MUSIC legend Ray Manzarek was 74 when he died of cancer this week. He had reached a good age – the first incarnation of his band The Doors ended a whole 42 years ago. But such is the nature of fame and rock mythology that it still comes as a shock to realise: this man was old.
It's probably because The Doors, more than most, have remained forever young in the public mind. Lead singer Jim Morrison died aged 27 in 1971 and the other three disbanded two years later.
Since then Manzarek, along with guitarist Robbie Krieger and drummer John Densmore, carefully protected the group's legacy. The first two reunited in the last decade for a series of well-received concerts; they've been sparing in the release of new material; their music has never been sold to advertising.
Most of what we know of The Doors, thus, comes from their scintillating heyday. They never had their embarrassing "fat Elvis" period (although Jimbo died overweight and in similarly shabby circumstances to The King).
They're immortalised, in perfect youth, through old video footage, books and articles, and of course, the music: still as thrilling, inventive and vital, in both senses of the word, as when it was released between 1967 and 1971.
I can imagine the sceptics asking, were The Doors really all that? How could any band that flared so briefly, if brightly, be considered really great?
They were great for two main reasons: originality and ambition. Both are crucial to the creation of art, though for some reason both are treated with suspicion by a "serious music" press besotted with the primitive limitations of punk and New Wave.
The Doors were original in the most basic but profound way: they didn't sound like anyone else, before or since. Try and think of any act which captured their melange of jazz, blues and rock – there isn't any.
The band was often described as expressing the dark side of the hippie dream, and you can hear that in their unique sound. It was like the backing music to the most sinister carnival imaginable: melodic yet unsettling, poppy yet avant-garde, bewildering and bewitching.
And they were ambitious, even pretentious in the best possible way. People often misuse that word, deriding something as "pretentious" as if that's criticism in itself.
But pretentious simply means – and this should be self-evident – having pretensions to something. In the case of The Doors, that was profundity, artistic vision, an epic scale. They strained for a sort of greatness in popular culture.
Sure, some of their stuff might be bombastic and, well, pretentious; but those are acceptably minor flaws. What other band would have included 'The End', a 12-minute epic centred on the Oedipus complex, on their first album?
But beyond all that, The Doors rocked, pure and simple. The dynamic of the band was perfect: the cerebral Manzarek, keeping the beat with his left hand and riffing with his right; the jazz syncopation of Densmore; the flamenco stylings of Krieger.
And then, of course, there was Morrison, the Shamanic, Rimbaud-esque frontman, spilling poetry and inciting riots. His voice wasn't great and some of his lyrics were up their own fundament, but what of it: Jimbo personified the essence of rock 'n' roll.
Reckless, sexy, passionate, self-destructive, creative, dumb and brilliant: he was everything rock music should be. How the insipid, homogenised modern scene could do with someone like that.
The Doors are one of those bands that everyone reflexively assumes is over-rated. But in a strange way, they were – and remain – one of the most undervalued acts in music history.
But what can you do? People are strange.