Founding member and cosmic traveler passes away at age 74 following battle with cancer.
By Fred Mills
The music world was shocked a few hours ago when the following press release was sent out:
Ray Manzarek, keyboardist and founding member of The Doors, passed away today at 12:31PM PT at the RoMed Clinic in Rosenheim, Germany after a lengthy battle with bile duct cancer. He was 74. At the time of his passing, he was surrounded by his wife Dorothy Manzarek, and his brothers Rick and James Manczarek.
Manzarek’s lifelong musical partner Robby Krieger submitted, in a brief statement, “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.”
At presstime Manzarek’s other erstwhile Doors bandmate John Densmore had not commented, although he has recently been doing press promotion for his recent book about the band, The Doors: Unhinged Jim Morrison’s Legacy Goes on Trial), in which the drummer discusses his well-documented estrangement from the organist and guitarist.
According to the press release, “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 www.standup2cancer.org.”
The musical and cultural impact of the Doors cannot be understated, of course, and I wouldn’t even begin to outline it here. (I’ve been writing about the Doors for the better portion of 30 years so it’s already on the record.) It’s worth noting, however, that Manzarek, of all the surviving member, was always the true believer, the guy who continued to fly the band’s freak flag, and by extension Jim Morrison’s confrontational/poetic aesthetic, regardless of the vicissitudes of the music industry and even the social milieu in which he found himself. Manzarek also kept busy, musically, working with young bands (for example, L.A. punk legends X and British postpunks Echo & the Bunnymen) and older—his contemporary—poets such as Michael McClure, even when he was helping hatch sundry ways to bring his old band’s music, and Morrison’s words, to younger generations of fans.
Some of those fans felt that Manzarek and Krieger, who latterly performed as The Doors (and as “The Doors Of the 21st Century,” following some legal shenanigans), may have sullied the legacy by not leaving the beast to rest. I disagree. Around 1990, not long before Oliver Stone’s movie The Doors hit theaters, I interviewed both Krieger and Densmore as well as a number of Doors-camp principals, and after being stymied in my attempts to score a chat with Manzarek, I received a phone call out of the blue one morning. “Hi Fred, this is Ray from the Doors, how ya doin’?” was the greeting when I answered, and he proceeded to explain how—at the time at least—he wasn’t participating in the press for the Stone movie because he didn’t agree with the filmmaker’s take on his band and on Morrison. “I just didn’t want you to think I was being a jerk about all this,” he told me, thanking me for what apparently seemed to him to be a sincere attempt to write a balanced story about his old band. (And of course, in the years to come, he would make himself readily available to biographers, journalists and documentarians who wanted to explore the story of the Doors, which he regarded as a timeless one.) “I don’t want people to just swallow a simple Hollywood interpretation of what was a very complex situation,” said Manzarek.
Fair enough, sir. Godspeed to you, and may you break on through to the other side with grace and dignity.