Ray Manzarek, Founding Member of The Doors, Dies at 74

Jim Morrison Ray Manzarek - H 2013
K & K Ulf Kruger OHG/Redferns/Getty Images

Jim Morrison Ray Manzarek - H 2013

Doors co-founder Ray Manzarek passed away today in Rosenheim, Germany, at the RoMed Clinic. He had been battling bile duct cancer. Manzarek was 74.

The keyboardist, whose snaky Vox organ solos were as much a part of The Doors’ sound as Jim Morrison’s Beat poet vocals, Robbie Krieger’s psychedelic blues guitar and John Densmore’s jazzy drum work, met Morrison while they both attended UCLA’s film school in the early ‘60s.

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Born Feb. 12, 1939, in Chicago, Manzarek graduated from DePaul before making his pivotal move to California. Shortly after they both graduated from UCLA, Manzarek and Morrison ran into each other on Venice Beach. After hearing Morrison sing “Moonlight Drive” for him, they decided to form The Doors, named after Aldous Huxley’s 1954 groundbreaking drug book, The Doors of Perception. Krieger and Densmore joined the band after meeting Manzarek at a transcendental meditation lecture.

The Doors initially signed to Columbia, but then Elektra picked them up when Columbia inexplicably dropped the fledgling band. Released in 1967, The Doors eponymous debut album literally broke on through to the other side, hitting No. 2 on the charts, led by “Light My Fire,” the band’s first No. 1 song. The seven-minute album version (written by Krieger) may have been sliced to three for the single, but it still retained its sonic power, anchored by Manzarek's and Krieger’s lengthy solos.

The band would record five more stellar albums before Morrison’s mysterious death in Paris in 1971.

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During the post-Doors years, Manzarek recorded several solo albums and wrote three books, one of which (Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors) told his version of the epochal five-year stretch when The Doors were one of the greatest bands of the classic-rock era.

Manzarek and Krieger got back together in 2001 and formed The Doors of the 21st Century, featuring The Cult’s Ian Astbury on vocals. But Densmore, who disapproved of their appropriation of The Doors name, sued and was able to shut down the tour. Manzarek and Krieger subsequently toured together under their own names, playing The Doors music people wanted to hear. Now Krieger will have to go it alone.

“I'm just glad to have been able to have played Doors songs with him for the last decade,” the guitarist said in a press release posted at Facebook. “Ray was a huge part of my life.”

Manzarek is survived by his wife Dorothy, who he also met at UCLA, brothers Rick and James Manczarek, son Pablo Manzarek, Pablo's wife Sharmin and their three children Noah, Apollo and Camille. The Manzarek family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Ray Manzarek's name at www.standup2cancer.org. Funeral arrangements are pending.

In Manzarek's honor, Sunset Strip staples The Roxy and Whisky A Go Go are displaying remembrances on their respective marquees. The former reads: "We love you Ray Manzarek. You will always light our fire." The latter: "Thanks for all the memories."

Twitter: @THRMusic

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