WASHINGTON — Gary Rossington, a founding member and guitarist of Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, died Sunday at the age 71.
The band confirmed Rossington's death on its official Facebook page on Sunday night. A cause of death was not revealed.
"It is with our deepest sympathy and sadness that we have to advise, that we lost our brother, friend, family member, rhysongwriter and guitarist, Gary Rossington, today," the post read. "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 the last surviving member of the original Lynyrd Skynyrd. Bassist Larry Junestrom died in 2019.
In 1977, Rossington survived a plane crash that left three band members dead and became an infamous part of rock music lore. A year before, the guitarist had survived a severe car accident that inspired the band's song "That Smell," Rolling Stones reports.
“It was a devastating thing," he told Rolling Stone in 2006. "You can’t just talk about it real casual and not have feelings about it.”
In the later parts of his life, the guitarist dealt with an array of heart issues. He suffered a heart attack in 2015 and recently underwent an emergency heart surgery in 2021.
The Jacksonville native, who played lead and rhythm guitar, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 alongside his bandmates. The band has produced popular hits like "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird."
Rossington was born Dec. 4, 1951, 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.
According to Rolling Stone, it was during a fateful Little League game, Ronnie Van Zant hit a line drive into the shoulder blades of opposing player Bob Burns and met his future bandmates. Rossington, Burns, Van Zant, and guitarist Allen Collins gathered that afternoon at Burns’ Jacksonville home to jam the Rolling Stone’s “Time Is on My Side.”
Adopting Lynyrd Skynyrd as the group’s name — both a reference to a similarly named sports coach at Rossington’s high school and to a character in the 1963 novelty hit “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” — the band released their debut album (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-’nérd) in 1973. A collection of country-tinged blues-rock and Southern soul, the album included now-classics like “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Simple Man” and “Gimme Three Steps,” but it was the closing track, the nearly 10-minute “Free Bird,” that became the group’s calling card, due in no small part to Rossington’s evocative slide playing on his Gibson SG.
Rossington told Rolling Stone that he never considered Skynyrd to be a tragic band, despite all the band's drama and death. “I don’t think of it as tragedy — I think of it as life,” he said upon the group’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2006. “I think the good outweighs the bad.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.