Looking back at the life of the late founding member of Jacksonville’s legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd

Looking back at the life of the late founding member of Jacksonville’s legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd
Looking back at the life of the late founding member of Jacksonville’s legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The last founding member of Jacksonville-based rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd died Sunday, according to a statement from the band’s official Facebook account.

Songwriter and guitarist Gary Rossington was 71.

The band did not say how Rossington died, but he suffered from a number of heart problems over the years.

“It is with our deepest sympathy and sorrow that we have to advise that we lost our brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist, Gary Rossington, today. Gary is now with the Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven playing it nice, as he always does. Please keep Dale, Mary, Annie and the entire Rossington family in your prayers and respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time,” the band wrote on their Facebook page.

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Rossington was one of the surviving members of the 1977 plane crash in Mississippi that killed six people including three of the band’s members.

News4JAX anchor Tom Wills, who traveled to Mississippi to cover the crash, also interviewed Rossington at the St. Augustine Amphitheater in 2017, where they discussed the horrors of Rossington’s experience in the crash.

The Jacksonville-based band that billed itself as a mocking tribute to Robert E. Lee High School, recently renamed Riverside High School, physical education teacher Leonard Skinner, who teased Rossington with his long hair, is widely credited as the first band who bring southern rock music to an international audience.

Tributes to Rossington’s life poured in after his death.

Metallica frontman James Hetfield said: “RIP Brother Gary. Thank you for bringing me so much joy with your guitar playing and songwriting in one of my all-time favorite bands, Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

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“The last of the Free Birds has flown home. RIP Gary Rossington, God Bless the Lightning @Skynyrd band. Prayers to Dale and the rest of his family,” wrote musician Charlie Daniels.

Country musician Travis Tritt wrote: “I’m devastated! Gary was not only a friend but a collaborator who wrote songs with me and played guitar with me in studio recordings and on stage so many times.”

According to Rolling Stone, during a Little League game, Ronnie Van Zant hit a line drive into the shoulder blades of opponent Bob Burns.

That’s how the crew met, and eventually Rossington, Burns, Van Zant and guitarist Allen Collins gathered that afternoon at Burns’ home in Jacksonville to play music together.

Rossington once 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 a tragedy — I think of it as life,” he said at the group’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2006. “I think the good outweighs the bad.”

FILE – In this file photo, Friday 4 February 2005 members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, from left, Rickey Medlocke, Gary Rossington and Ean Evans rehearse at the Jacksonville Production Studio in Jacksonville, Florida for their Saturday performance as part of the concert. Super Bowl concert series. Lynyrd Skynyrd has pulled out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame concert after guitarist Rickey Medlocke tested positive for COVID-19, Saturday, August 7, 2021. The band was scheduled to headline Monday night’s concert with Brad Paisley. According to a statement from the band, Medlocke’s positive test forced the groups to withdraw. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt, file) (2005 AP)

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