Back in 2008, Ray Manzarek was a panelist at the NORML Conference in Berkeley. Ray came to help promote Pot Culture, my book written with Shirley Halperin, which includes his account of the first time he got high.
Ray and his wife Dorothy arrived via a car service we had arranged. They lived in Napa, so it was a reasonably short ride. Ray had a blast at the conference, chatting with activists, signing autographs, and telling how marijuana helped inspire the Doors' creation and music. Surrounded by potheads and admirers, he was in his glory.
Afterwards, we offered Ray and Dorothy a return trip to Napa in our rental car. During the ride north, Ray regaled us with Doors stories. It happened to be my birthday. Shirley casually asked Ray to direct us to a local restaurant in Napa. Instead, Ray took control of the situation. He recommended an Italian bistro, and said he and Dorothy would gladly join us.
Ray ordered several bottles of quality wine and we sat for a few hours chatting over a lovely meal. Then, to our surprise, he picked up the check.
We drove them to their house. Ray gave us a tour, showing off his art collection. Then we parted ways.
That was the last I saw Ray Manzarek, who passed away today at a clinic in Germany where he was being treated for bile duct cancer. Ray was 74.
If you had to count the most influential rock bands of all time on one hand, the Doors would make the cut. Manzarek formed the band with fellow UCLA film school grad Jim Morrison in 1965. Two years later, they were the biggest thing in rock. Morrison had the Beat-poet drunken charisma, Manzarek the muttonchop sideburns and jazzy chops on organ. His snaky solos defined the band's sound as much as anything.
I never saw the Doors, but I did catch The Doors of the 21st Century, his group with Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger and the Cult's Ian Astbury in the Morrison role. I enjoyed it, but Doors drummer John Densmore didn't; he sued to stop Manzarek and Krieger from using the Doors name, and succeeded in grounding the tour.
That didn't stop Ray or Robbie; they continued to play Doors music under their own names. People wanted to hear it. The Doors had ended too soon, a few years after Morrison's mysterious death in Paris in 1971.
We'll always have the six great Doors albums - from their eponymous 1967 debut to L.A. Woman in 1971. Ray's all over those albums. Ray lives on those albums. Ray Manzarek lives!