R.I.P., Ray Manzarek: The Doors' keyboardist dies at 74
R.I.P., Ray Manzarek (second from right)
Possibly the most famous and influential keyboardist in the history of rock, Doors co-founder Ray Manzarek, died yesterday at age 74 from complications due to bile-duct cancer. Known as the lanky professor crouched off to the left of Jim Morrison, Manzarek was an erudite multi-instrumentalist who delivered a complex and layered sound to an otherwise minimalist arrangement.
Absent a bassist, Manzarek would play the bass lines with his left hand on a Fender Rhodes piano, while his right hand decorated the songs with that head-swirling Vox Combo organ, a sound that would be mimicked for decades to come. After casually knowing each other during their years at UCLA film school in the early '60s, Morrison and Manzarek had a random encounter on Venice Beach in 1965, where Morrison shyly sang for Manzarek a set of lyrics to the song "Moonlight Drive."
A longtime student of the blues and jazz of his native Chicago, Manzarek heard the potential for a unique blending of his friend's surreal poetry with a traditional and modern soundscape. Attending a lecture on transcendental meditation, Manzarek befriended guitarist Robbie Krieger and drummer John Densmore, whom he invited to join him and Morrison in creating what would become one of the most iconic bands of the 1960s music revolution.
After releasing a half-dozen hit albums and a series of live performances that challenged and forever altered the music-business establishment, the Doors lost their brilliant yet troubled frontman to heart failure. Despite releasing two more albums, the Doors failed to retain the magic of their earlier work and disbanded in 1973. They would reunite several times over the decades to come, filming a VH1 Storytellers in 2000, touring with Ian Astbury of the Cult on vocals and collaborating with dubstep DJ Skrillex in 2011.
After the breakup of the Doors, Manzarek continued to retain his credibility in rock culture, becoming a recognizable face in L.A.'s emerging punk-rock scene while performing with Iggy Pop and producing albums for Echo and the Bunnymen and X. Music was a consistent feature in Manzarek's life right up until his death, though this was in addition to his passion for literature, which gave us the 1998 memoir Light My Fire: My Life With the Doors, 2006's Civil War ghost story Snake Moon and the poetry collaboration with punk-rock icon Darryl Read, Freshly Dug.
Around the same time he met Morrison, Manzarek fell in love with fellow UCLA student Dorothy Fujikawa, whom he would go on to marry;they had one son. The couple enjoyed Manzarek's final years together in Napa Valley, California, where the man who gave us some of the most treasured songs of his generation would spend his days quietly remodeling his home and playing in local bands.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.