Ray Manzarek, of The Doors Fame, Dies at 74 of Cancer

Posted on May 26 2013 - 9:22am by Harrison

Jim kids with Ray.

I was gone last week… I took a trip to Yellowstone National Park.  While I was there I was “out of touch” and had no information about anything happening outside of what I could see before me.  During these times I always wonder if somebody will die or something bad will happen and, upon my return to civilization, what will I learn…

So the story goes, Ray Manzarek was walking down the beach in Venice, California one afternoon in 1965 and stumbled upon Jim Morrison.  The two knew each other from UCLA, and they struck up a conversation about what their plans would be.  One thing led to another and Morrison recited some poetry he’d written while Manzarek listened.  After some more talk, the two would end up forming one of the most iconic and important rock ‘n roll bands of all time: The Doors.

I’ve been a huge fan of The Doors since high school and I even took a trip to France’s Père Lachaise Cemetery to see Jim Morrison’s grave and I went to Venice, California just because Morrison spent time there in 1965.

Ray Manzarek played keyboard but because The Doors didn’t have a bass player, he filled that role, too.  He died of Bile Duct Cancer in Germany and he was only 74 years of age.  He passed away nearly 42 years after the man in whose shadow he’d live: Jim Morrison.

Ray was kind of the father figure of The Doors.  He was the most “uptight” and he was even married.  He was a brilliant keyboardist, too.  Just listening to his hypnotic solos on songs such as When the Music’s Over or Whiskey Bar showed how talented he was.

Since Morrison’s death, Ray also became one of the main people pushing what I’d call the “Morrison Mythos.”  Ray surely knew that spinning a few tall tales and throwing in “far out, man” would keep what was his greatest accomplishment in life alive: The Doors.

I can’t necessarily blame Ray for pushing the Morrison stories.  After all, Danny Sugerman’s book, No One Here Gets Out Alive must have been read by every high school kid in America for a time.  I read it.  Twice.  Later I learned of all the poetic license that Sugerman took to build Morrison up into some sort of a Dionysian Übermensch and, as I grew older, I came to lose respect for people who would profit from their association with Morrison, particularly if they were one of his former bandmates.

I read Manzarek’s 1988 book, Light My Fire, and when I compared it to the drummer John Densmore’s book, Riders on the Storm (which seemed much more balanced and fair), my opinion of Manzarek was lowered.

 In the intervening years since I first read his book, I’ve seen quite a few interviews with him and he’s appeared on specials about The Doors and he always seemed like he was trying too hard to keep The Doors “alive,” so to speak.

Manzarek was a great musician and he spotted the talent of Jim Morrison and made The Doors happen.  The effort he put in 48 years ago, along with his fellow band mates, has provided me with a large part of enjoyment in my life.  For this, I shall always be grateful.

As I attempt to think about and understand his post-Doors marketing efforts, I must realize that “The Doors” is the only legacy Manzarek will have.  It is all he will be remembered for long after he is dead.  It was his garden, if you will, and he spent a lot of time cultivating it and this is certainly something I can understand.  If Manzarek is guilty of anything it is of holding on too tightly to something and trying too hard to make people think about it a certain way.

Keeping this in mind, it is important to enjoy each moment and to understand that no matter how much we try we will not be able to re-create it exactly and so some things should just be allowed to pass.

Still, a small part of me died when I learned Manzarek had passed away and what he accomplished during his life was, truly, magnificent.

So when the music’s over
When the music’s over, yeah
When the music’s over
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights

Well the music is your special friend
Dance on fire as it intends
Music is your only friend
Until the end
Until the end
Until the end!

3 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. P. Kevin Sushka May 28, 2013 at 11:49 PM -

    That is interesting. Nice, your later comments about the garden. Sometimes when the seed dies a greater thing grows, when things are allowed to pass. Thank you. I think of so many religious traditions, founded after famous mythical figures of some realism, but then cut and drawn in a certain way. Ah, well. You know? Your words are appreciated. You know, I see some followers of Lennon doing the same thing…..trying to tailor his tradition to their own machinations. It’s a pity. There could be no exit, I grant that, but one thing is for sure: it’s a free world. Morrison understood this, like any great writer, and then more….like any great writer. A toast to the troubadouring Doors! I say, nothing is ever lost…….ever.

  2. Joanne Glasspoole April 5, 2014 at 8:35 PM -

    I read your tribute to Ray Manzarek, and I thought it was excellent. Yes, he was a driver in keeping The Doors alive, and if that’s what he’s remembered for, it’s quite a legacy considering we are still listening and talking about The Doors almost 50 years since their inception.

    I hope yu don’t mind, but I reblogged your post on my website: Jim Morrison Project.
    Joanne Glasspoole recently posted..Ray Manzarek, of The Doors Fame, Dies at 74 of Cancer

    • Harrison April 7, 2014 at 8:25 PM -

      Thank you for the kind words. My biggest issue with Ray was his apparent embellishment of the past however he’s only guilty of wanting a legacy of which he was a part to continue.