CHICAGO LAWN — Chicago native and rock 'n' roller Ray Manzarek was remembered this week as a music visionary as news spread worldwide that the keyboardist and co-founder of The Doors had died.
Closer to home, he was remembered as one of St. Rita High School's most accomplished alumni, Class of 1956.
"You might not have had the best grades, but it was great party talk to say, 'You know who went to Rita...'?. Godspeed. 'This is the end...'" read one of the many tweets acknowledging Manzarek's connection to the Southwest Side Catholic school.
Just days ago, a picture of his St. Rita yearbooks was posted on his Facebook page. The page also includes photos of him in front of the original St. Rita at 63rd and Claremont under the heading "Sweet Home Chicago."
Manzarek liked to joke about the 1950s brand of Catholic education presented at the all-male St. Rita's and later, at DePaul University — but he admired it.
In his 1998 autobiography "Light My Fire," he described St. Rita as 2,000 boys "all sweaty, funky, horny, full of anger, full of semen, and ready for something. What, nobody knew," he said.
While the boys would sometimes push each other around a bit, the violence never escalated because "There were no girls to show off around for," he said.
But he appreciated the priests and religious brothers who taught him in the years before he teamed with Jim Morrison to create one of the rock history's most successful and influential groups. His high school classes were "very rigorous" and the teachers "were excellent," he wrote.
"God bless those men, they had devoted their lives to the teaching of young goof-offs," Manzarek recalled. The threat of corporal punishment "kept the maniacs in line, tethered on a short leash of fear."
Like many Catholic school boys of that era, he considered becoming a priest, but the chastity requirement turned him off. "The idea of never being able to dip your wick ... well, impossible," he said.
As a teenager, listening to rhythm and blues on Chicago radio "saved my life."
"I'm a sophomore at St. Rita with 2,000 guys. Nothing is going on. I'd never been laid. I don't know if I'd even kissed a girl. How do you meet a girl? How do you talk to a girl? But on the radio, it was just smoking. ... It was just pure sex, pure energy, pure power and pure passion," he wrote.
He went on to major in economics at DePaul, but he said mostly he studied "girls and art." He immersed himself in the cultural scene Downtown: museums, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Art Institute, films and theater.
Manzarek founded the Doors with Morrison in 1965. He died Monday in Germany of bile duct cancer at age 74.
While he lived in Napa, Calif., he performed at St. Rita, now at 7740 S. Western, in 2005.
Harkening back to some of the lessons of "the heartmaster himself, Jesus the Christ" he had first learned at St. Rita, Manzarek told the crowd: "Love your neighbor as yourself. That's all we have to do."