In a 19th Century French cemetery, among a jumble of crypts and tombstones, the late Jim Morrison, front man for legendary rock band The Doors, continues to draw crowds to his exclusive Parisian digs: a simple plot with a modest headstone. Below, Morrison eternally slumbers in the cheapest coffin his girlfriend Pamela Courson could find (she had delayed the burial for days until the specially ordered casket was delivered.) Courson, who had been living with Morrison in a rented apartment in Paris, told authorities that she had discovered Morrison dead in their bathtub the morning following an evening the two shared watching home movies and using drugs, including heroin. Morrison had left Los Angeles for Paris just a few months earlier after wrapping up the Doors’ sixth album, L.A. Woman.
Today the late rock star’s final resting place at the Père Lachaise Cemetery is enclosed by a small fence, an attempt by officials to deter the vandalism, theft, and even unauthorized attempted exhumations that have plagued the site since Morrison’s unexpected death in 1971 when he followed Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin into the “27” club. More recent “members of the club” include Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. Both also died at age 27.
Père Lachaise Cemetery officials are apparently OK with the headaches associated with housing Morrison. Turns out dead celebrities are good for business. Something the cemetery has been banking on since the early 1800s when the then struggling graveyard successfully negotiated for the bones of Jean de La Fontaine and Molière. The move was an attempt to make the boneyard more attractive to Parisians who considered it to be situated too far from the city. Even Balzac helped to build the cemetery’s prestige by writing a number of stories whose characters were ultimately (and fictionally) buried at the cemetery. Soon truth followed fiction and it seemed like every luminary in Paris was dying to get in.
The necropolis with two nearby train stations named in its honor, claims over 3.5 million international visitors annually, making it the most visited cemetery in the world. Its 110 acres contain the remains of not only Jim Morrison but also Peter Abelard and Héloïse, Molière, Eugène Delacroix, Jacques-Louis David, Georges Bizet, Frédéric Chopin, Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust, Georges Seurat, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Gertrude Stein, Colette, Edith Piaf, Marcel Marceau, Richard Wright and Yves Montand.
There is no audition for admission to Père Lachaise Cemetery. You just need the francs. And the publicly unknown outnumber the publicly known by quite a margin. Pricer graves sport phone-booth sized stone structures where loved ones may enter and pay their respects, but most get by with a simple granite headstone proclaiming an entire life with a name, dates, and some brief statement. But even 110 acres can only hold so much. To prevent overcrowding Pere Lachaise offers a variety of options. This include combining the remains of multiple family members in the same grave and issuing 30-year leases on grave sites. If a lease is not renewed, the bones are pulled up, tagged and moved over to the cemetery’s Aux Morts ossuary. There have been over one million burials at Père Lachaise and the total number of dead exceed two to three million when you include the Aux Morts.
Those wishing to eventually make Père Lachaise their eventual haunts just need to be a resident of Paris and a decent bank account. Stay options include perpetuity (like Jim’s) 50, 30 or 10 years (for the dead on a budget).