Ray Manzarek, The Doors’ cofounder and multi-instrumentalist, died on May 20, 2013, and over the next few days we’ll be posting some remembrances of and tributes to Ray. We begin with a two-part essay by Jim Cherry.
Ray Manzarek was a true believer. He believed in the talent of Jim Morrison, and he believed in The Doors as a musical force with a future and a legacy, right from the beginning. He was the Apollonian side to Jim Morrison’s Dionysus. He was born February 12, 1939 and would have been 78 today.
Manzarek grew up on the south side of Chicago, learned how to play piano through an education in classical music, and from visits with his father to Chicago’s Maxwell street became exposed to the blues. When Elvis burst onto the national scene in 1957 the teenage Manzarek was receiving the message. He visited Chicago area blues bars and heard the likes of Muddy Waters, adding to his musical education.
Manzarek got a degree from DePaul University in Chicago but soon joined the US Army and was assigned to a USO unit. He soon discovered army life wasn’t for him, and he told his superiors he thought he was becoming homosexual and was discharged. Manzarek joined his relocated family in Los Angeles and, looking for a way to make a living and an outlet for his creativity, he enrolled at the UCLA film school at about the same time that Jim Morrison did.
Manzarek and Morrison hung out in the same loose group of friends that included Dennis Jakob, Paul Ferrara, Frank Lisciandro, and John DeBella. At UCLA Manzarek directed two student films, “Evergreen” and “Induction,” and became somewhat famous for refusing to edit out scenes of “Evergreen” that the school’s administrators felt were too racy. Manzarek was also mentioned in a Newsweek article on the film school. Manzarek met his future wife Dorothy Fujikawa when they were both students at UCLA, and she starred in his films. After Manzarek graduated they moved in together.
After graduation Manzarek was still at loose ends on how to make a living creatively. He had a meeting at one of the Hollywood studios but realized their philosophies toward filmmaking didn’t mesh. It was a little after this that Manzarek was sitting in front of his Venice Beach house and saw Jim Morrison walking along the surf line. Morrison saw him and Manzarek asked what he had been doing. Morrison replied “writing songs” and from there the two created The Doors in perhaps the most legendary beginning of a band in rock history.
The Doors period of Manzarek’s life was easily the most productive, coinciding with one of the most remarkable periods of American history. Despite this creative high point Jim Morrison’s mercurial personality sometimes made life in the band publicly controversial if not downright difficult, with incidents like being arrested in New Haven and Miami, the latter leading to a trial and blacklisting that just about ended The Doors’ touring career.
After Morrison’s death in 1971, Manzarek and the other surviving members of The Doors carried on with two more albums under the band’s banner. It didn’t feel the same, though, and they soon closed The Doors.
Part II of “Requiem for Ray Manzarek” can be found here.
Originally published February 12, 2014.