Gary Rossington, the last surviving original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd who also helped found the group, died Sunday at the age of 71. The cause of death has not been determined.
“It is with our deepest sympathy and great sadness that we have to advise, today we lost our brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist Gary Rossington,” the band wrote on Facebook. “Gary is now with his brothers and family in Skynyrd in Heaven and is playing a lovely part, as he always does. Please keep Dale, Mary, Annie and the whole Rossington family in your prayers and respect the family’s privacy at this difficult time.”
Rossington cheated death more than once, Rolling Stone reported. He survived a car accident in 1976 in which he drove his Ford Torino into a tree, which inspired the band’s cautionary song “That Smell”. A year later, he emerged from the 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines, with both arms broken, a broken leg, and a perforated stomach and liver.
“It was a devastating thing,” he told Rolling Stone in 2006. “You can’t really talk about it informally and not have feelings for it.”
In subsequent years, Rossington underwent a quintuple bypass in 2003, suffered a heart attack in 2015, and has had several subsequent heart surgeries, the latest of which he left Lynyrd Skynyrd in July 2021 to recover from another procedure. In recent shows, Rossington has performed parts of the concert and sometimes even seated entire recitals.
Born December 4, 1951, in Jacksonville, Florida, Rossington was raised by his mother after his father’s death. Upon meeting drummer Bob Burns and bassist Larry Gunstrom, Rossington and his new friends formed a band which they attempted to reconcile amidst their love of baseball.
According to Rolling Stone, it was during a fateful Little League game that Ronnie Van Zant hit a line drive into opposing player Bob Burns’ shoulder blades and met up with his future bandmates. Rossington, Burns, Van Zant, and guitarist Allen Collins gathered that afternoon at Burns’ home in Jacksonville to jam on the Rolling Stone song “Time’s on My Side.”
Adopting Lynyrd Skynyrd as the group’s name—a reference to a similarly athletic coach at Rossington High School and a character in the 1963 hit novel “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”—the band released its debut album (pronounced “Lĕh-“nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) in 1973. The group A blues-rock slick of blues and Southern soul, the album now included classics like “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Simple Man,” and “Gimme Three Steps,” but it was the closing track, the nearly 10-minute “Free Bird,” that became a card. The group’s own connection, due in large part to Rossington’s evocative slice playing his Gibson SG.
Rossington told Rolling Stone that he never considered Skynyrd a tragic band, despite all of the band’s drama and death. “I don’t view it as a tragedy — I think of it as life,” he said at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2006. “I think the good outweighs the bad.”
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