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Ray Manzarek, the famed keyboard artist for The Doors, passed after a long battle with bile duct cancer. He was 74 and under treatment at a clinic in Rosenheim, Germany. He was surrounded by family. He became part of Rock-and-Roll history with his jazz influenced electric organ renditions. He also did some vocals on The Doors hit recordings. It is reported that they sold over 100 million albums.
Born of Polish descent and attending Chicago’s St. Rita’s High School, his first real passion was basketball.
Manzarek was responsible for the left handed bass keyboard sound that became the unique signature of The Doors. He was in film school in 1965 at UCLA when along with Jim Morrison, they started their historic band. They enlisted drummer John Densmore and another friend, guitarist Robby Krieger. Because Manzarek did double duty with the keyboard they never had a bass guitar player.
He married Dorothy Fujikawa in Los Angeles on December 21, 1967. In semi-retirement he settled in Napa County. Manzarek had said in a 2011 interview, “We had auditioned at a club in Los Angeles, and I saw the Fender Rhodes keyboard bass onstage, which belonged to another band. And I thought, ‘Eureka, that’s it. I’ll play that.’” “It worked out fine because it’s basically the way I play the keyboard anyway, with my left hand playing the bass line. And it kept The Doors as a four-side diamond, rather than an evil pentagram, he added.”
The band developed what was described as a unique new Los Angeles sound and released “Break On Through (to the Other Side)” in early 1967. Then “Light My Fire” shot to No. 1 just two months later.
This L.A. underground sound made The Doors national rock stars. Manzarek will always be known for the opening riff on “Light My Fire.” The band was always controversial because of Morrison’s drug use. Their 1976 performance on the Ed Sullivan Show was mired in more controversy because of a censored lyric. The Doors were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
After Morrison’s death in 1971, the band eventually broke up. Manzarek and Krieger had a contentious lawsuit with Densmore about licensing The Doors’ name for commercial purposes.
Manzarek also became an author, writing “Light My Fire: My Life with the Doors” in 1998 and “The Poet In Exile” in 2002. He also became a successful producer especially with Punk Music in California.
In a Rolling Stones Magazine article in 1974, Manzarek said, “The Doors’ success was so quick it frightened me. The adulation we received was ridiculous. Nobody was saying much about the music – it was just mystique. The Doors became so mythical in such a short time. It was too much too soon.”
He also reinvented himself playing jazz club dates and some Chicago style Blues. He last recorded in 2010, a blues album with slide guitarist Roy Rogers.
He was born Feb. 12, 1939 in Chicago and his real last name was Manczarek. He dropped the “c.” to simplify the spelling. He also had earned an Economics degree from DePaul University.
Manzarek is survived by his wife, Dorothy; a son, Pablo; three grandchildren and two brothers, Rick and James Manczarek.
By Raymond Rolak
Sports and Entertainment Editor