Ray Manzarek: A Biography

Ray Manzarek Onstage

Editor’s note: Doors keyboardist and founding member Ray Manzarek was born on February 12, 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. To mark the occasion we’re posting some classic Doors Examiner articles about Ray’s life and times, before The Doors, during, and after. Thanks for the music, Ray!

Today we celebrate what would have been Ray Manzarek’s 77th birthday. Born Raymond Daniel Manczarek in Chicago, Illinois on February 12, 1939, he would go on to co-found The Doors with fellow UCLA film school graduate Jim Morrison.

Manzarek’s piano lessons turned to a serious interest in music when he first heard Elvis Presley on the radio and as a teenager started hanging out in Chicago’s blues clubs. After graduating from DePaul University Manzarek joined the army but soon found it wasn’t for him and obtained a discharge by claiming to be attracted to other men in the unit. He joined his family, now living in Los Angeles, and enrolled at UCLA first as a law student. But his interest in art and music soon took him to the UCLA film school where he would meet Jim Morrison.

Manzarek and Morrison put together The Doors after they graduated from UCLA, when both were at loose ends. Manzarek was living with girlfriend and future wife Dorothy Fujikawa and couldn’t find a job within Hollywood’s studio system, while Morrison had been living on a rooftop on Venice Beach taking LSD and writing poems. The two met on Venice Beach and Morrison seeing Manzarek sat down to talk and in the course of the conversation Manzarek asked Morrison what he had been doing. Morrison replied, writing songs, Manzarek asked to hear some, Morrison half recited and half sang “Moonlight Drive”, and Manzarek thought the lyrics were the greatest he had ever heard for a rock song. Manzarek immediately moved Morrison in with himself and Fujikawa and they started putting together the songs for what would become The Doors. John Densmore soon joined as drummer and Robby Krieger joined on guitar. The Doors would go on to become one of the biggest American rock bands of the ’60s.

In his post Doors career Manzarek put together solo projects including the band Nite City and recorded albums such as The Whole Thing Started with Rock and Roll (and now it’s out of Control), The Golden Scarab, and Carmina Burana. He also scored the soundtrack to the film A Boy and His Dog. In the ’80s he produced the first four albums of the band X, he also shot videos for Doors songs to be shown on MTV, and he wrote his memoir Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors and the novels The Poet in Exile and Snake Moon. He also worked with beat poet Michael McClure and noted blues guitarist Roy Rogers. He also wrote, directed and produced the feature film Love Her Madly.

In the 2000’s he turned towards The Doors’ legacy and its propagation, appearing with Robby Krieger and touring yearly playing Doors songs around the world. Manzarek died of bile duct cancer on May 20, 2013 at age 74.

We’re glad to report that the tribute being held by the surviving members of The Doors, John Densmore and Robby Krieger, tonight at the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles has sold out! Besides Densmore and Krieger appearing for the first time onstage together in two years, special guests include John Doe and Exene Cervenka of X, Stephen Perkins from Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros, Robert DeLeo from the Stone Temple Pilots, Rami Jaffee from the Foo Fighters, and as of yet unannounced special guests.

Originally published February 12, 2016.

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