Gary Rossington, Founding Lynyrd Skynyrd Guitarist, Dies at 71

Meat Puppets: Our 1986 Interview
Meat Puppets: Our 1986 Interview

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 it 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, Fla. 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.”

Skynyrd’s 1973 debut, Pronounced Len-‘nerd ‘Skin-‘nerd, featured future classic rock staples such as “Simple Man” and “Free Bird” and set the band on a trajectory that has to date included 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 in helping in shaping Skynyrd’s southern boogie sound. In particular, his playing on “Simple Man,” “Tuesday’s Gone,” and the slide guitar on “Free Bird,” became signature moments in rock. He also co-wrote iconic Skynyrd songs such as “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 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 overcame 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 to be Skynyrd’s final jaunt, the tour eventually morphed into a 50th anniversary celebration, for which Rossington was advertised as being able to make select appearances. The band has dates scheduled as soon as March 12, plus a summer tour with ZZ Top, but though there’s no word yet if they will be postponed or canceled. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s last album, Last of a Dyin’ Breed, was released in 2012.

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