Lynyrd Skynyrd founding member Gary Rossington has died aged 71

Lynyrd Skynyrd founding member Gary Rossington has died aged 71

Gary Rossington, the last surviving original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd who helped found the group, died on Sunday aged 71. The cause of death was not reported.

“It is with our deepest sympathies and sadness that we have to advise that we have lost our brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist Gary Rossington today,” the band wrote on Facebook. “Gary is now in heaven with his Skynyrd brothers and family and playing nice, as he always does. Please keep Dale, Mary, Annie and the entire Rossington family in your prayers and respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time.”

Rossington has 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, inspiring 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 Casey Gaines with two broken arms, a broken leg, and a punctured stomach and liver.

“It was a devastating thing,” he told Rolling Stone in 2006. “You can’t just talk really casually about it and not have feelings about it.”

In later years, Rossington underwent quintuple bypass surgery in 2003, suffered a heart attack in 2015, and has since undergone numerous heart surgeries, most recently leaving Lynyrd Skynyrd in July 2021 to recover from another procedure. At recent shows, Rossington would perform parts of the concert and sometimes sit out entire gigs.

Rossington was born on December 4, 1951, in Jacksonville, Florida and was raised by his mother after his father died. After meeting drummer Bob Barnes and bassist Larry Junstrom, Rossington and his new friends formed a band, which they tried to juggle between their love of baseball.

According to Rolling Stone, it was during an ill-fated Little League game that Ronnie Van Zant hit opposing player Bob Burns’ shoulder blade with a line drive and met his future bandmates. Rossington, Barnes, Van Zant and guitarist Allen Collins gathered at Barnes’ Jacksonville home that afternoon to jam Rolling Stone’s “Time Is On My Side.”

Adopting Lynyrd Skynyrd as the group’s name – both a reference to Rossington’s high school sports coach of the same name and a character from the 1963 novelty hit “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” – the band released their debut album (pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘ nérd ‘Skin -‘nérd) in 1973. A fusion of country-tinged blues-rock and Southern soul, the album included such now-classics as “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Simple Man” and “Gimme Three Steps,” but it was the closing track, the nearly 10-minute “Free Bird,” which became the group’s calling card, due to Rossington’s evocative slide playing on his Gibson SG.

Rossington told Rolling Stone that despite all of the band’s dramas and deaths, he never considered Skynyrd a tragic band. “I don’t think of it as a tragedy — I think of it as life,” he said during the group’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2006. “I think the good outweighs the bad.”

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