Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Last Founding Member, Gary Rossington, Passes Away at 71
Gary Rossington, a founding member and guitarist of the iconic Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd who famously provided the seagull-like slide guitar leads to the song “Free Bird,” passed away Sunday at the age of 71. Rossington amazingly survived the band's terrible plane crash in 1977.
With profound sadness, Lynyrd Skynyrd has announced the passing of Gary Rossington, the band's last surviving original member. His death marks the end of a monumental career as a songwriter, guitarist, brother, and family member. The band expresses its condolences and asks that people pray for Dale, Mary, Annie, and the Rossington family in this difficult time and respect their wish for privacy.
Rossington's life was marked with tragedy and survival. He was involved in a vicious car crash in 1976, and then a year later, he was lucky enough to survive the plane crash that took the lives of Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines. He suffered multiple injuries including two broken arms, a broken leg, and a punctured stomach and liver. This crash inspired the song “That Smell”.
No doubt this is a great loss and our thoughts are with the Rossington family.
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd has had a long and tumultuous career. In 1977, tragedy struck when a plane crash took the lives of three members of the band, something Rossington has rarely discussed publicly. In the years since, Rossington has suffered numerous heart problems, including quintuple bypass surgery in 2003, a heart attack in 2015, and various other surgeries, most recently leading to him stepping down from Lynyrd Skynyrd in July 2021 to undergo further treatment. At shows, he often had to sit out some or all of the performance.
Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins had an unlikely meeting while playing in a Little League game which resulted in their formation of Lynyrd Skynyrd. During the game, Van Zant's line drive nailed the shoulder blades of the opposing player, Bob Burns, whom he would later team up with. Along with Burns and Larry Junstrom, the quartet gathered at Burns's Jacksonville home to jam the Rolling Stones' "Time Is on My Side", and thus, an early version of Lynyrd Skynyrd was born.
Despite being a driving force in the band, guitarist Gary Rossington has had his fair share of troubles due to health complications. In an interview with Rolling Stone in November 2022, Rossington shared that he struggles to keep up with the demands of touring due to his heart condition. "I don't get enough oxygen in my blood to keep up and keep going like normal," he said. "But I can still play good. It's just the travel. It's so hard on me, especially when you got heart trouble. It's just really hard traveling and getting by with that stuff." Rossington was born on December 4th, 1951, in Jacksonville, Florida, and raised by his mother after his father died.