It was in October 1977 when Gary Rossington was part of a plane crash that tragically claimed the lives of three fellow band members, cementing itself as a pivotal moment in the history of rock music.
Despite grappling with addiction and a revolving door of heart-related health problems, the co-founder and guitarist of Lynyrd Skynyrd persevered through the years, earning a reputation for being almost invincible.
Sadly, Rossington, who was the sole surviving original member of the band, passed away on Sunday at the age of 71.
The verified Facebook account of Lynyrd Skynyrd posted a statement confirming the passing of Gary Rossington, expressing their deepest sadness and condolences. The band described Rossington as their “brother, friend, family member, songwriter, and guitarist” and mentioned that he is now reunited with his fellow Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven, playing music in his signature style.
The cause of death was not specified. The statement requested that the privacy of Dale, Mary, Annie, and the entire Rossington family be respected during this challenging time.
Gary Rossington had undergone emergency heart surgery but was expected to recover fully.
About Gary Rossington
Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, Gary Rossington spent more than 25 years residing in Alpharetta, Georgia, and living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, at times.
Despite his many accomplishments, Rossington was plagued with heart problems for several years. These included quintuple bypass surgery in 2003, a serious heart attack in 2015, the implantation of a pacemaker, a heart valve replacement in 2019, and emergency heart surgery in June 2021, which led to his departure from the band’s “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour.”
The band released a statement on their verified Facebook page, announcing the passing of Gary Rossington. The statement referred to him as their “brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist,” expressing their deepest sadness and sympathy. The tour was named “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour” in reference to the ill-fated “Street Survivors Tour” of 1977, which was renamed “Tour of the Survivors” following the tragic plane crash. The name also signalled the end of the band’s extensive touring career.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, now with Johnny Van Zant on lead vocals (since 1987), Rickey Medlocke on guitar (who rejoined in 1996), and Michael Cartellone on drums (since 1999), was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
Gary Rossington‘s slide guitar work on the iconic track “Free Bird” epitomizes his invaluable contribution to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s sound. He co-wrote classic hits such as “Sweet Home Alabama” and “What’s Your Name” and even inspired Ronnie Van Zant to write “That Smell,” a song addressing the band’s wild lifestyle, including Rossington’s car crash into a tree in Jacksonville after a night of heavy substance use.
Although Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 14th album, “Last of a Dyin’ Breed,” was released in 2012, the band’s lead vocalist, Johnny Van Zant, disclosed in a 2019 USA TODAY interview that new music was expected to be recorded, contingent upon Rossington’s stable health.
According to Johnny Van Zant, new music was expected to be recorded while Rossington’s health was stable. “We’ve had songs for a while, but we haven’t been able to get in and actually finish recording,” he said. “Gary’s health got a little bad and we had to postpone, but we’ll eventually get it.”
Rossington was often considered the stabilizing force in Lynyrd Skynyrd due to his long tenure. In a 2014 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he spoke about his mission to continue to represent the band.
Rossington expressed his gratitude for being able to keep playing and spreading the name of Skynyrd and their music. “Just being able to talk about Ronnie and Allen (Collins, who died in 1990) and share their music with the audience,” he said. “We had a dream back in the day to be in a big band and make it, and then it was taken away from (some of) them real quick. (Those who died in the plane crash), they didn’t get a chance to see how Skynyrd developed, how ‘Free Bird’ became an anthem. So I get to tell their story.”