Sixties rock deity Jim “The Lizard King” Morrison’s bloated corpse was found in a Parisian bathtub in 1971, but apparently his soul had been writhing in restless torment until last Thursday, when lame-duck Florida Governor Charlie Crist finally pardoned him for allegedly flashing his dingus at a Miami audience in 1969.
“In this case, guilt or innocence is in God’s hands, not ours,” Crist said, making a unique divine legal exception for Morrison, history’s most famous Florida-born rocker. “I’ve decided to do it for the pure and simple reason that I just think it’s the right thing to do,” Crist said, explaining nothing.
Jim Morrison and The Doors’ 1969’s concert at Miami’s Dinner Key Auditorium has spawned countless goofy legends. What’s not in dispute is that Morrison arrived an hour late for the show “overly fortified with alcohol,” according to Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek. He seemed more keen on verbally abusing the crowd than in entertaining it, apparently well unhinged and dissolute before police got involved and were ultimately blamed for wrecking his mind, career, and life.
Doubt remains over whether Morrison actually revealed his shimmering pink schween to the crowd of 12,000 who were crammed into a hall designed for 7,000. The other three Doors still insist it never happened. Manzarek, who can always be counted on for a hippy-dippy sound bite, recently claimed that the alleged flashing was “mass hypnosis” and that Morrison was “just doing…a mind trip on the audience and they totally fell for it.” At Morrison’s criminal trial where he was convicted of indecent exposure, over 100 photos were entered into evidence, not one of which revealed so much as even the tip of the king’s lizard.
Morrison was sentenced to six months in jail but died while his case was on appeal. Those who tend to romanticize his nihilism and substance abuse also tend to blame law enforcement for his demise.
Similar things happened to comedian Lenny Bruce, convicted of obscenity charges for a 1964 Greenwich Village nightclub appearance in which he spat the words “cocksucker,” “fuck,” “shit,” and “ass” at an apparently willing audience. Bruce died of a morphine overdose in 1966 while free on bail. Although Bruce—not “The Man”—spiked his own arm with the death blow, and although like Morrison, he spent almost no time behind bars, a legend has grown that government harassment killed Lenny Bruce. New York Governor George Pataki pardoned the foul-mouthed funnyman in 2003, thirty-seven years after it was too late for Lenny to experience the merest psychic relief from such an empty gesture. Pataki cited “freedom of speech” as his main reason for exonerating him. (It’s a good thing that Bruce didn’t pepper his 1964 performance with words such as “nigger,” “retard,” and “faggot”—or maybe he did, but they weren’t forbidden words in 1964 like they are today. I still can’t imagine any modern American politician forgiving anyone, living or dead, for uttering such unprintables.)
As odd as it seems, pardoning the dead has extensive global and historical precedent. Chinese Emperor Xiaozong pardoned government execution victim Yue Fei in the 1100s, and England’s King Henry III pardoned Robert de Vieuxpont, considered a traitor while he was alive, two years after Vieuxpont’s death in 1264.
In the 1970s, it was fashionable for U.S. presidents to pardon dead Confederates. Gerald Ford pardoned Robert E. Lee in 1975 and even restored full citizenship rights, which may have come in handier at some point before Lee’s untimely 1870 death. In 1978, Jimmy Carter did the same thing for Jefferson Davis, who to his misfortune had already died in 1889.
Later posthumous presidential pardons tilted toward the ethnic-grievance angle. In 1999, Bill Clinton cleared black Army lieutenant Henry O. Flipper of insubordination charges that were, under review, determined to have been motivated by racism. It mattered not that Flipper had stopped breathing nearly six decades earlier. In 2008, George W. Bush, at the urging of such heavy hitters as Steven Spielberg, pardoned Charles Winters for smuggling bomber planes into Israel in the late 1940s. Winters couldn’t attend the ceremony, seeing as how he’d croaked nearly a quarter-century earlier.
In February of 2007, a trifling 142 or so years after slavery ended, Virginia’s General Assembly publicly expressed “profound regret” for its role in The Peculiar Institution. The State of Maryland did the same thing a month later. Then, going for all the marbles five months into Obama’s presidency, the U.S. Senate apologized for slavery on June 18, 2009. But these state and federal declarations all specified that they would not entitle living descendants to compensation—they all more or less said, “We’re sorry about what happened to your great-great-grandpappy, but beyond that, you’re on your own.”
Much of Christendom has lately taken to apologizing to cadavers. Despite the fact that the Nazis slaughtered an estimated three million Polish Catholics, the Vatican apologized in 1998—on behalf of all Catholics—to Jews for not doing enough to prevent their extermination during WWII. They’ve also apologized to Galileo and have moved Copernicus’s remains back to a proper Catholic burial ground. The Vatican’s official newspaper even recently forgave John Lennon for saying The Beatles were bigger than Jesus.
In 2008, the Church of England publicly apologized to Charles Darwin’s 126-years-dead carcass. Their statement, directly addressed to Darwin, read in part, “200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you….” No one who attended the ceremony is willing to testify that Mr. Darwin was able to hear the words as they were being read.
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