Guitarist Gary Rossington, the last remaining original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, died on Sunday (March 5th) at the age of 71. Rossington had been sidelined from the band’s recent dates following emergency heart surgery in 2021.
The band issued a statement, which reads: “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.”
As a guitarist, Gary Rossington will probably be best remembered for his slide guitar work on Skynyrd’s signature tune, “Free Bird” — and as a songwriter, he left his mark co-writing such Southern rock standards as “Sweet Home Alabama,” “What’s Your Name?,” “Gimme Back My Bullets,” “I Ain’t The One,” and “Simple Man,” among others.
Gary Rossington broke both arms, both legs, both wrists, both ankles and his pelvis in the 1977 plane crash that took the lives of his Lynyrd Skynyrd bandmates — lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, backup singer Cassie Gaines, Skynyrd manager Dean Kilpatrick, as well as the plane’s two pilots Walter McCreary and William Gray.
Following the crash, in 1979, Rossington formed Rossington Collins Band with surviving Skynyrd members Allen Collins, Leon Wilkeson, and Billy Powell. Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited in 1987 with Ronnie Van Zant’s youngest brother Johnny Van Zant handing frontman duties.
When we last caught up with Gary Rossington, we asked him what motivated him and his bandmates to keep the Skynyrd name alive: “Gosh, it’s just, y’know, you gotta carry on, and go through it. If you take the lives of just any seven individuals and follow them, tragedy happens, y’know? And it just happened to us. And we just kept carryin’ on, we’re doin’ it for the guys that aren’t with us, and for us, and for the music and the name and — it’s what we are.”
In October 2015, Gary Rossington suffered a serious heart attack, and earlier that year was hospitalized with an abdominal infection, forcing the band to miss a show. At the time, Johnny Van Zant gave us an update on Rossington’s heart issues: “Yeah, he’s doing good. Y’know, he had a slight heart attack, and y’know, he had a quadruple bypass — what was it five, six years ago, maybe — it might be even longer than that. And he was doing a procedure and they took him off of his plavix, which is blood thinner, and it caused him to have a blood clot — so basically gave him a small heart attack.”
Gary Rossington told us that he’s both proud and amazed at Skynyrd’s longevity: “My mind’s blown that we’ve been around this long and still doing it, and we’re God-blessed in that way. Y’know, a lot of groups don’t have this longevity and stuff, and it’s just great to be here doing it. I don’t know — it’s hard to talk about, because it’s not relatable, y’know? There’s only a few people or a few bands that have been around this long.”