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Why the Doors Got Banned From ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’

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Counterculture and the mainstream clashed when the Doors were booked to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show on Sept. 17, 1967. Things did not go as smoothly as the producers may have hoped.

Fronted by their charismatic-but-unpredictable singer Jim Morrison, the group had recently scored its first No. 1 hit with “Light My Fire,” and Sullivan’s show — which had made instant superstars of Elvis Presley and the Beatles — was a choice booking. But the Doors’ performance that night would live on in a very different way, resulting in the group being banned from the show in perpetuity.

According to the official Ed Sullivan Show website, rehearsals for the show went well, and with 15 minutes to air time, Sullivan went to see the band in their dressing room, telling them, “You boys look great, [but] you ought to smile a little more.” Shortly after, a producer from the show came by to inform the band that they needed to change the line “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” to “Girl, we couldn’t get much better” when performing “Light My Fire,” ostensibly because the line might be construed as referring to drugs.

Band members have given varying accounts of whether they ever agreed to change the line or not, but there’s no denying what happened live on the air. After a strong, but unremarkable performance of “People Are Strange,” the band launched into “Light My Fire,” and as the video shows, Jim Morrison sang the original lyric instead of making the suggested change.

After the show, producers said they had hoped to book them six more times, but had decided instead to ban the Doors from the show in the future. Morrison reportedly replied, “Hey, man, we just did the Sullivan show.”

The Doors would go on to other television appearances, and a career that encompassed hit albums like Strange Days and L.A. Woman, but they never played Sullivan’s show again. Morrison’s increasing volatility and unreliability due to drinking and drugs slowly ate at the group, and the Doors performed their last concert together on Dec. 12, 1970. 

Jim Morrison was found dead in a bathtub in Paris on July 3, 1971 at the age of 27. Since no autopsy was conducted, no cause of death was ever officially determined.

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