Gary Rossington—Last Original Member of Lynyrd Skynyrd—Has Died
As is often the case with legacy bands, the name of Lynyrd Skynyrd will live on in live performances, and likely for years to come. But the final living piece and last original member of what most consider the premier and most defining Southern rock band has passed on. Guitarist Gary Rossington, who founded Lynyrd Skynyrd with Ronnie Van Zant and Bob Burns, has died at the age of 71, marking the end of an era in American music.
Gary Rossington was like the baby of Lynyrd Skynyrd, being three years younger than singer Ronnie Van Zant and drummer Bob Burns. When the band formed, the older boys taught Rossington about the ways of life. In the summer of 1964, Ronnie Van Zant injured Bob Burns with a ball he hit in a baseball game in Jacksonville, Florida. Since Van Zant was no longer able to play, they decided to set up a jam session instead. Gary Rossington was invited along, and later guitarist Allen Collins and bassist Larry Junstrom joined the group, and eventually they came to be known as The Noble Five.
Gary Rossington wasn’t just adopted into what would become Lynyrd Skynyrd, he was adopted into the Van Zant family. Rossington was born on December 4th, 1951 in Jacksonville, and his father passed away shortly thereafter, leaving him to be raised in a single parent household. Through his middle teenage years, Ronnie Van Zant acted like his father, with Van Zant’s father Lacy acting similarly.
When Rossington was still in high school and the other members had graduated, he grew his hair out to fit into the band. When Robert E. Lee High School went to kick Rossington out for violating their long hair policy, Lacy Van Zant lobbied the school to let him stay in. It was the school’s P.E. teacher named Leonard Skinner who was the rigid enforcer of the school’s policy against long hair. Shortly after, Gary Rossington dropped out of high school in 1969 over the issue, the band soon became known as Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Unlike guitarist Allen Collins who co-wrote many of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s songs with Ronnie Van Zant, or later edition guitarist Ed King who crafted some of the band’s most iconic licks and fills like the intro to “Sweet Home Alabama,” Gary Rossington was more of the foundational guitarist of the band. With Skynyrd’s two and three guitar attack, Rossington never needed to carry the full weight, but he also contributed some of the memorable parts of certain songs, like playing lead on “Tuesday’s Gone,” or the slide duties on “Free Bird.”
Gary Rossington was a survivor. As certain members interchanged in Lynyrd Skynyrd behind Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington was a constant. In the infamous Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash on October 20th, 1977 in Mississippi, Rossington broke both arms, both legs, his wrists and ankles, and fractured his pelvis. He was rendered unconscious on impact, and woke up days later with his mother telling him that Ronnie Van Zant was dead. Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and three other were also killed in the crash. Rossington was one of the 20 survivors.
With steel rods in his right arm and leg, eventually Rossington made a full recovery, but the significant injuries had him relying on pain pills, which eventually gave way to drug addiction, which Rossington had dealt with previously as well. The song “That Smell” co-written by Ronnie Van Zandt was said to be inspired by Rossington hitting an Oak Tree in his Ford Torino while on drugs and alcohol on Labor Day 1976. This forced the band to delay their tour, and Rossington was fined $5,000 in wages.
When Lynyrd Skynyrd officially reunited and reformed in 1987 behind Ronnie Van Zant’s brother Johnny, Gary Rossington played an important part as the only original member of the band. Billy Powell, Leon Wilkerson, Artemis Pyle also were part of the band, and had survived the plane crash like Rossington. Guitarist Ed King also rejoined at the time.
But over the years as the secondary and tertiary members of Lynyrd Skynyrd dropped off, Gary Rossington endured behind Johnny Van Zant, and later guitarist Rickey Medlocke previously of Blackfoot, who had briefly been in Lynyrd Skynyrd in the early ’70s, and rejoined in 1996. After the death of all the original members, Medlocke is now the last Lynyrd Skynyrd member with deep ties to the band.
Gary Rossington suffered a heart attack in 2015, which resulted in numerous cancellations of Lynyrd Skynyrd shows. Then in July of 2021 he underwent further heart surgery. Though the band did not announce it publicly, Rossington’s appearances with Lynyrd Skynyrd as he battled heart issues over the last few years had been spotty. The band announced on March 5th that Gary Rossington had died via social media.
“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 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.”
With the death of now all the original members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the death of Greg and Duane Allman, Toy Caldwell, and so many other founders of the Southern rock sound, it leaves only a few original titans of the country rock subgenre around, namely guitarist Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, and singer Doug Gray of The Marshall Tucker Band.
March 5, 2023 @ 9:19 pm
Not even 3 full months in and 2023 is already sucking ass on the music obituary front
March 5, 2023 @ 10:56 pm
Very sorry to hear this.
He could absolutely keep his own and he wasn’t just some rhythm guy. Watch the intro on this number. That and that blazing fucking solo is pure Gary. Watch Ronnie grin as Gary fucking nails that solo. These guys were the absolute pinnacle of rock music. Lynyrd Skynyrd was the greatest American rock band.
March 5, 2023 @ 10:57 pm
March 6, 2023 @ 12:50 am
“…or later edition guitarist Ed King who crafted some of the band’s most iconic licks and fills like the intro to “Sweet Home Alabama,” …”
And, who doesn’t instantly smile and turn it up, while exclaiming, “Turn it up.” whenever “Sweet Home Alabama,’ comes on?
One of the greatest guitar intros of all time.
March 6, 2023 @ 12:55 am
Sad day, thought he was just slowing down not in that bad of health. Artemis seems to be in good shape, wish they’d bring him back if theyre going to keep the tribute band going.
March 6, 2023 @ 2:12 am
Gary will be missed. I met him at 14 , some 46 years ago. Having over the years got a chance to know him, I will say as a ” Human Being” and friend I’m gonna miss him. Vern Gosdin told me once Jimbo there ain’t a one of us gonna live forever. Gary’s life was one of quality. God Bless his family both personal and professional. Now the real Skynyrd is finally reunitied.
March 6, 2023 @ 2:48 am
I for one hope for everyone who is resting at peace they do the right thing and finally put Lynyrd Skynyrd to sleep.
March 6, 2023 @ 7:01 am
They have been on the final retirement tour for about 10 years now lol.
March 6, 2023 @ 3:39 pm
I wish they would too. Unfortunately there’s too much money to be made. When they take the stage now, there will not be a single player that contributed to any of these great records. Does the ticket buying public really care?
I feel the Grateful Dead handled this better than any band when Jerry died. They survivors never walked out on stage again as the Grateful Dead.
March 6, 2023 @ 4:15 am
Lynyrd Skynyrd is the greatest Southern Rock band. They formed when the British takeover was at it’s height & ushered in a new reign of American Rock N’ Roll & helped established a new genre of Rock all together. They have left a legacy that continues & forever will shape music. It’s hard for me to say which song of theirs is my favorite “Sweet Home Alabama” & “Free Bird” are Staples & you know them as soon as the music starts but I really love “Four Walls of Raiford”, “Was I right or Wrong”, “Ballad of Curtis Loew”, “Same Ol’ Blues”, & the acoustic version of “All I Can Do is Write About It”. March 5, 2023 is truly the day Lynyrd Skynyrd died…
R.I.P. Gary Rossington December 4, 1951-March 5, 2023
Pat Sajak Jr.
March 6, 2023 @ 5:01 am
Rest In Peace Mr. Rossington. One of the last great men of rock n roll.
March 6, 2023 @ 7:00 am
Damn. There are a few rock bands from my youth that I still get the urge to break out and listen to so many years later. The Stones, Zeppelin, Sabbath, and more often than not Lynyrd Skynyrd. For a band that really only lasted a short time in its early original incarnation, Skynyrd’s bevy of classic songs can rival those of any band. Sad to see the last survivor of such a great band pass. RIP Gary
March 6, 2023 @ 7:08 am
August 15, 1976 was billed as The World Series Of Rock here at Hawthorne Race Course. Lynyrd Skynyrd was 3rd on the bill to Yes & Peter Frampton out on their Gimme Back My Bullets tour which was essentially the exact set that became the One More From The Road live album. I was 15 and blown away by all 3 but Skynyrd was the best on a hot sunny late afternoon. Saddened by the news.
March 6, 2023 @ 4:45 pm
Dude I lived that same story I went through (twice) in 77′ Trigger I ever tell you I freaking hate losing the ones we love most.
March 6, 2023 @ 7:19 am
I saw Skynyrd and Hank Jr. a few years ago in Hershey, Pa. great concert from both . These new so called artists will never be as good as those 2 . Here’s hoping Skynyrd keep going .
March 6, 2023 @ 9:44 am
I was also at the show in Hershey. I had always been reluctant to go see Skynyrd because they were more of a tribute band, but when they announced it was their farewell tour (LOL) I just got this feeling to just go. I am a big Hank Jr. fan also and it did help convince me (Blackberry Smoke was also on the bill). All 3 performances were great. Glad I went.
March 6, 2023 @ 10:20 am
It’s strange. I woudl have thought he was older than 71. Maybe it’s becasue I am not too far behind. Life-long fan.
Ronnie Van Zant
March 6, 2023 @ 10:20 am
Going to miss him.
Just want to say, I wouldn’t call him the journeyman guitarist. If anything, he actually played lead and solos more than Allen, who was more of the riff and rhythm guy.
Just watch the first few songs from Winterland here, its almost all Gary
March 6, 2023 @ 11:26 am
Sad Sad day my Gary R.I.P with the rest of his brothers as they are all FREEBIRDS now and my all his family find peace knowing he is in a better place and long live southern rock..
March 6, 2023 @ 3:03 pm
Don’t forget Jaimoe from the Allmans is also still around.
David: The Duke of Everything
March 6, 2023 @ 4:29 pm
Sad to see. While I don’t listen to their music as much as I used to, I still perk up when I hear their sound. I too put my hat in the ring that says they should stop touring. I know money is hard to walk away from but sometimes it’s best.
Sir Adam the Great
March 6, 2023 @ 4:41 pm
Maybe I’m mistaken but I thought that the band had to have a certain number or original member in order to still be called “Lynyrd Skynyrd”. That being said, everyone in the cover of the debut album is now gone. Kinda like the Ramones.
March 6, 2023 @ 7:05 pm
Another good one gone! RIP GR!
March 6, 2023 @ 7:36 pm
Journeyman? Are you serious? I love Ed and Alan and they are both great, but other the Alabama riff and the Freebird solo, most of the Skynyrd sound was Gary. Just google Rossington solos and you will hear. You do a great job but this article could have easily come from the New York Times.
March 6, 2023 @ 9:10 pm
I agree that Gary’s contributions were more important than “journeyman” may imply, and I have changed that word to “foundational.” What I tried to convey in this obituary was that Gary Rossington was the Lynyrd Skynyrd constant, even if he didn’t contribute significantly to the songwriting, or at certain times was the 2nd or 3rd guitar in a 3 guitar attack, while also giving him credit for being the #1 on certain songs or parts.
I won’t lie, I struggled with this obituary for some reason, and have conflicted feelings about what “Lynyrd Skynyrd” has become, especially after seeing them last summer, and not even Rossington was with them. They still put on an excellent show, but it just didn’t feel right.
It probably doesn’t need to be said that Lynyrd Skynyrd looms very large in my musical ethos, and so does Rossington. But I feel like the band died long before Rossington did. It’s all been really hard to contextualize.
March 6, 2023 @ 10:11 pm
He contributed as much as any member of the band not named Ronnie Van Zandt. He was never 2nd or 3rd fiddle, he was a solid co #1. There are a few full concert videos of the band in the RVZ era, go watch them. The beauty was they all brought a unique sound to the band and put together it was magic. We did see what happened when Ed left, it was an adjustment but Steve filled right in and didnt miss a beat. Imagine a Skynyrd song, any song without Gary, I cant. The slide on Free Bird, Tuesdays Gone, Simple Man, Gimme Three Steps, Call Me the Breeze, Saturday Night Special, Searching, MCA(Ed did have an awesome solo here too) he wasnt #1 on just certain songs. They are more than Bama and Free Bird, a lot more. Again no slight to Allan and Ed, I would be here defending them if you tried to minimize their contributions as well.
We do agree this is the end of an era and there will never be another band like them.
I have a lot of thoughts on the tribute band but this isnt the time or place.
Thanks for all you do!
March 7, 2023 @ 9:47 am
A lot can be said about all this. Rossington was a GUN and represented the soul of Skynyrd, instrumentally speaking. He and Ronnie were in my estimation, the bedrock of the original band. And I love Ed King and Allan Collins.
So what about the band now, which a few here are rightfully questioning? Let’s take Molly Hatchet as an example first. No original members left alive. The whole legacy rests on a guitar player who played on the last couple Hatchet albums with original members. He has changed Hatchets sound into a more metal band. IMO, there is talent there, but what you have is no longer Molly Hatchet. At this point it’s a flawed cover band.
I see Skynyrd as a tribute band at this point, but with legitimacy. You got Johnny Van Zandt, brother of Ronnie, helming the mic, and technically he’s been in Skynyrd longer than Ronnie was. Further, you have Ricky Medlocke playing lead guitar. Ricky was a legit early member of the band, not to mention he’s a southern rock legend on his own merits. So I’m okay with them soldiering on as a tribute. The fan demand to hear the music is very high. Do I consider them truly Lynyrd Skynyrd? Of course not. But I’d pay to em. Hatchet? Ehhhh, not so much.
The loss of Rossington is palpable, comparable to when Dave Hlubek from Hatchet passed. No going back, the original band is for all intents and purposes, gone.
March 7, 2023 @ 5:26 pm
Rossington’s passing is sad and Leonard Skynard was a fine band but the premier Southern rock band? I guess you never listened to the Allman Brothers Band. Duane Allman, Dickie Betts, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks would all blow Skynard off the stage.
March 7, 2023 @ 6:57 pm
It’s a given how epic The Allman Bros Band were. I’m a huge Allman Bros fan. Most of us who listen to Southern Rock and play guitar, consider them to be numero uno with an exclamation point. No argument from me on that. Dickey Betts may be my all time favorite guitarist, period.
Now, as for Skynyrd….they are probably the most successful band in Southern Rock history, I’m talking gross tour money, records sold, hits etc. Yes, really they were actually a bigger concert draw than Allmans, and certainly in pop culture, they are the bigger name. That’s just the plain truth. Not talking about virtuosity or playing ability.
March 7, 2023 @ 6:50 pm
I bought Skynyrd “One More” and Boston “Boston” on the same day. 3 great albums.