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Doors keyboardist, founding member Ray Manzarek dies at 74

Manzarek's often-haunting keyboards complemented the lead singer JIm Morrison's baritone and helped to set the mood for some of rock's most enduring songs.

By The Associated Press

Ray Manzarek, a founding member of the 1960s rock group The Doors, died May 20, 2013, in Rosenheim, Germany, after being stricken with bile duct cancer. He was 74.

Manzarek's versatile and often haunting keyboards complemented the gloomy baritone of The Doors' lead singer, Jim Morrison, and helped to set the mood for some of rock's most enduring songs.

The Doors publicity photo courtesy Rhino Records

The Doors' keyboardist, Ray Manzarek (second from left) has died of bile duct cancer. The group's charismatic lead singer, Jim Morrison (right), died in 1971. Guitarist Robby Krieger (left) and drummer John Densmore (second from right) survive. Publicity photo courtesy Rhino Records.

The Doors' original lineup, which included drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robbie Krieger, was only together for a few years, and the band only made six studio albums. But The Doors retained a large and obsessive following even after Morrison's 1971 death. The Doors have sold more than 100 million records, and songs such as "Light My Fire" and "Riders On the Storm" are still classic rock favorites. 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.

The Doors' vibe "has more to do with Charles Bukowski than it does with Farrah Fawcett," said John Doe of punk band X, a friend of Manzarek's for more than 30 years, referring to the poet and 'Charlie's Angels' star, respectively. "It has more to do with Raymond Chandler and Nathaniel West, and 'Sunset Boulevard' the movie, than it does with 'Beach Blanket Bingo,' right? ... It's a real dark place out in LA."

Next to Morrison, 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, Manzarek's spidery organ on "Light My Fire" is one of the most instantly recognizable sounds in rock history.

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 Manzarek, Densmore and Krieger often managed a flowing rapport that blended rock, blues and jazz behind Morrison's self-consciously poetic lyrics.

"There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison's words," Densmore said in a statement. "Ray, I felt totally in sync with you musically. It was like we were of one mind, holding down the foundation for Robby and Jim to float on top of. I will miss my musical brother."

The Doors were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Their records have been reissued frequently and the band was the subject of a 1991 Oliver Stone movie, "The Doors," starring Val Kilmer as Morrison and Kyle MacLachlan as Manzarek, who complained that the film stereotyped Morrison as a hopeless drunk and also omitted calmer, more humorous times.

The Doors' fame has hardly faded, even though they're one of the few groups that won't allow their music to be used for commercials, a source of great tension among surviving members. Manzarek and Krieger reportedly supported licensing the songs, and Densmore has resisted. The group also feuded when Krieger and Manzarek formed a new group, Doors of the 21st Century. Densmore objected, and Krieger and Manzarek performed under various names.

Other Doors albums included "The Soft Parade," ''Waiting for the Sun" and their last record with Morrison, "L.A. Woman."

Ray Manzarek and Roy Rogers publicity photo courtesy Blind Pig Records

Although he was perhaps best known for his work in The Doors, keyboardist Ray Manzarek was active in a variety of musical ventures, including teaming up with guitarist Roy Rogers for the 2011 album "Translucent Blues" on the Blind Pig record label.

Manzarek briefly tried to hold the band together on the albums "Other Voices" and "Full Circle," neither of which had critical or commercial success. He played in other bands over the years, working with X and Iggy Pop among others. He also wrote a memoir, "Light My Fire," and a novel, "The Poet In Exile," in which he imagines receiving messages from a Morrison-like artist who had supposedly died.

He produced four albums for X, including another landmark album "Los Angeles," and played off and on with the band for three decades. Doe said Manzarek enjoyed his place in rock 'n' roll history.

"He enjoyed people's company greatly. He was always interested in what had been going on with you and he was an incredible teller of stories, a sort of raconteur of spiritualism and wild moments — 'weird scenes inside the gold mine,'" he said referencing a lyric from "The End."

"Ray loved to talk about and sort of mythologize, but it was all based in truth."

Born and raised in Chicago, Manzarek studied piano as a child and briefly considered a career in basketball. After graduating from DePaul University, he headed west to study film at UCLA. A few months after graduation, he and Morrison met in 1965 on Venice Beach in California. As Manzarek would often recall, Morrison read him some lyrics — Let's swim to the moon/Let's climb through the tide/Penetrate the evening that the/City sleeps to hide" — that became the start of "Moonlight Drive."

"I'd never heard lyrics to a rock song like that before," Manzarek told Billboard in 1967. "We talked a while before we decided to get a group together and make a million dollars."

By 1966, they had been joined by Krieger and Densmore and were a sensation live, especially during the theatrical, Oedipal epic, "The End." They were the house band at the famed Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles before being signed by Elektra Records and releasing a self-titled album in 1967, one of the most talked-about debuts in rock history.

"Well, to me, my God, for anybody who was there it means it was a fantastic time," Manzarek told The Republican in Massachusetts during an interview last year. "We thought we could actually change the world — to make it a more Christian, Islamic, Judaic, Buddhist, Hindu, loving world. We thought we could. The children of the '50s post-war generation were actually in love with life and had opened the doors of perception. And we were in love with being alive and wanted to spread that love around the planet and make peace, love and harmony prevail upon earth, while getting stoned, dancing madly and having as much sex as you could possibly have."

Manzarek is survived by his wife, Dorothy; his son, Pablo; and two brothers, Rick and James.