Ray Manzarek, founding member of the Doors, dies at 74

To many rock fans, Ray Manzarek’s spidery organ on ‘‘Light My Fire’’ is instantly recognizable.
To many rock fans, Ray Manzarek’s spidery organ on ‘‘Light My Fire’’ is instantly recognizable. –Getty Images/file 2004

Ray Manzarek, a founding member of the Doors whose versatile and often haunting keyboards complemented Jim Morrison’s gloomy baritone and helped set the mood for some of rock’s most enduring songs, has died. He was 74.

Mr. Manzarek died Monday in Rosenheim, Germany, surrounded by his family, said publicist Heidi Robinson-Fitzgerald.

She said his manager, Tom Vitorino, confirmed that Mr. Manzarek died after being stricken by bile duct cancer.

The Doors’ original lineup, which also included drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robbie Krieger, was together only for a few years.

But the band has retained a large and obsessive following decades after Morrison’s death, in 1971. The Doors have sold more than 100 million records and songs such as ‘‘Light My Fire’’ and ‘‘Riders On the Storm’’ are still rock standards.


For Doors admirers, the band symbolized the darker side of the Los Angeles lifestyle, what happened to the city after the sun went down and the Beach Boys fans headed home.

Next to Morrison, Mr. Manzarek was the most distinctive looking band member, his glasses and wavy blond hair making him resemble a young English professor more than a rock star, a contrast to Morrison’s Dionysian glamour, his sensuous mouth and long, dark hair.

Musically, Mr. Manzarek’s spidery organ on ‘‘Light My Fire’’ is one of rock’s most instantly recognizable sounds.

But he seemed up to finding the right touch for a wide range of songs: the sleepy, lounge-style keyboards on ‘‘Riders On the Storm’’; the liquid strains for ‘‘The Crystal Ship’’; the barrelhouse romps on ‘‘Roadhouse Blues.’’

The Doors always considered themselves more than a rock band, and Densmore, Krieger, and Mr. Manzarek often managed a flowing rapport that blended rock, blues, and jazz behind Morrison’s self-consciously poetic lyrics.

Mr. Manzarek remained active in music well after Morrison’s death and briefly tried to hold the band together by serving as vocalist. He played in other bands over the years, produced other acts, became an author, and worked on films.


Morrison and Mr. Manzarek met at UCLA film school and ran into each other a few months after graduation, Mr. Manzarek recounted in a 1967 interview with Billboard.

Morrison read him lyrics for a song called ‘‘Moonlight Drive.’’

‘‘I’d never heard lyrics to a rock song like that before,’’ Mr. Manzarek said. ‘‘We talked a while before we decided to get a group together and make a million dollars.’’

Mr. Manzarek leaves his wife, Dorothy; his son, Pablo; and two brothers, Rick and James. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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