Keyboardist Ray Manzarek, the founding member of the Doors whose piercing electric organ sound defined their career-establishing hit “Light My Fire” and most of the L.A. group’s cornerstone songs, died Monday in Germany after a lengthy battle with bile duct cancer, his publicist said. He was 74.
“I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and bandmate Ray Manzarek today,” Doors guitarist Robby Krieger said in a statement. “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.”
Manzarek and Jim Morrison decided to form a band built around Morrison’s poetry after they met in Venice, Calif., in 1965, while both were attending film school at UCLA. They brought in drummer John Densmore, who, in turn, introduced them to his friend, guitarist Krieger.
The Doors charted 15 hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100, also including “Hello, I Love You,” “Touch Me,” “Riders on the Storm” and “People Are Strange,” up through Morrison’s death in 1971 at age 27. All six of the group’s studio albums released during Morrison’s lifetime made the Top 10 of the national sales chart, its biggest hit being “Waiting for the Sun,” which spent four weeks at No. 1 in 1968.
“The world of rock ‘n’ roll lost one of its greats with the passing of Ray Manzarek,” said Greg Harris, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, which inducted the Doors in 1993. “Manzarek was instrumental in shaping one of the most influential, controversial and revolutionary groups of the ‘60s. Such memorable tracks as ‘Light My Fire,’ ‘People are Strange’ and ‘Hello, I Love You’ -- to name but a few -- owe much to Manzarek’s innovative playing.”
In the 1980s, Manzarek had a strong hand in the emergence of another quintessential Los Angeles band when he produced albums for the punk quartet X.
In 1991, after Oliver Stone’s film biography of the group came out, Manzarek was openly critical of his portrait of the band. “Oliver Stone has assassinated Jim Morrison,” he said at the time. “The film portrays Jim as a a violent, drunken fool. That wasn’t Jim. When I walked out of the movie, I thought, ‘Geez, who is that jerk?’ ”
Manzarek and Krieger resumed touring over the past dozen years, playing Doors music with other singers and drummers, which contributed to a lawsuit by Densmore against Manzarek and Krieger to stop them from touring under the Doors name. Densmore eventually won the suit.
Manzarek is survived by his wife, Dorothy, brothers Rick and James Manczarek, son Pablo Manzarek, Pablo’s wife, Sharmin, and their three children. Funeral arrangements are pending.
A full obituary will appear in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times.