Gary Rossington, one of the founding members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, who survived their 1977 plane crash and played with the band until this year, died on Sunday. He was 71 years old. Rossington had been struggling with health issues for years and was the last surviving member of the original lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
A stoic figure who preferred to let his guitar do the talking, Rossington had cheated death more than once, including a near-fatal car crash in the 1970s. His sad news was confirmed by his spokesperson, who didn't share further details on the cause of the legendary musician's death.
Death of a Legend
Announcing his death, the band wrote on Facebook, "It is with our deepest sympathy and sadness that we have to advise, that we lost our brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist, Gary Rossington, today."
"Gary is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and playing it pretty, like he always does. Please keep Dale, Mary, Annie and the entire Rossington family in your prayers and respect the family's privacy at this difficult time."
The announcement of Rossington's death comes just over a year and a half after the musician underwent emergency surgery due to a severe health scare.
On July 23, 2021, the band revealed that Rossington was recovering after a cardiac operation.
"After this past year, the country being shut down and everything we have all been thru, The Rossington's encouraged the band to go perform in his absence," the band wrote in a now heartbreaking statement.
"He wants everyone to know he is doing good and expects a full recovery. We wish Gary a speedy recovery and we will see the Skynyrd Nation very soon!"
Fortunately, Rossington got well and joined the group. He was scheduled to take part in a tour with ZZ Top.
The original lineup of Lynyrd Skynyrd had drummer Bob Burns, guitarists Allen Collins and Larry Junstrom, lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, and bassist Rossington. The band was founded in 1964 under the moniker My Backyard in Jacksonville, Florida.
The band's self-titled 1973 debut LP, subtitled (Pronounced 'Lh-'nerd 'Skin-'nerd), featured hits like "Gimme Three Steps," "Tuesday's Gone," and "Simple Man," as well as the Top 20 pop single "Free Bird," which would go on to become one of rock's most well-known and lasting tunes. The album earned two platinum records and peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard 200.
Cheating Death More than Once
Besides his illustrious musical career, Rossington will be remembered for surviving a horrific plane crash that claimed the lives of four band members, including frontman Ronnie Van Zant, in 1977.
The tragic crash resulted in Rossington fracturing both of his legs, arms, ankles, and his pelvis.
The band had just published their fifth studio album at the time, which was a hit.
However, they decided to split, and didn't get back together for another decade. "One day we had everything, the next day there was nothing. We were on top of the world, and we were thrown down," Rossington told People in 1980.
Although Lynyrd Skynyrd's recording heyday came to an end with the crash, the band still managed to sell CDs. The band regrouped in 1987 with Rossington, Collins, Wilkeson, Pyle, Powell, and Ed King, led by Van Zant's brother Johnny Van Zant.
Collins was paralyzed in a 1986 car crash but continued to play guitar. Even after several personnel changes, the band has kept on touring and recording up until the present. The group was featured in the 2018 feature-length documentary 'If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd.'
Rossington dealt with a number of health issues in recent years. He had a heart attack in October 2015, and in 2018, he revealed to the Tampa Bay Times that he had previously survived a quintuple bypass surgery.
He also disclosed to the newspaper that he had "a lot" of heart attacks while performing. Rossington's survivors were not immediately known, unfortunately.