from Nietzsche, Blake, Rimbaud and others about lust, alienation and the search for higher existence.

"As a young and pretty naive 20-year-old, I was intimidated by this brilliant guy," remembers Densmore. "You just felt like he was saying something incredibly important, even if you didn't understand exactly what it was."

Today Morrison's darker behaviors are equally responsible for his stature as a cultural icon. He was an alcoholic and a heavy drug user, sexually promiscuous and prone to reckless and violent behavior. For all of his reputation as a charismatic performer, Morrison was hopelessly inconsistent onstage; the Doors' concert career was effectively neutered in 1969 when a drunken Morrison was convicted of exposing himself onstage in Miami.

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