On December 29, 2005, Doors lead singer Jim Morrison’s mother died at age 86. Not much is known about Clara Morrison (nee Clarke). From some of her son’s biographies we can glean some information, and Mrs. Morrison may have been where Jim picked some of his quirkiness and sense of humor.
Clara Clarke was born September 27, 1919 in Wisconsin. One of five children, her father was a lawyer who once ran for public office on the Communist ticket. Her mother died while Clara was in her teens, but what little information comes down to us is that she loved having fun. Visiting a pregnant sister in Hawaii in 1941, she met Steve Morrison at a navy dance. Both were a witness to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Whether due to the war or youth, the two were married in April 1942. From thereafter Clara’s life, as did the Morrison children’s, followed the contours of Steve Morrison’s Naval career. Steve was sent to flight school in Pensacola, Florida and on December 8, 1943 their first son, James Douglas Morrison was born. Jim’s sister Anne, and brother Andrew would follow.
Mrs. Morrison seemed to be a typical housewife of the times, the major responsibility of raising the children fell to her. Neighbors report a quirky and artistic sensibility. She enjoyed onion sandwiches and in her free time could be found at the beach with a metal detector looking for coins or other treasures. She also had a love of nature. If she found sand dollars and sea-shells would create artful arrangements she would give to friends. She tried to give her love of nature to her children through stories and demonstrations. Was the young Jim Morrison absorbing artistic inclinations?
As the parent with the majority of the child raising duties that included discipline. As Jim entered his teenage years their relationship became more tenuous. Jim became more rebellious and introverted. Retreating to his room to read or draw, his hair became longer, and he would often wear clothes until they became frayed. This would bring Jim into conflict with his mother. While the Morrison’s didn’t incorporate corporal punishment, they did what is called in military terms “dressing down”, telling a recruit (child) what they did wrong, why it was wrong, and they expected correct behavior. Clara wasn’t as good at this as her husband and frequently raised her voice to her children. As their struggle continued, even something like encouraging her son’s good grades became a power struggle with Jim accusing his mother that her interest in his grades was only so she could impress her bridge club. Secretly, Clara feared Jim had inherited eccentricities from her side of the family.
Morrison became estranged from his parents during his Junior College years at FSU while the family moved to San Diego. Morrison began to assert his freedom. One episode had Morrison and a friend hitchhiking across the country to his parents’ house in San Diego. Jim’s mother insisted he get a haircut before his father got home. Jim and friend immediately left. As Jim finished his two years at FSU, he engineered his going to UCLA against his parents wishes. One of Jim’s last visits to his parents was tinged with bitterness when his father took him to his ship the Bon Homme Richard and sent him to the ship’s barber, and forced Jim to shoot human shaped dummies in the water with a deck gun.
Jim Morrison’s interaction with his parents after that is fairly well known and doesn’t reflect a good relationship with his parents. Whether this is indicative of some break in the family, or just the angst of a young man wanting to make his way in the world, we‘ll perhaps never know. After graduating from UCLA Jim disappeared into L.A., unknown to them, living on a rooftop in Venice Beach, taking LSD, and writing the songs that would become the basis for The Doors. While they were the house band at the Whisky a go-go, Jim added the Oedipal section to “The End,” a modern retelling of the myth of Oedipus as serial killer. What is frightening is Jim uses the exact configuration of his family until the climatic crescendo of patricide and incest. He also told publicists and interviewers his family was dead. The last opportunity Jim had to speak to his mother was in September of 1967 when The Doors were in New York. Clara was able to convince Elektra Records to give her Jim’s phone number and they spoke briefly on the phone. Clara asked Jim to come home for Thanksgiving, but as if nothing had changed wanted him to get a haircut before he did. The Doors next concert was in Washington in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel. Andy Morrison brought his mother to the hotel, but Jim told those around him he didn’t want to see her and they proceeded to give her the run around. During the concert that evening, Jim gave an especially visceral version of “The End.” Mother and son never saw each other again.
Clara Morrison spent the rest of her life living the life of a navy spouse. Steve Morrison was promoted to Admiral in 1968 becoming the youngest Admiral in the navy. He retired in 1974. It can be presumed her life was filled with family. At the time of her death she had five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The admiral and Mrs. Morrison had been married for 63 years. She died at home and her ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean. Her husband joined her in death three years later.
Notes on Sources: “No One Here Gets Out Alive” by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman, and “Break On Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison” by James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky.
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