Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington has died aged 71
In October 1977, Gary Rossington survived a plane crash that killed three bandmates and became a touchstone in rock music history.
The Lynyrd Skynyrd founding member and guitarist seemed indestructible as he spent decades battling drug and alcohol addiction and enduring a carousel of heart-related health problems.
Rossington, the only surviving original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, died Sunday. He was 71.
The band released a statement on their verified Facebook account confirming Rossington’s death. “It is with our deepest sympathy and sadness that we must announce that today we have lost our brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist Gary Rossington,” the statement said. “Gary is in heaven now with his Skynyrd brothers and family, playing it up nicely like he always does.”
A cause of death was not given.
“Please keep Dale, Mary, Annie and the entire Rossington family in your prayers and respect the family’s privacy at this difficult time,” the statement concluded.
From 2021: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington expects ‘a full recovery’ after emergency heart surgery
A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Rossington lived in Alpharetta, a suburb of Atlanta, for more than 25 years and also spent some time in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
For decades, the guitarist suffered from heart problems, including a quintuple bypass surgery in 2003, a massive heart attack in 2015, a pacemaker implantation, a heart valve replacement in 2019 and most recently emergency heart surgery in June 2021, which forced him to perform on the Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour ” the band.
The tour’s name was both a nod to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ill-fated 1977 Street Survivors Tour (which was changed to Tour of the Survivors after the devastating plane crash) and a realization that the band’s touring was probably coming to an end.
Rossington formed what would become a southern rock giant in 1964 with vocalist Ronnie Van Zant – who died in a plane crash after a concert in Greenville, South Carolina – guitarist Allen Collins, bassist Larry Junstrom and drummer Bob Burns should.
When I leave here tomorrow: Lynyrd Skynyrd Documentary Highlights
Although known as My Backyard and other names for about five years, Lynyrd Skynyrd was born in 1969 to a line-up that included keyboardist Billy Powell, bassist Leon Wilkeson, and guitarist Ed King (who left in 1975 and was replaced by Steve Gaines in 1976). ; Gaines and his sister Cassie died in the plane crash). Drummer Burns left the band in 1974 and was replaced by Artimus Pyle.
In its current version, Lynyrd Skynyrd features the lead vocals of Ronnie Van Zant’s brother Johnny (since 1987); the guitars of Rickey Medlocke (who returned to the band in 1996); and the drums by Michael Cartellone (since 1999). In 2006, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The roots: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s story in Jacksonville
Of Rossington’s countless contributions to Lynyrd Skynyrd, his slide guitar work on the immortal opus Free Bird underscores its importance to the band’s sound. The musician also co-wrote “Sweet Home Alabama” and “What’s Your Name” and partially inspired Ronnie Van Zant to write “That Smell,” a song written about the band’s reckless behavior, including Rossington, who crashes his car into a tree in Jacksonville a night of heavy drug and alcohol use.
In 2012, Lynyrd Skynyrd released their 14th studio album, Last of a Dyin’ Breed. It would be the band’s last studio effort, although Johnny Van Zant told USA TODAY in 2019 that while Rossington’s health is stable, new music is expected to be recorded.
“We’ve had songs for a while, but we haven’t managed to actually finish recording,” said Van Zant. “Gary’s health has deteriorated a bit and we’ve had to postpone it, but we’ll get it eventually.”
Because of his tenure, Rossington has often been viewed as a stabilizing force in Skynyrd. In 2014, Rossington told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of his mission to continue representing the band.
“I thank God every day and night that I can keep playing and spreading the Skynyrd name and our brand. Just being able to talk about Ronnie and Allen (Collins, who died in 1990) and share their music with the audience,” Rossington said. “We had a dream back then to be in a big band and make it, and then it was taken away from (some of them) very quickly. (Those who died in the plane crash), they didn’t get a chance to see how Skynyrd evolved, how Free Bird became an anthem. So I can tell her story.”