How the Doors Got Banned from The Ed Sullivan Show (1967)

Get­ting banned from a venue can hurt a band’s career, but in most every case I’ve heard about, it’s a cloud with a gold­en lin­ing. Hard­core band Bad Brains built a lega­cy on get­ting banned in all of D.C.‘s clubs. Elvis Costello’s career didn’t seem to suf­fer much when he was banned from Sat­ur­day Night Live in 1977. Jimi Hen­drix’s ban­ning from the BBC did­n’t hurt his image any. Then there’s the Doors….

The band earned the dis­tinc­tion of being the first to have a mem­ber arrest­ed live onstage in the infa­mous “New Haven inci­dent” of 1967. Three months ear­li­er, they per­formed live, no mim­ing, on The Ed Sul­li­van Show. Things did not go as smooth­ly as the pro­duc­ers may have hoped,” writes Ulti­mate Clas­sic Rock. No, Jim Mor­ri­son didn’t expose him­self or antag­o­nize the audi­ence.

On the con­trary, giv­en the Doors’ oth­er noto­ri­ous “inci­dents,” the offense is as mild as it gets—Morrison sim­ply sang the lyrics to “Light My Fire” as writ­ten, defy­ing pro­duc­ers’ request that he change “Girl, we couldn’t get much high­er” since it sound­ed like a drug ref­er­ence. Not only did they ask Mor­ri­son to change the lyric, but they also appar­ent­ly asked him to sing “Girl, we couldn’t get much bet­ter,” which doesn’t even rhyme.

One can see why he would have resist­ed.

“Band mem­bers have giv­en vary­ing accounts of whether they ever agreed to change the line or not,” UCR notes. Accord­ing to The Ed Sul­li­van Show site, a pro­duc­er came into the dress­ing room, told the band they should smile more, and told them the line was “inap­pro­pri­ate for a fam­i­ly show on nation­al tele­vi­sion.” As soon as he left the room, Mor­ri­son said, “We’re not chang­ing a word.”

The band went on after Rod­ney Dan­ger­field, a last-minute replace­ment for anoth­er com­ic. They played “Peo­ple Are Strange,” then the offend­ing song. Dan­ger­field became a reg­u­lar on the Sul­li­van show. The Doors–booked for six more appearances–never went on again, though they had plen­ty of oth­er TV book­ings and wild, dis­as­trous stage shows to keep them busy.

When informed after the show that they’d been banned, Mor­ri­son report­ed­ly said a most Jim Mor­ri­son thing: “Hey, man, we just did the Sul­li­van show.”

Watch a clip of the per­for­mance just above.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Stunt That Got Elvis Costel­lo Banned From Sat­ur­day Night Live (1977)

The Night John Belushi Booked the Punk Band Fear on Sat­ur­day Night Live, And They Got Banned from the Show

Jimi Hen­drix Wreaks Hav­oc on the Lulu Show, Gets Banned From the BBC (1969)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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