Ray Manzarek, 74, Keyboardist and a Founder of the Doors, Is Dead
Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images
By JON PARELES
Published: May 20, 2013
Ray Manzarek, who as the keyboardist and a songwriter for the Doors helped shape one of the indelible bands of the psychedelic era, died on Monday at a clinic in Rosenheim, Germany. He was 74.
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The cause was bile duct cancer, according to his manager, Tom Vitorino. Mr. Manzarek lived in Napa, California.
Mr. Manzarek founded the Doors in 1965 with the singer and lyricist Jim Morrison, whom he would describe decades later as “the personification of the Dionysian impulse each of us has inside.” They would go on to recruit the drummer John Densmore and the guitarist Robby Krieger.
Mr. Manzarek played a crucial role in creating music that was hugely popular and widely imitated, selling tens of millions of albums. It was a lean, transparent sound that could be swinging, haunted, meditative, suspenseful or circuslike. The Doors’ songs were generally credited to the entire group. Long after the death of Mr. Morrison in 1971, the music of the Doors remained synonymous with the darker, more primal impulses unleashed by psychedelia. In his 1998 autobiography, “Light My Fire,” Mr. Manzarek wrote: “We knew what the people wanted: the same thing the Doors wanted. Freedom.”
The quasi-Baroque introduction Mr. Manzarek brought to the Doors’ 1967 single “Light My Fire“ — a song primarily written by Mr. Krieger — helped make it a million-seller. Along with classical music, Mr. Manzarek also drew on jazz, R&B, cabaret and ragtime. His main instrument was the Vox Continental electric organ, which he claimed to have chosen, Mr. Vitorino said, because it was “easy to carry.“
The Doors’ four-man lineup did not include a bass player; onstage, Mr. Manzarek supplied the bass lines with his left hand, using a Fender Rhodes piano bass, though the band’s studio recordings often added a bassist.
Mr. Densmore said, via e-mail: “There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison’s words. Ray, I felt totally in sync with you musically. It was like we were of one mind, holding down the foundation for Robby and Jim to float on top of. I will miss my musical brother.“
After Mr. Morrison’s death, Mr. Manzarek strove to keep the Doors together, led his own bands and continued to influence the Los Angeles underground. He produced “Los Angeles,” the 1980 debut album by the leading Southern California punk band X. But he also kept returning to the music of the Doors, rejoining Mr. Krieger in 2002 in a band whose name became the subject of a long legal wrangle with Mr. Densmore over use of the Doors’ name. Manzarek-Krieger, as the band was finally named, had more dates booked this year, Mr. Vitorino said.
“I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and bandmate Ray Manzarek today,“ Mr. Krieger said in a statement. “I’m just glad to have been able to have played Doors songs with him for the last decade. Ray was a huge part of my life and I will always miss him.“
Mr. Densmore had also hinted publicly that the surviving Doors might reunite. “The Doors are back on their hinges,“ he told the talk-show host Tavis Smiley earlier this month.
Mr. Manzarek was born Raymond Daniel Manczarek Jr. on Feb. 12, 1939, in Chicago and grew up there on the South Side, taking classical piano lessons. In 1962-65, he attended film school at the University of California in Los Angeles, where he met Mr. Morrison, a fellow film student who was writing poetry.
In a chance encounter on Venice Beach, Mr. Morrison mentioned that he had some possible song lyrics; they included “Moonlight Drive,” prompting Mr. Manzarek to suggest that they start a band. “Ray was the catalyst, he was the galvanizer,” said Jeff Jampol, who manages the Doors’ estate. “He was the one that took Jim by the hand and took the band by the hand and always kept pushing. Without that guiding force, I don’t know if the Doors would have been.”
Mr. Manzarek had joined his two younger brothers, Rick and Jim Manczarek, in a surf-rock band, Rick and the Ravens, that initially worked with Mr. Morrison. (Rick and Jim Manczarek survive him along with Mr. Manzarek’s wife, Dorothy; his son, Pablo; his daughter-in-law, Sharmin; and three grandchildren.) But two musicians Mr. Manzarek met in a transcendental meditation class, Mr. Densmore and Mr. Krieger, ended up becoming the Doors, named after the Aldous Huxley book on the psychedelic experience, “The Doors of Perception” (quoting William Blake).