News broke yesterday (March 6) that Gary Rossington, the founding guitarist and last original member of legendary 70s rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, passed away. Rossington, known for providing the slide guitar lead of “Free Bird,” was hospitalized due to heart problems in recent years. He was 71 years old.
“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 band announced on Facebook. “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.”
Rossington was born in Jacksonville, Florida. He had a strong childhood interest in baseball and aspired to one day play for the New York Yankees. However, upon hearing the Rolling Stones in his early teens, he became interested in music and ultimately gave up on his baseball aspirations. His love of baseball would indirectly lead him to Lynyrd Skynyrd, as he became acquainted with Ronnie Van Zant and Bob Burns while playing on rival Jacksonville baseball teams.
The trio decided to jam together one afternoon – setting up their equipment in the carport of Burns' parents' house. They played The Rolling Stones' hit "Time Is on My Side" and immediately decided to form a band. Naming themselves The Noble Five, with the additions of guitarist Allen Collins and bassist Larry Junstrom, they later changed the name of the band to The One Percent before eventually settling on the name Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969.
Success came almost immediately. While the band’s debut album featured multiple hits – “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Gimme Three Steps,” and “Simple Man” – Rossington’s most famous contribution to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s discography undoubtedly has to be the slide guitar lead on their beloved nine-minute track “Free Bird.”
After surviving a 1976 car accident that inspired the song “That Smell,” Rossington miraculously survived another big accident: the infamous 1977 plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines at the height of Lynyrd Skynyrd's fame. Rossington was knocked unconscious when the plane went down and awoke some time later on the ground with the plane's door on top of him. Days later, Rossington was informed in the hospital by his mother that Van Zant and the others had been killed. Rossington recovered from his injuries and eventually played on stage again, with steel rods in his right arm and right leg.
Following the crash, Rossington remained a constant after years of lineup changes in the band. Rossington has been hospitalized multiple times due to heart problems in recent years, and, in 2021, left the band, citing how travel was negatively impacting his blood oxygen levels. He is survived by his wife, singer Dale Krantz-Rossington, and their two children.
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Article Image: Close-up of Gary Rossington as he plays guitar with Lynyrd Skynyrd during a 2011 outdoor concert. (Jon Callas [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons.)