When you measure it off, it’s an impressive leap that possesses a healthy danger. Water’s edge of the pool is nine feet away from the two story bungalow. The rail of the top floor balcony, where Jim Morrison planted a (likely) bare foot during his running takeoff, is twelve feet high over the pool patio. The math is daunting. Coming up short of the water meant broken bones. Leaping long enough but too far left meant wreckage on the concrete north edge of the pool.
In 1968, Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, stayed in room 29 of the Movie Colony Hotel, in Palm Springs, California. From the open air balcony of the bungalow, he took his famous leap and, by all accounts, landed successfully in the pool.
The leap wasn’t a spur of the moment decision for Morrison, it was part of his life plan. Morrison was an erudite and well-read guy. A class discussion enthusiast, he delighted in challenging teachers and professors based on his independent reading. At Florida State he played a game where he challenged people to pick up any of the hundreds of paperback books in his room and read one sentence. He would identify the exact book. Morrison was a serious poet and a Dionysian who believed that the key to creativity was inebriation to overwhelm the conscious mind. “I am not mad. I am interested in freedom,” he once said in an interview.
I went to the Movie Colony Hotel to check out the mid-century architecture and to investigate this leap. The pool area is charming, intimate and relaxing in a Dean Martin, dry martini way. Don Draper and Pete Campbell, in plaid swim trunks, might hang there. Drunken, whooping Jim Morrison flying through the air to do a cannonball seems out of place. The leap is nothing I would ever attempt, not even in my most daring or reckless moment. It’s just too physically risky. It’s scary.
This is the problem with taking leaps of faith. The results (or what we fear they might be) prevent us from taking action, and this fear keeps us from exploring our freedom. With physical risk it’s probably for the best, but in our larger lives it’s bad.
Jim Morrison was an extraordinary human being. To him the real hazard of life was not taking enough risk and thereby surrendering his freedom. He elected to leap, again and again, sometimes failing, but overall with spectacular results. Even with his failures – he would likely argue — he was fully alive.
He achieved amazing things. After graduating from UCLA Film School he spent the summer of 1965 sleeping on the roof of a Venice Beach apartment building. He took lots of LSD and had a vision of a wildly successful rock band named The Doors. He wrote the song lyrics for their first two albums, all before he ran into Ray Manzarek on the beach. The Doors were the most enigmatic and original band of the 1960s. Morrison was the dark Shamanic figure of the era, causing several riots. He also published two books of poetry and made two films.
Unfortunately, he became a hardcore alcoholic. The bottle became controlling. His drunken daredevil tendencies may have contributed to his death. In 1971 he fell from the roof of a Chateau Marmont bungalow when a rain gutter failed, and also from a London roof. He was coughing up blood days before his Paris death. One theory is that these falls caused a blood clot or a lung injury which contributed to his death.
It is rare a person comes along who so readily and consistently takes the leap, and embraces all their physical and spiritual freedom. We should look within ourselves to take leaps more often.