Raymond Daniel Manczarek, Jr. was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois. He was born to Helena and Raymond Manczarek, Sr., and was of Polish descent. Growing up, he took private piano lessons from Bruno Michelotti and others. He originally wanted to play basketball, but he wanted to play only power forward or center. When he was sixteen his coach insisted either he play guard or not at all and he quit the team. Manzarek said later if it was not for that ultimatum, he might never have been with The Doors. He went to Everett Elementary School on South Bell Street and attended St. Rita of Cascia High School.
In 1956, he matriculated at DePaul University, where he played piano in his fraternity's jazz band (the Beta Pi Mu Combo), participated in intramural football, served as treasurer of the Speech Club, and organized a charity concert with Sonny Rollins and Dave Brubeck. He graduated from the University's College of Commerce with a degree in economics in 1960.
In the fall of 1961, Manzarek briefly enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. Unable to acclimate to the curriculum, he transferred to the Department of Motion Pictures, Television and Radio as a graduate student before dropping out altogether after breaking up with a girlfriend. Although he attempted to enlist in the Army Signal Corps as a camera operator on a drunken lark during a visit to New York City, he was instead assigned to the highly selective Army Security Agency as a prospective intelligence analyst in Okinawa and then Laos. While in the Army, Manzarek played in various musical ensembles and first smoked and grew cannabis. However, because he wanted to eventually visit Poland, he refused to sign the requisite security clearance and was discharged as a private first class after several months of undesignated duty. According to Britt Leach, a fellow Army Security Agency enlistee, Manzarek "had collected an entire duffel bag" of cannabis specimens during his service in Laos; this may have been used to fund his subsequent graduate education.
Following his return to the United States, he re-enrolled in UCLA's graduate film program in 1962, where he received a M.F.A. in cinematography in 1965. During this period, he met future wife Dorothy Fujikawa and undergraduate film student Jim Morrison. At the time, Manzarek was in a band called Rick & the Ravens with his brothers Rick and Jim. Forty days after finishing film school, thinking they had gone their separate ways, Manzarek and Morrison met by chance on Venice Beach in California. Morrison said he had written some songs, and Manzarek expressed an interest in hearing them, whereupon Morrison sang rough versions of "Moonlight Drive," "My Eyes Have Seen You" and "Summer's Almost Gone." Manzarek liked the songs and co-founded The Doors with Morrison at that moment.
During this period, Manzarek met guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore at a Transcendental Meditation lecture and recruited them for the incipient band. Densmore said, "There wouldn't be any Doors without Maharishi."
In January 1966, The Doors became the house band at the London Fog on the Sunset Strip. According to Manzarek, "Nobody ever came in the place...an occasional sailor or two on leave, a few drunks. All in all it was a very depressing experience, but it gave us time to really get the music together." The same day The Doors were fired from the London Fog, they were hired to be the house band of the Whisky a Go Go.
The Doors' first recording contract was with Columbia Records. After a few months of inactivity, they learned they were on Columbia's drop list. At that point, they asked to be released from their contract. Following a few months of live gigs, Jac Holzman "rediscovered" The Doors and signed them to Elektra Records.
The Doors lacked a bass guitarist (except during recording sessions), so at live performances Manzarek played the bass parts on a Fender Rhodes Piano Bass. His signature sound was that of the Vox Continental combo organ, an instrument used by many other psychedelic rock bands of the era. He later used a Gibson G-101 Kalamazoo combo organ (which looks like a Farfisa) because the Continental's plastic keys frequently broke.
During the Morrison era, Manzarek was the group's regular backing vocalist. He occasionally sang lead, as exemplified by covers of Muddy Waters's "Close To You" (released on 1970's Absolutely Live) and "You Need Meat (Don't Go No Further)" (recorded during the L.A. Woman sessions and initially released as the B-side of "Love Her Madly"). He went on to share lead vocals with Kreiger on the albums (Other Voices and Full Circle) released after Morrison's death. Additionally, he provided one of three guitar parts on the song "Been Down So Long" and frequently played rhythm guitar (with Kreiger switching to electric bass) during an encore blues medley on the band's 1970 tour.
After recording two solo albums on Mercury Records to a muted reception in 1974, Manzarek played in several groups, most notably Nite City. He recorded a rock adaptation of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana with Philip Glass, played with Iggy Pop, backed one track on the eponymous 1987 album Echo & the Bunnymen, backed San Francisco poet Michael McClure's poetry readings and did improvisational composition with poet Michael C. Ford. He also worked extensively with Hearts of Fire screenwriter and former SRC front man Scott Richardson on a series of spoken word and blues recordings entitled "Tornado Souvenirs". Manzarek produced the first four albums of the seminal punk band X, also contributing occasionally on keyboards.
His memoir, Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors, was published in 1998. The Poet in Exile (2001) is a novel exploring the urban legend that Jim Morrison may have faked his death. Manzarek's second novel, Snake Moon, released in April 2006, is a Civil War ghost story.
In 2000, a collaboration poetry album entitled Freshly Dug was released with British singer, poet, actor and pioneer Punk rocker Darryl Read. Read had previously worked with Manzarek on the Beat Existentialist album in 1994, and their last poetical and musical collaboration was in 2007 with the album Bleeding Paradise.
Also in 2000, he co-wrote and directed the film Love Her Madly, which was credited to a story idea by Jim Morrison. The film was shown at the closing night of the 2004 Santa Cruz Film Festival, but otherwise received limited distribution and critical review.
In 2006, he collaborated with composer and trumpeter Bal. The album that resulted, Atonal Head, is an exploration in the realm of electronica. The two musicians integrated jazz, rock, ethnic and classical music into their computer-based creations.
On August 4, 2007, Manzarek hosted a program on BBC Radio 2 about the 40th anniversary of the recording of "Light My Fire" and the group's musical and spiritual influences.
In April 2009, Manzarek and Robby Krieger appeared as special guests for Daryl Hall's monthly concert webcast Live From Daryl's House. They performed several Doors tunes ("People Are Strange", "The Crystal Ship", "Roadhouse Blues" and "Break on Through (To the Other Side)") with Hall providing lead vocals.
In his last years he often sat in with local bands in the Napa County, California area, where he relocated in the early 2000s.
In 2009, Manzarek collaborated with "Weird Al" Yankovic, by playing keyboards on the single "Craigslist", which is a pastiche of The Doors. On the day of Manzarek's death, Yankovic published a personal video of this studio session which he said had been an "extreme honor" and "one of the absolute high points of my life". Manzarek was a co-producer on a few tracks for Universal Recording artist Michael Barber. A track appeared on the Internet, titled "Be Ok", on Barber's Universal Records debut.
In May 2010, Manzarek recorded with slide guitarist Roy Rogers in Studio D in Sausalito, California. Their album, Translucent Blues, released in mid-2011, was ranked No. 3 on the Top 100 Roots Rock Albums of 2011 by The Roots Music Report.
In February 2012, Manzarek recorded "Breakn' a Sweat" with DJ Skrillex and his fellow members Robby Krieger and John Densmore.
In August 2013, Twisted Tales was released and dedicated to Manzarek after his passing. The unlikely musical duo of Manzarek and Roy Rogers, Manzarek-Rogers Band, for eight years substantiated the concept “opposites attract" since the latter is perceived for slide guitar and delta blues. The lyrical content is primarily penned by songwriter/poets Jim Carroll and Michael McClure.
Manzarek married fellow UCLA alumna Dorothy Aiko Fujikawa in Los Angeles on December 21, 1967, with Jim Morrison and his longtime companion, Pamela Courson, as witnesses. Manzarek and Fujikawa remained married until his death. They had a son, Pablo, and three grandchildren. In the early 1970s, the Manzareks divided their time between an apartment in West Hollywood, California and a small penthouse on New York City's Upper West Side. They subsequently resided in Beverly Hills, California (including ten years in a house on Rodeo Drive) for several decades. For the last decade of his life, Manzarek and his wife lived in a refurbished farmhouse near Vichy Springs, California in the Napa Valley.
Around early 2013, Manzarek was diagnosed with a rare cancer called Cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) and traveled to Germany for special treatment. On May 20, 2013, Manzarek died at a hospital in Rosenheim, Germany, at the age of 74. His body was cremated. Robby Krieger said, "I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of my friend and bandmate Ray Manzarek today. 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." John Densmore said, "There was no keyboard player on the planet more appropriate to support Jim Morrison's words. 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."
Greg Harris, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said in reaction to Manzarek's death that "The world of rock 'n' roll lost one of its greats with the passing of Ray Manzarek." Harris also said that "he was instrumental in shaping one of the most influential, controversial and revolutionary groups of the '60s. Such memorable tracks as 'Light My Fire', 'People Are Strange' and 'Hello, I Love You' – to name but a few – owe much to Manzarek's innovative playing." At 9:31 on May 21, The Whisky a Go Go and other clubs where the Doors played, dimmed their lights in his memory. An invitation-only memorial service (Ray's celebration of life) was held on June 9 in the Napa Opera House.The Golden Scarab (1974)
The Whole Thing Started with Rock & Roll Now It's Out of Control (1974)
Carmina Burana (1983)
Love Her Madly (2006)
Nite City (1977)
Golden Days Diamond Nights (1978)
Love Lion (With Michael McClure) (1993)
The Piano Poems: Live From San Francisco (with Michael McClure) (2012)
Freshly Dug (With Darryl Read) (1999)
Atonal Head (With Piotr Bal) (2006)
Ballads Before The Rain (With Roy Rogers) (2008)
Translucent Blues (With Roy Rogers) (2011)
Twisted Tales (With Roy Rogers) (2013)
The Doors: Myth And Reality, The Spoken Word History (1996)
Look Each Other in The Ears. Hen House Studio Album includes The Doors—Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore. 2014
Love Her Madly (2000). Director and co-writer.
Induction (1965). Actor (Ray), director, and writer.
The Wino and the Blind Man (1964). Actor (blind man).
Evergreen (1965). Writer and Director.
Deal of the Century (1983). Actor (Charlie Simbo).
The Poet in Exile (in production).