Lynyrd Skynyrd Founding Member Gary Rossington Dead at 71

Lynyrd Skynyrd Founding Member Gary Rossington Dead at 71
Gary Rossington of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd performs on Day 1 of the 2015 Big Barrel Country Music Festival at The Woodlands in Dover, Del., on June 26, 2015. (Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP)

Gary Rossington, a co-founder and last surviving original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd who helped write the classic answer song “Sweet Home Alabama,” died Sunday at age 71. No cause of death was given.

“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 wrote on Facebook. “Gary is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and playing it pretty, like he always does.”

Rossington cheated death more than once. He survived a car accident in 1976 in which he drove his Ford Torino into a tree. A year later, he survived the plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines, with multiple broken bones and internal injuries.

In later years, Rossington underwent quintuple bypass surgery in 2003, suffered a heart attack in 2015, and had numerous subsequent heart surgeries, most recently leaving Lynyrd Skynyrd in July 2021 to recover from another procedure. At recent shows, Rossington would perform portions of the concert and sometimes sat out full gigs.

Rossington was born Dec. 4, 1951, in Jacksonville, Florida, and raised by his mother after his father died. Upon meeting drummer Bob Burns and bassist Larry Junstrom, Rossington and his new friends formed a band, which they tried to juggle amid their love of baseball.

A decade after the plane crash, the band reformed for tribute shows after promoters begged them to tour again. Rossington told the AP in 1991 that getting back together and the idea of writing new songs was scary. “We took time making our minds up [that] we wanted to keep going,” said Rossington.

Singer Johnny Van Zant took over his older brother’s role in the reunited band in 1987 along with returning members Rossington, King, Leon Wilkeson, Artimus Pyle, and Billy Powell. The band’s lineup has continued to change in the decades since, with Rossington remaining as one of the sole founders.