Gary Rossington, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s last surviving original member who also helped found the group, died Sunday at the age of 71. No cause of death was given.
“It is with our deepest sympathy and sadness that we must announce that today we lost our brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist Gary Rossington,” the band wrote on Facebook. “Gary is in heaven now with his Skynyrd brothers and family, playing it up nicely 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.”
Rossington cheated on 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 tale “That Smell.” A year later, he emerged from the 1977 plane crash that killed vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines with two broken arms, a broken leg, and stomach and liver damage.
“It was a devastating thing,” he told Rolling Stone in 2006. “You can’t just casually talk 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 had numerous subsequent heart surgeries, most recently leaving Lynyrd Skynyrd in July 2021 to recover from another procedure. At recent shows, Rossington played parts of the concert and sometimes sat out whole gigs.
Rossington was born on December 4, 1951 in Jacksonville, Florida and was raised by his mother after the death of his father. When they met drummer Bob Burns and bassist Larry Junstrom, Rossington and his new friends formed a band they tried to juggle amid their love of baseball.
According to Rolling Stone, during a fateful Little League game, Ronnie Van Zant hit a line drive in opposing player Bob Burns’ shoulder blades, hitting his future bandmates. Rossington, Burns, Van Zant and guitarist Allen Collins gathered at Burns’ Jacksonville home that afternoon to jam on Rolling Stone’s “Time Is on My Side.”
Adopting Lynyrd Skynyrd as the group’s name – both a nod to a Rossington High School athletic coach of the same name and a character in the 1963 novelty hit “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” – the band released their debut album (pronounced “Leh-“). nerd ‘Skin-‘nérd) in 1973. A collection of country-influenced blues-rock and Southern soul, the album featured current classics like “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Simple Man,” and “Gimme Three Steps,” but it was a blast The closing track, the nearly 10-minute “Free Bird,” became the group’s calling card, thanks in no small part to Rossington’s impressive slide playing on his Gibson SG.
Rossington told Rolling Stone that he never considered Skynyrd a tragic band, despite all the band’s drama and death. “I don’t look at it as a tragedy — I look at it as a life,” he said of the group’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. “I think the good outweighs the bad.”