Why Did Jim Morrison's Will Not Break On Through to the Other Side?
5 min read

Why Did Jim Morrison's Will Not Break On Through to the Other Side?

What are the rights to publicity? In this article, we'll discuss Jim Morrison's Estate and how it still inspires controversy. Keep reading to learn more!

Share this article:

Jim Morrison, the lead singer, and songwriter of the rock band The Doors, passed away in Paris on July 3, 1971, at just 27 years old. At the time of his death, his estate was estimated to be worth around $2.5 million dollars. That is a far cry from the value of The Doors publishing rights today. In 2023, Primary Wave acquired 50 percent of the rights over The Doors’ music and merchandising by purchasing them from Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek. Although the terms of the deal were not made public, Billboard estimates that the master recordings alone generate $10 million in annual revenue. The band also has a heritage contract with a huge 50 percent royalty payment for streaming. That’s why Billboard suggested that the terms of the deal were roughly north of $75 million.

The other half of the band’s rights are held by John Densmore, age 78, and the heirs of Jim Morrison. But who represents the Morrison estate now? That’s a complicated question. Come along as we break on through to the other side of the Morrison estate.

Morrison Leaves It All to His Common Law Wife: What was that promise that you made?

Most young adults do not have a will, but Morrison actually wrote one in 1969 when he was just 25 years old. His two-page will left his entire estate to his girlfriend Pamela Courson. In the event that she passed away before him, Morrison wanted his estate to be given to his brother and sister. Morrison’s brief will simply said that he wanted Courson to "assume responsibility for all obligations and liabilities" and distribute the remaining assets as she saw fit. This was controversial for two reasons. First, he was estranged from his parents and wanted them to have no control over his estate. Second, his relationship with Courson was on-again, off-again. 

The two started dating in 1965, and he paid for her to open a fashion boutique, Themis. Eventually, Courson designed clothes for Miles Davis and for Sharon Tate, who would later be murdered by Charles Manson. Courson and Morrison obtained a marriage license in 1967 but did not go through with the marriage. 

In 1971 they moved to Paris, hoping it would help their relationship and their substance abuse problems. Tragically, Courson woke up to find her boyfriend dead in the bathtub. No autopsy was performed, but the cause of death was listed as heart failure. This set off a wave of conspiracy theories about his death. Courson returned to Los Angeles but quickly became even more involved in the drug scene. She was never an official suspect in his death. 

However, when Morrison’s parents found out that he had left his estate to Courson, they were outraged and filed a lawsuit against her contesting the will. It took years for the will to go through probate since several women claimed to have had Morrison’s secret love child. In 1974, a court finally recognized the will as valid and Courson as the sole heir. But Courson died just months later from a drug overdose. She was 27, just like Jim when he died.

Morrison’s Entire Estate Inherited by Girlfriend's Parents! People are strange…

This created a new problem:  who got the Morrison estate next? Courson died intestate - without a will - and didn’t have a child or husband. Since Courson died without a will, her parents inherited the entire estate. Remember, at this point, Courson owned 25 percent of the Doors. The rights to Morrison’s image and likeness would also eventually be worth significant money. But Courson’s parents never had a relationship with Morrison, and Morrison’s sister, brother, and parents were left out in the cold. 

Morrison’s parents sued the Coursons to try to get control over the son’s estate. After a year or so of legal wrangling, the Courson family won a court ruling. The Morrisons appealed the ruling. The Coursons saw the writing on the wall - that Jim’s parents could continue to tie up an estate that was increasing in value yearly. Perhaps they were inspired by the lyrics “The time to hesitate is through /  No time to wallow in the mire” - because they decided to cut a deal to share ownership of the estate with the Morrison parents.

Unfortunately, Morrison’s brother and sister, who he named as the alternate heirs, received nothing. Although the inheritance followed the letter of the law, it certainly didn’t live up to Jim’s wishes that his parents not be involved in profiting from his music and life.

The Rights to Publicity

Laws protecting someone’s rights to publicity - the right to earn money from one’s image and likeness - were not around when Jim Morrison died. The right of publicity allows a person to control how their image and name are exploited for money. These laws are governed by state law. For years, courts had ruled that the rights could not be passed down to someone’s heirs. But in 1985, California passed The Celebrities Rights Act, which extended the rights for 70 years after a person’s death. This made Morrison’s estate even more valuable since Morrison was considered a legend by then, and the money made from his image did not have to be split with the other Doors bandmates.


Morrison’s song Riders on the Storm anticipated the futility of trying to act against fate:  “Into this house we’re born / Into this world we’re thrown / Like a dog without a bone / An actor out on loan / Riders on the storm.” His words were prophetic because when he was writing his will, he would not have imagined that his estate would’ve been controlled by two sets of parents who were very much against the counterculture.

Jim Morrison's will continues to inspire controversy. Some view it as the ultimate expression of his countercultural beliefs. Others think that he was clearly not in his right mind when he left his estate to his girlfriend. When Morrison wrote the words “I'm gonna love you / Till the heavens stop the rain,” he could never have envisioned that Pamela’s parents would wind up profiting from his talents. Would he have lived to regret his decision, or would he have done it all over again? We’ll never know, but the music of Jim Morrison and the Doors will live on.

Scroll Down
Share this article:
Let’s begin! First, what’s your name?

Your name that’s stated on your driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport.