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Co-founder of US group The Doors dies at 74

Ray Manzarek, a founding member of 1960s rock band, played on hit songs such as "Break On Through to the Other Side".

Last Modified: 21 May 2013 06:32
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Manzarek and singer Jim Morrison formed The Doors in 1965 after meeting in Los Angeles' Venice Beach [EPA]

Ray Manzarek, a founding member of the 1960s rock group The Doors whose versatile and often haunting keyboards complemented Jim Morrison's gloomy baritone and helped set the mood for some of rock's most enduring songs, has died.

Manzarek, who was 74, died on Monday in Rosenheim, Germany, surrounded by his family, said publicist Heidi Robinson-Fitzgerald. She said the musician's manager, Tom Vitorino, confirmed Manzarek died after being stricken with bile duct cancer.

The Doors' original lineup, which also included drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robbie Krieger, was only together for a few years and they only made six studio albums.

But the band has retained a large and obsessive following decades after Morrison's death, in 1971. The Doors have sold more than 100 million records and songs such as "Light My Fire" and "Riders On the Storm" are still "classic" rock favourites.

For Doors admirers, the band symbolised the darker side of the Los Angeles lifestyle, what happened to the city after the sun went down and the Beach Boys fans headed home.

Spidery organ

Next to Morrison, Manzarek was the most distinctive-looking band member, his glasses and wavy blond hair making him resemble a young English professor more than a rock star, a contrast to Morrison's Dionysian glamour - his sensuous mouth and long, dark hair.

Musically, Manzarek's spidery organ on "Light My Fire" is one of the most instantly recognisable sounds in rock history.

But he seemed up to finding the right touch for a wide range of songs - the sleepy, lounge-style keyboards on "Riders On the Storm"; the liquid strains for "The Crystal Ship"; the barrelhouse romps on "Roadhouse Blues."

The Doors always considered themselves "more" than a rock band and Manzarek, Densmore and Krieger often managed a flowing rapport that blended rock, blues and jazz behind Morrison's self-consciously poetic lyrics.

"There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison's words," Densmore said in a statement. "Ray, I felt totally in sync with you musically. It was like we were of one mind, holding down the foundation for Robby and Jim to float on top of. I will miss my musical brother."

The Doors were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

'City sleeps to hide'

Born and raised in Chicago, Manzarek studied piano as a child and briefly considered a career in basketball.

After graduating from DePauw University, he headed west to study film at UCLA. A few months after graduation, he and Morrison met in 1965 on Venice Beach in California.

As Manzarek would often recall, Morrison read him some lyrics - Let's swim to the moon/Let's climb through the tide/Penetrate the evening that the/City sleeps to hide'' - that became the start of "Moonlight Drive."

"I'd never heard lyrics to a rock song like that before," Manzarek told Billboard in 1967. "We talked a while before we decided to get a group together and make a million dollars."

Manzarek is survived by his wife, Dorothy; his son Pablo and two brothers, Rick and James. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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