For Bill Cosgrave, watching The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison cavorting wildly on stage at a concert in Toronto in the late 1960s was an astonishing spectacle.
This was the same person Cosgrave hung out with for several months in the mid-60s; someone he would describe as a shy, gentle, thoughtful, smart person.
“He was nothing like the image that he ultimately created on stage,” Cosgrave recalled.
“That night I saw a crazy guy, totally uninhibited on stage. I could not believe it was the same guy I knew.”
Cosgrave, a Kelowna author, has written a new book about the experiences he shared with Morrison, the mysterious Mary Werbelow, girlfriend to Morrison and secret love to Cosgrave, during a period of all their young lives in the mid-60s called Love Her Madly: Jim Morrison, Mary and Me.
The book reveals incidents that Cosgrave was part of during that time in his life, from sneaking into the Academy Awards presentation to partying with people of colour he met on the street while the Watts race riots were taking place.
Cosgrave’s story starts in Toronto, after having initially meeting Morrison and Werbelow in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., while attending high school.
After graduating, he decided in the spring of 1965 to hook up with his new-found friends in Los Angeles. He hitch-hiked across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver, then was smuggled across the Canada-US border at Blaine by a willing co-conspirator, and continued on his journey riding his thumb to Los Angeles, specifically the beachfront enclave of Venice.
Cosgrave writes about those laid-back days, his friendship with Morrison and Werbelow, of spending time lying on the beach under palm trees with Morrison, couch surfing from place to place, smoking pot and getting stoned daily. Morrison was constantly writing his poetry while attending UCLA theatre arts school.
“Morrison and I ended up for a time sleeping on the roof of a building, with a sleeping bag and a pillow, thinking we were in seventh heaven, staring up at the stars, dropping acid, smoking pot and Jim writing his poetry,” Cosgrave said.
“It is hard to believe today just what that beach bum life was really like back then.”
Cosgrave’s story leads up to making a life-altering decision to return to Canada and find his way in the working world.
During their time together, Cosgrave was around to see Morrison introduced to Ray Manzarek, the keyboardist and music influence behind The Doors, but he never foresaw what was to come for his friend.
The Doors formed in the fall of 1965 and released six albums over the next five years, selling more than four million albums domestically and nearly eight million singles.
“All the time together, and Mary said the same thing, we never saw him hum a tune, not sing one single note…he was just a very shy, sweet man, ” Cosgrave said.
After returning home, Morrison called Cosgrave and invited him to return to L.A. and become the road manager for his emerging new band.
“I said no because I felt I knew what would happen. I don’t think I would be talking to you today if I had returned to tour with the band and live that rock’n roll lifestyle…I probably would have ended up dead.”
Morrison was fighting drug abuse issues when his life ended in Paris, France, in 1971 at the age of 27 under circumstances that remain a mystery still today.
Cosgrave says alcohol was a vice, and Morrison had a bottomless capacity to indulge it, citing a story he heard in his later years of a bar next to the studio where The Doors were recording, in which Morrison was a frequent customer.
“The same bartender at that time was still there 30 years later and he recounted a story of Morrison lining up 20 shot glasses of whisky and doing one after the other in a row. The demands of his drug and alcohol abuse got to him in the end.”
Cosgrave has few kind words for Morrison’s girlfriend Pamela Courson during the Doors era. He spoke about how her heroin use was passed on to Morrison, and led him down a drug lifestyle path he could never escape from. Courson died of a drug overdose in 1971 shortly after Morrison’s death.
In hindsight, Cosgrave believes if Werbelow and Morrison had stayed together during that time, his excesses would have been more under control.
He describes Mary as highly principled to a fault, a dynamic and beautiful woman who did not swear or smoke.
The latter half of the book entails Cosgrave’s search to find Mary, discovering that her seemingly charmed life zigged when it should have zagged, where stepping stones turned into stumbling blocks.
“Even tough as things were for her when she was starving and sick, director Oliver Stone came to her and offered her money to tell her story for a biopic he was doing about Morrison, and she would not do it because she felt Stone was going to present a sensationalized version of Morrison’s life during The Doors era…she needed the money but wouldn’t take it,” he said.
Cosgrave himself was disappointed in the movie’s portrayal of his friend but he offered praise for actor Val Kilmer’s performance as Morrison.
Cosgrave said the lyrics Morrison wrote to early Doors hits were often about his relationship with Mary.
“This Is The End was one of their first hits and it’s about the breakup of his relationship with Mary,” Cosgrave said.
Cosgrave said Love Her Madly has been optioned by a Hollywood producer who is currently looking for a director and screenwriter to do a movie treatment of the book, the hope being the film project will then be greenlighted by a major studio.
Ironically, Cosgrave’s daughters both live in L.A. which has led him to return to Venice often, particularly during his search to find Mary.
He says Venice is nothing like the place it was in the mid-60s; a melting pot of artistic people, runaways, hippies and dropouts, anti-establishment and anti-Vietnam activists mixing together, a moment in time that has long since been lost.
He remembers sleeping together with Morrison many times under the Santa Monica Pier. Today, he says that would be to unsafe to attempt.
“The second time I went back I was staying at an expensive hotel on the Venice beach with my daughters who came to visit, and I was looking out the window and looking at the pier from my hotel room where I used to sleep. It was quite the juxtaposition for me in that moment,” he said.
Love Her Madly: Jim Morrison, Mary and Me is available at local book shops, and online. You can order a copy through Google Play Books, Apple Books, Amazon, Goodreads, Chapers, Barnes & Noble, and more. Both physical and digital copies are available.