Manzarek spent most of his career keeping the psychedelic rock band’s legacy strong, continuing to play its music in recent decades with bandmate Robby Krieger.
“I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and bandmate Ray Manzarek today,” Doors guitarist Krieger said in a statement.
“I’m just glad to have been able to have played Doors songs with him for the last decade. Ray was a huge part of my life and I will always miss him.”
Manzarek met singer Jim Morrison at UCLA film school in the early 1960s. They formed the Doors in 1965, quickly becoming a key act on the Sunset Strip, working as the house band at the Whisky a Go Go, and signing with Elektra Records at the urging of Love frontman Arthur Lee.
The Doors’ catalog is one of the strongest in psychedelic rock, with classics such as “Light My Fire,” “The End,” “Break on Through to the Other Side,” “The Crystal Ship,” “When the Music’s Over” and “The Unknown Soldier.”
Manzarek’s playing went from a whisper — the narcotic cocktail jazz of “Riders on the Storm” — to a scream — “The End,” as featured in the film “Apocalypse Now.”
He played the Vox Continental combo organ in the band’s early days, popularizing the transistor-based instrument at a time when most serious rock and soul players preferred the earthier sound of Hammond B3 organs and acoustic pianos. Manzarek found the artistic possibilities in a new instrument that often sounded thin and shrill in lesser hands. (He switched to the Gibson G101 after several albums.)
The band’s recordings have been reissued time and time again since their original releases in the years 1967-1971, the high quality of the Elektra masters allowing the music to make the most of the latest audio technologies. A series of audiophile rereleases of Doors albums (vinyl and SACDs) came in the past year. Just this month, Elektra founder Jac Holzman released the official Doors app via the iTunes store.
Morrison died in 1971. The band continued as a trio for several albums, including the well-received “Other Voices.”
Although the band reunited several times, Manzarek and Krieger eventually became estranged from drummer John Densmore, who sued his former bandmates over what he felt was exploitation of the band’s name and legacy.
Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore reunited in 1993, when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Densmore said upon hearing of the death: “There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison’s words. … I will miss my musical brother.”
In the 1980s, Manzarek again transformed the musical landscape of L.A. by producing the versatile punk band X, a collaboration that produced a stunning update of the Doors’ “Soul Kitchen.” Like the Doors, the band’s identity was closely tied to Los Angeles. Manzarek produced X’s first four classic albums. They reunited in the studio years later for a cover of “The Crystal Ship.”
In the mid-1970s, he formed a band called Nite City, which released two albums.
Manzarek’s own albums include “The Golden Scarab” (1973), “The Whole Thing Started With Rock & Roll Now It’s out of Control” (1974), “Carmina Burana” (1983), “Love Her Madly” (soundtrack, 2006), “Ballads Before the Rain” (with guitarist Roy Rogers, 2008) and “Translucent Blues” (with Rogers, 2011).
In 1998, he chronicled his relationship with Jim Morrison in the book “Light My Fire.”
Manzarek and Krieger played the music of the Doors under various names from 2002-2013, including Riders on the Storm and the Doors of the 21st Century. The act Manzarek-Krieger had several dates booked when the keyboardist died.
Manzarek, who was born in Chicago in 1939, died May 20 of cancer at a clinic in Rosenheim, Germany. Survivors include his wife, Dorothy, and a son, Pablo. The musician was surrounded by family when he died, a publicist said.