The Joshua Tree Inn & MotelOct 28th, 2014 | By Lindsay | Category: This and That
I had never heard of Gram Parsons or the Joshua Tree Inn & Motel, where the musician met his untimely end in 1973, until being interviewed by the “Valley’s favorite talkers,” Bill Feingold and Kevin Holmes, for their radio show on 94.3 KNews this past August. During the show, Kevin asked me if I had stalked the hotel at any point or if I would ever be interested in spending the night in the supposedly haunted Room 8, where Parsons took his last breaths. I told them that heck yeah, I was interested (if there was a large group participating, that is!) and also made a mental note to add the place to the Haunted Hollywood section of my To-Stalk list. While I never made it out there to spend the night in the Parsons room, the Grim Cheaper and I did briefly stalk the motel just a few weeks later.
Gram Parsons was born Ingram Cecil Connor II on November 5th, 1946 to a wealthy family in Winter Haven, Florida. He became interested in music at an early age, mainly as a way to cope with the 1958 suicide of his father and the subsequent death of his mother from cirrhosis of the liver in 1965. It was not until he was exposed to the sounds of Merle Haggard while spending a semester at Harvard University, though, that Gram realized his true passion was country music. In 1966, he founded the International Submarine Band, but the group broke up before their first album had even been released. Parsons then joined The Byrds in February 1968 and helped to record the popular album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. He didn’t last long with them, though, either. By the summer of that same year, he had cut bait. In 1969, he and former Byrds band-mate Chris Hillman formed the group The Flying Burrito Brothers. Despite recording two albums, they were unable to find commercial success and by 1970, Gram had embarked upon a solo career. His ever-increasing drug habit made producing any new music a rather impossible task, though. At some point, Parsons travelled to England and met up with British rocker Ric Grech, an old friend who managed to help Gram kick his heroin habit. Upon returning to the U.S., a rejuvenated Parsons partnered up with Emmylou Harris and, in 1973, released his first solo album, GP, which was a mild success. He stayed relatively clean from drugs, at least while working on his music, and began recording a second album, Grievous Angel, that was shaping up to be better than his first.
On September 17th, 1973, Parsons decided to head to Joshua Tree, one of his most beloved vacation spots, for a brief stay before embarking upon a tour that was scheduled for the following month. Joining him on the trip were Parsons’ girlfriend, Margaret Fisher, his assistant, Michael Martin, and Martin’s girlfriend, Dale McElroy. The group checked in to Parsons’ favorite area property, the Joshua Tree Inn & Motel.
The quaint, hacienda-style inn, which was originally built in 1950 and sits on 3.37 acres, consists of ten rooms, two of them suites, that surround a large central courtyard with a pool. The charming hotel has been popular with celebrities since its inception and John Barrymore Jr., Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Robert Plant, Keith Richards and John Wayne are all reported to have spent time there.
Parsons booked two rooms for his stay – Rooms 1 and 8. Room 8 is pictured below.
The morning after their arrival, Parsons sent Martin back to Los Angeles to buy drugs. He then headed to the airport for lunch with Fisher and McElroy, during which he drank copious amounts of Jack Daniels. On the return drive to the motel, he stopped in town to purchase heroin and then snagged some morphine from a drug connection who also happened to be staying at the inn.
A few hours later, a panicked Fisher summoned McElroy, claiming that Parsons had overdosed. The two woman proceeded to give him an ice cube enema (yeah, I don’t get it either), which seemed to cure him. At about 10 p.m., Fisher once again summoned McElroy, this time asking her to stay with Parsons, who was asleep, while she went to get food. At some point thereafter, McElroy noticed that Gram’s breathing had become labored and she started administering CPR. She continued trying to revive him for 30 minutes or so until Fisher returned and called 911. Paramedics took Parsons to the Hi-Desert Memorial Hospital in nearby Yucca Valley, where doctors attempted to save the musician. They were unsuccessful and Gram was pronounced dead at 12:30 a.m. on September 19th. He was 26.
Gram’s story doesn’t end there, though. His step-dad, Bob Parsons, quickly made arrangements to fly the body to New Orleans, where he lived. Gram’s road manager Phil Kaufman had other plans, though. A few months earlier, Gram had made Kaufman promise that upon his death, he would cremate his body in Joshua Tree. Using a borrowed hearse, Phil and a friend kidnapped Parson’s body from LAX and took it back to Joshua Tree National Park, where they proceeded to pour 5 gallons of gasoline on it and light it on fire. Kaufman and his friend split as soon as the coffin was set ablaze. Its charred remains were discovered the following morning by hikers and what was left of Gram’s body was shipped to New Orleans.
Though he did not achieve much commercial success during his lifetime, today Gram is looked upon as one of history’s most influential country-rock musicians. In 2003, the Americana Music Association awarded him the “President’s Award” and Rolling Stone magazine placed him 87th on their list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” in 2005. Grievous Angel, which was released after Parsons’ death, is now considered a classic.
The owners of the Joshua Tree Inn have since embraced their connection to Parsons, as tragic as it may be. A large guitar-shaped memorial to the musician currently stands outside of Room 8 and a sign on the door of the front office states “Joshua Tree Inn, Home of Gram Parsons’ Spirit.” Most significant of all though is the fact that the very same mirror that was hanging on the wall of Room 8 on the night he passed away is still displayed there to this day. Supposedly, Parsons’ presence is often felt in the room and numerous guests have reported small belongings being moved around in the night.
Despite the macabre circumstances of September 19th, 1973, the Joshua Tree Inn & Motel is an absolutely charming little place. Now that I have wandered the grounds and experienced its tranquility, I would not hesitate to stay there overnight – even in Room 8.
Until next time, Happy Stalking!