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Doors Keyboardist Ray Manzarek Dead at 74

Ray Manzarek
(Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

Ray Manzarek, a founding Member of The Doors, has died at age 74.

The keyboardist, born Raymond Daniel Manczarek, Jr., succumbed this afternoon (Monday) at the RoMed Clinic in Rosenheim, Germany, where he was being treated for bile duct cancer. He was surrounded by his wife of 46 years, Dorothy Manzarek, and his brothers Rick and James Manczarek (the original spelling of the family name).

Just last week, Doors guitarist Robby Krieger said Ray was sick, but was hoping to play a show they had scheduled in Los Angeles in August. He has issued a statement saying, “I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and bandmate Ray Manzarek today. 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.”

In addition to his wife and brothers, he is survived by his son Pablo, his daughter-in-law Sharmin and their three children. Funeral arrangements are pending. The family asks that its privacy be respected at this time. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Ray’s name to Stand Up 2 Cancer at StandUp2Cancer.org.

The Chicago-born Manzarek moved to Los Angeles to study film in 1962. He formed the The Doors in 1965 with singer-poet Jim Morrison, drummer John Densmore and Krieger shortly after finishing UCLA film school, and dropped the “c” from his last name to make it “Manzarek.” A chance encounter on Venice Beach with Morrison, who was also studying film at UCLA and had written some lyrics, led them to put the band together.

Although their first record deal, with Columbia, fell apart, they soon signed to Elektra Records and recorded their self-titled album. While their first single, “Break on Through,” wasn’t a hit, their second, an edit of “Light My Fire,” that omitted Manzarek’s lengthy John Coltrane-inspired organ solo, was — topping the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks. “Break on Through” eventually went on to become one of the group’s signature songs, too, though Manzarek said people who thought it was about death had misunderstood it.

Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek on what “Break on Through” is really about:

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The Doors were to become one of the most successful and controversial rock acts of the ’60s, with the six albums by the original lineup — The Doors, Strange Days, Waiting for the Sun, The Soft Parade, Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman– going on to sell more than 100-million albums worldwide, and receiving 19 Gold, 14 Platinum and five multi-Platinum albums in the U.S. alone.

Morrison, of course, died suddenly and somewhat mysteriously in France in 1971.

From the Summer of Love — The Hits of 1967 D-V-D, Ray Manzarek of The Doors reflects on the death of Jim Morrison:

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After Morrison’s death, The Doors recorded two more albums with Manzarek as their main singer and, without Manzarek and with other members, two albums as The Butts Band. After leaving, Manzarek started a solo career, recording the albums The Golden Scarab in 1973 and The Whole Thing Started With Rock and Roll Now It’s Out of Control in ’74. In 1977 and ’78 he formed a new band, Nite City, and recorded a pair of albums with them.

In 1980 and 1981, he turned to record production, overseeing the first four albums by the punk band X. Later in that decade, he would produce U.K. rockers Echo & the Bunnyman, play with Iggy Pop and start a long-lasting partnership with San Francisco beat poet Michael McClure.

In 1998, he released an autobiography, My Life With the Doors, which he followed with two novels, The Poet in Exile, a fantasy about what might have happened if Jim Morrison actually had faked his own death, and Snake Moon.

In 2002, he revitalized his touring career with Doors’ guitarist and long-time collaborator, Robby Krieger, first using the name The Doors of the 21st Century, then after legal action by Densmore and Morrison’s estate, Riders on the Storm. Singers in those groups included The Cult’s Ian Astbury and Fuel’s Bret Scallions. Of late, the group had, for legal reasons been called Manzarek-Krieger or Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger of The Doors.

The Doors were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and received a star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007. At that ceremony, Manzarek explained what making music meant to him. “It’s ultimately all about the acceptance of those people, all the fans, enjoying the music — getting behind it and understanding what the music is about. That’s why we did it.”

At the The Doors Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony in 2007, Ray Manzarek on why they make music:

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