Gary Rossington, the last surviving original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd who helped found the group, died on Sunday aged 71. No cause of death was reported.
“It is with our deepest sympathies and sadness 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, playing beautifully as always. Please keep Dale, Mary, Annie and the entire Rossington family in your prayers and respect the family’s privacy during 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, a 1977 plane crash killed singer Ronnie Van Zandt, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing singer Casey Gaines, with two broken arms, a broken leg and stab wounds to the stomach and liver.
“It’s a devastating thing,” he told Rolling Stone in 2006. “You can’t really casually talk about it and have feelings about it.”
In later years, Rossington underwent a fifth bypass operation in 2003, suffered a heart attack in 2015, and underwent several heart surgeries, most recently leaving Lynyrd Skynyrd in July 2021. In recent performances, Rossington has performed parts of the concerto and sometimes sat in on entire performances.
Rossington was born on December 4, 1951, in Jacksonville, Florida, and was raised by his mother after his father’s death. After meeting drummer Bob Burns and bassist Larry Janstrom, Rossington and his new friends formed a band, which they tried to juggle amid their passion for baseball.
According to Rolling Stone, it was during an exceptional Little League game that Ronnie Van Zant hit a line drive into the shoulder blades of opposing player Bob Burns and met his future bandmate. Rossington, Burns, Van Zant, and guitarist Alan Collins gathered at Burns’ Jacksonville home that afternoon to perform Rolling Stone’s “Time Is On My Side.”
Adopting Lynyrd Skynyrd as the group’s name — a reference to the similarly named sports coach at Rossington’s high school and a character in the 1963 novelty hit “Hello Mutha, Hello Fatu” — the band released their first album (pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘ nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) in 1973. A blend of country-tinged blues-rock and Southern soul, the album included such classics as “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Simple Man” and “Gimme Three Steps.” The closing track, the nearly 10-minute “Free Bird,” was the group’s call to action. As the card turned out, Rossington’s trigger slide was in no small part due to playing on his Gibson SG.
Rossington told Rolling Stone that he doesn’t consider Skynyrd a tragic band, despite the band’s drama and death. “I don’t think of it as tragedy — I think of it as life,” he said at his 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. “I think the good outweighs the bad.”