In this installment of Reel vs. Real, we revisit a 1991 biopic which tells the story of The Doors, one of the best known yet controversial rock bands of the 1960s and the 1970s, through the tumultuous life of its iconic frontman, Jim Morrison.
In 1991, nearly three decades after The Doors was formed in Los Angeles, California, an American biopic directed by Oliver Stone sought to tell the story of the famed rock band, doing so by putting emphasis on the life of its frontman, Jim Morrison. Val Kilmer was chosen to play the part of the larger-than-life rockstar of the 1960s, while Meg Ryan was casted as his life partner, Pamela Courson.
The Doors begins with the recording of Morrison’s An American Prayer, then recalls his younger days, from a childhood memory to his arrival in California, assimilation into the Venice Beach culture, and his film school days at UCLA. Then, the film depicts the band’s origin with Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore, Morrison’s introduction to his girlfriend Pamela Courson, and the band’s rise to popularity amidst Morrison’s onstage antics. Of course, the biopic couldn’t miss the details of Morrison’s controversial hippie lifestyle involving drugs, booze, free love, and counterculture, up to his death at the age of 27.
Many directors flirted with the idea of making a biopic on The Doors, but it was only in 1985 that Columbia Pictures obtained the rights for a film from The Doors and the Morrison estate. The biopic reportedly went through development hell for almost ten years, the project passing through several directors and studios. Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Johnny Depp, and Richard Gere were the actors considered to play the part of Jim Morrison. Stone offered the role to Ian Astbury of English rock band The Cult, but he declined because he was not happy about the way Morrison was portrayed in the film.
In 1986, Stone considered Val Kilmer to star as Morrison after watching him in the fantasy film Willow. To convince Stone that he was the best choice for the role, Kilmer spent his own money to make his own eight-minute video, looking and singing like Morrison at different points of his life. Later, the actor prepared for the role by losing weight and rehearsing Doors songs everyday. Of the 50 songs Kilmer learned, 15 were actually performed in the film.
Watch the trailer for The Doors below:
A series made for cinephiles, Reel vs. Real highlights some notable biographical films that you may or may not have watched, and puts the biopic actors side by side with their real life counterparts.