Having helped form Lynyrd Skynyrd alongside Gary Rossington, the latter passed away on Sunday at the age of 71. No specific cause of death was reported.
“It is with our utmost grief and sadness that we have to advise, that we lost our brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist, Gary Rossington, today,” the band posted on Facebook. Gary is with his brothers and family in heaven from Skynyrd, and he’s acting as dapper as ever. Please pray for Dale, Mary, Annie, and the rest of the Rossington family, and give them some space while they grieve.
Rolling Stone said Rossington had survived multiple near-death experiences. In 1976, he crashed his Ford Torino into a tree and miraculously escaped; the experience would later inspire the band’s cautionary song “That Smell.” A year later, with two broken arms, a fractured leg, and a pierced stomach and liver, he survived the plane disaster that took the lives of singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup vocalist Cassie Gaines in 1977.
The event “was a sad thing,” he told Rolling Stone in 2006. You can’t be completely emotionless when discussing it.
Rossington left Lynyrd Skynyrd in July 2021 to recover from yet another heart operation; he had already undergone quintuple bypass surgery in 2003, a heart attack in 2015, and multiple subsequent heart surgeries. Rossington has been known to just show up for parts of recent appearances and even skip entire concerts.
After his father’s death, Rossington’s mother took care of him and he was born on December 4, 1951, in Jacksonville, Florida. Rossington and his new pals, drummer Bob Burns and bassist Larry Junstrom, sought to balance their shared passion of baseball with their newfound musical endeavour.
Rolling Stone claims that Ronnie Van Zant met the members of his future band when he whacked an opposing player with a line drive during a Little Baseball game. That afternoon, Rossington, Burns, Van Zant, and guitarist Allen Collins got together at Burns’ Jacksonville house to jam to “Time Is on My Side” by the Rolling Stones.
A combination of Rossington’s high school’s sports coach and a character from the 1963 novelty hit “Hey Muddah, Hello Fadduh” inspired the band’s moniker, Lynyrd Skynyrd, which they used for their self-titled debut album in 1973 (Pronounced ‘Lh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd). In addition to the now-classics “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Simple Man,” and “Gimme Three Steps,” the nearly 10-minute “Free Bird” served as the album’s closer and became the band’s signature, thanks in large part to Rossington’s evocative slide playing on his Gibson SG.
Rossington told Rolling Stone that despite all the tragedy and loss, Skynyrd was never a tragic band. I don’t think of it as tragedy, I think of it as life,” he stated during the band’s 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. I believe the benefits far exceed the drawbacks.