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Gary Rossington, Founding Lynyrd Skynyrd Guitarist, Dies at 71

SPIN | March 6, 2023

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Gary Rossington, the guitarist for legendary Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, has died at the age of 71. The band posted a statement confirming Rossington’s death on its verified Facebook account, though they did not specify a cause of death. Rossington was the last surviving original Lynyrd Skynyrd member and had been active in the band up until his death.

“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,” the statement said. “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.”

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Born on Dec. 4, 1951, Rossington formed the band with Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, Larry Junstrom, and Bob Burns in his native Jacksonville. Originally called My Backyard, the band changed its name to Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969 as a reference to their physical education teacher, Leonard Skinner, and to a character in the 1963 song “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.”

They released their debut, Pronounced Len-‘nerd ‘Skin-‘nerd, in 1973 with such hits as “Simple Man” and “Free Bird” that led the band on a firm trajectory with 14 total studio albums, 60 million units sold, and induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

Rossington played lead and rhythm guitar, which played a major role in shaping the band’s sound. In particular, his playing on “Simple Man,” “Tuesday’s Gone,” and handling slide guitar on “Free Bird” became signature moments in rock. He also co-wrote iconic songs like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “What’s Your Name.”

He was one of 20 survivors of the Oct. 20, 1977 plane crash in Mississippi where Lynyrd Skynyrd bandmates Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and three others died. Rossington emerged with severe injuries that required several steel rods to be implanted in his body.

When bassist Larry Junstrom died in 2019, Rossington became the last surviving original member and also the longest serving. That title now goes to Johnny Van Zant, who took over vocals for his late brother Ronnie Van Zant in 1987 when the group re-banded after a break. In that down time, Rossington had formed the Rossington Collins Band with Allen Collins.

Rossington had overcome a number of heart-related health battles in recent years, including a quintuple bypass in 2003 and heart attack in 2015. In the summer of 2021, he also underwent an emergency heart procedure, leading to several postponed dates on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour.”

Intended originally to be their final jaunt, the tour has now morphed into a 50th anniversary celebration of the band with Rossington able to make select performances, according to a note on the band’s website. There are currently scheduled dates as early as March 12 as well as a summer tour with ZZ Top planned through September 17 though there’s been no word yet if the band plans to continue. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s last album, Last Of A Dyin’ Breed, was released in 2012.

More to come…

To see our running list of the top 100 greatest rock stars of all time, click here.

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