Keyboardist Ray Manzarek, a founding member of the Doors, died Monday (May 20) in Rosenheim, Germany, where he was being treated for bile duct cancer. He was 74.
Manzarek is best known for his work with the Doors, who formed in 1965 when Manzarek had a chance encounter in Venice Beach, California, with poet Jim Morrison, whom he had met earlier when they were students at UCLA.
The Doors went on to become one of the most controversial American rock acts of the 1960s, selling more than 100 million albums worldwide and receiving 19 Gold, 14 Platinum and five multi-Platinum albums in the US alone. "L.A.Woman," "Break On Through (to the Other Side)," "The End," "Hello, I Love You" and "Light My Fire" were just some of the band's iconic and ground-breaking songs.
After Morrison's death in 1971, Manzarek went on to become a best-selling author and a Grammy-nominated recording artist in his own right. His memoir, Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors, was published in 1998. In 2002, he revitalized his touring career with Doors' guitarist and long-time collaborator, Robby Krieger.
"I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and bandmate Ray Manzarek today," Krieger said on the band's Facebook page. "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."
"When I first met [Ray], he was the 'big man on campus' at the UCLA film school," Krieger told Guitar World (Read the full interview here). "In fact, our first gig as a band was to provide music for one of his student films. Afterwards Ray got up in front of an auditorium full of people and gave a speech. I remember it well, because he had them in the palm of his hand. He was down-right mesmerizing. He was a major character, but Jim kind of kept him in his place. Jim was so out there that Ray’s personality was overwhelmed — which, oddly enough, created a good balance."
Manzarek was born Raymond Daniel Manczarek Jr. on February 12, 1939, in Chicago. He took private piano lessons as a child but chose basketball over music at an early age. When he was 16, his coach insisted either he play guard or stop playing basketball, so Manzarek quit the team.
In the early '60s, he studied in the Department of Cinematography at UCLA, where he met Morrison, a film student. Forty days after finishing film school, Manzarek and Morrison met by chance on Venice Beach. Morrison said he had written some songs, and Manzarek said he wanted to hear them, so Morrison sang a rough version of "Moonlight Drive," which the band would eventually record. Manzarek liked the songs and co-founded the Doors with Morrison on the spot.
Manzarek met drummer John Densmore and Krieger at a Transcendental Meditation lecture. Densmore says, "There wouldn't be any Doors without [the] Maharishi."
Manzarek is survived by his wife, Dorothy; brothers Rick and James Manczarek, son Pablo Manzarek, Pablo's wife Sharmin and their three children Noah, Apollo and Camille. Funeral arrangements are pending. The family asks that their privacy be respected at this difficult time. In lieu of flowers, please make a memoriam donation in Ray Manzarek's name at standup2cancer.org.
The Door's Robby Krieger discusses "L.A. Woman" and working with Ray Manzarek
“I’ve always considered this the quintessential Doors song. It’s just magical to me, and the way it came about was fantastic. We just started playing and Jim started coming up with those words, and it just poured forth. Jim was sitting in the bathroom, which we were using as an ISO booth, singing. I don’t know how he came up with that whole concept on the spot like that, but he did. You would think that would have been a poem that he had written before, as many of our songs were, but it’s not. That was just written on the spot.
“It’s very natural and sums up a lot of our best qualities. All the interplay with Ray just happened. We really understood each other at that point. We could anticipate where one another were headed and just play.”