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Parades, Prostitutes, and Pardons

Whatever you think of the pardon granted to Jim Morrison by outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist or of Jim Morrison himself, that indecent-exposure case against him was a sham.

And what a sham it was. I remember as a young kid, several years after the fact, hearing about Morrison taking out his Mojo Risin onstage and thinking the guy was the craziest rock star of them all. In a way, it was posthumously good for his reputation -- it certainly increased Morrison's legend. But by all accounts, the Miami Incident in real life pretty much wrecked him and the band.

A lot of people assume that Morrison was arrested on the spot at the dank and rickety Dinner Key Auditorium in Coconut Grove during the infamous March 1, 1969 concert. Not so. Police didn't arrest him at all, likely because he never committed the act that anchored the case and got all the moralists in a tizzy. It's almost a sure thing that Little Jim never made an appearance.

So how did it happen? Was it a mass hallucination?

No, it started with the Miami Herald and a reporter named Lawrence Mahoney, who wrote a sensationalistic article headlined "Band Fails to Stir a Riot" about the concert two days after it happened.

In the article, Mahoney wrote:  

The hypnotically erotic Morrison, flaunting the laws of obscenity, indecent exposure and incitement to riot, could only stir a minor mob scene toward the end of his Saturday night performance... Many of the nearly twelve thousand youths said they found the bearded singer's exhibition disgusting. Included in the audience were hundreds of unescorted junior and senior high school girls... It was not meant to be pretty. Morrison appeared to masturbate in full view of his audience, screamed obscenities and exposed himself. He also got violent, slugged several of Thee Image officials and threw one of them off stage before he himself was hurled into the crowd.

Mahoney and other reporters then called authorities and basically asked them if they were going to let this obscene and unlawful behavior stand. Within two days of the article, the Miami State Attorney's Office, in part based on the testimony of an office boy, filed obscenity, drunkenness, and indecent-exposure charges against Morrison.

The circus was just starting. A Richard Nixon-supported "Rally for Decency" was held at the Orange Bowl and attended by (of course) Anita Bryant and (say it ain't so) Jackie Gleason. The Doors tour, which was just getting started, was canceled. The Doors were "poison," as Morrison biographer Stephen Davis wrote.

"It ruined their career," Doors manager Bill Siddons recently told NPR. "It ruined Jim's life. He never really recovered from it. He really stopped caring about that work anymore and in fact, retired shortly thereafter."

Siddons, the band members, and just about everyone with any sense who was there swear Morrison, who was as drunk as a skunk for the show after drinking in an airport bar during a flight delay, never exposed himself. Numerous professional photographers and amateur shutterbugs in the audience never caught it on film.

So what about Mahoney, the reporter? He's the one who created the stir, and he's the one who wrote point-blank in the article that Morrison "exposed himself." What does he have to say now?

Well, unfortunately, Mahoney, who was a student with Morrison at FSU, died in 2003 at age 60. But Mahoney did write a rather shameless piece for the Sun-Sentinel about Morrison in 1986 in which he opined that the singer's body should be brought from Paris to Florida. First sentence: "Jim Morrison, when you gonna come home?" 

Mahoney made it pretty clear that he wasn't real proud of spearheading the disastrous obscenity case, though he also appeared to have enjoyed it as his claim to fame.

As a Miami reporter during the last year of the lusty Sixties, I was the instrument of the media that blew the whistle on Morrison`s outrageous behavior before 12,000 innocent teenagers at Coconut Grove's lofty old Dinner Key Auditorium.

My report, which was carried over the objection of a timid Miami Herald managing editor, laid it all out: Morrison exposing and fondling himself, threatening to have sexual intercourse with a lamb, simulating fellatio on another Door and inviting the audience to revolt, take off all their clothes and love their neighbors. There was also a lot of violence.

Well, my story hit the fan. Morrison was charged in absentia with various felonies and misdemeanors by the Miami police -- who, although they were at the concert in military-company strength, made no effort to arrest him (he even stole an officer's cap). Decency rallies erupted across America. There was a Life cover from one such rally at the Orange Bowl. Rolling Stone printed a full-page "wanted" poster with a portrait of the pouting bad boy, and below it a line suggesting that a reporter named Larry Mahoney had stirred up all the trouble.

In all truth, the biggest story of my checkered journalistic career turned out to be a morals case rather than Vietnam, Watergate or Mariel.

Such is life. And death.

A morals case, eh? So what about honesty? What I wanted to know when I found Mahoney's story was whether he stood by his story, in which, again, he wrote without ambiguity that Morrison had exposed himself onstage.

Thankfully, Mahoney answered it. He said he got "late night" callers every month since Morrison died in 1971 asking if he really did expose himself onstage. Here's what Mahoney wrote:

Did the Lizard King, all dressed up in leather, really expose himself in Miami? Even to this day there is doubt in my mind. For one thing, hundreds of photos were taken of the concert -- and in not one is there clear evidence of his most offending act.

I do remember the girls around me in Dinner Key saying, "Oh gross!" and "Take me home" when the act supposedly occurred. I think that I saw it also, but Morrison was doing a lot of monkeying around on the stage -- completely out of control. So I tell the callers, yeah, he did it all right.

The journalist who started it all didn't see shit -- but he told people for years that he did. Where's the morality in that?

When Mahoney died in 2003, the Miami Herald did a flowery obituary on his career at the paper: "His stories, often sniffed out with old-school, shoe-leather persistence along South Florida's dark margins, its weedy alleyways, dilapidated neighborhoods and scrublands, were relayed in a stark, clear prose that often stirred and disturbed readers but were always underlined by a twist of sympathy and the hard ring of truth."  

Guess what? The paper didn't mention the Morrison story, the biggest moment of Mahoney's career. I can see why. 

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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