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Amidst a whirlwind of false death rumors about the man, it turns out that music legend, and former member of the Doors, Ray Manzarek, has passed away. In a German hospital from cancer, the founder and keyboardist for the Doors is dead at 74.
This is a gut punch to me as strong as the passings of John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, or Warren Zevon. Ray Manzarek is a voice from my youth. I wasn’t cognizant for the first coming of the Doors, but their revival in the late 1970s, due to many factors, was strong in my formation.
There was AOR FM radio looking for music to play and not wanting to touch disco or new wave or punk, and began to mine the sixties for music, delivering the Doors to the forefront once again. There was the book, that everyone in my suburban white drug culture high school read – “No One Here Gets Out Alive” by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman – that made a legend of the late Jim Morrison.
There was, and is, some hardcore realist inside me that knows that Morrison was just a sullen alcoholic bully, but it was Ray Manzarek that created the legend, wove the tale, built the rock god, and manifested the Lizard King from the ground up. Whatever Jim Morrison was, Ray Manzarek made him.
I remember listening to Jim Ladd and his Sunday night “Innerview” interviewing Ray Manzarek multiple times, as he told apocryphal and supernatural tales of Jim Morrison, building the legend word by word. Manzarek talked of the Native American shaman who possessed Morrison as a child, the concept that he might not be dead, and all sorts of fantastic stories of the legendary Doors, fact and fiction. And he did it all the finesse of a master radio manipulator. Ray Manzarek would’ve made Orson Welles jealous with these performances.
For decades, Manzarek kept the infamous Doors alive, both on radio, and in sales, as he maintained his own career as well. He created a wonderful rendition of “Carmina Burana” with Philip Glass, as well as producing several albums for LA punk band X. He also worked with Echo and the Bunnymen and Iggy Pop among others, and even toured with Ian Asbury of The Cult in place of Morrison in a version of the Doors.
His charismatic personality, his fabulous storytelling ability, and his unique keyboard creations will live on for decades to come. We have truly lost one of the rock and roll legends. Long live Ray Manzarek and the Doors. Hopefully he’s jamming with the Lizard King right now.