Songwriter and guitarist Gary Rossington, the last founding member of the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, has died. He was 71.
Rossington co-wrote the band’s most successful single, “Sweet Home Alabama.” He is also noted for his work on the slide guitar during the group’s theme song, “Free Bird.” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first five albums charted on the US Top 30, with three reaching double platinum status. The band posted about Rossington’s death on their official Facebook page, bidding fans to give his family privacy at this time.
“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. Gary is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and playing it pretty like he always does,” reads the post. “Please keep Dale, Mary, Annie, and the entire Rossington family in your prayers and respect the family’s privacy at this difficult time.”
In 1976, Rossington survived a car crash after his car hit a tree. The song “That Smell” was written by lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant about the incident with the lyric, “The smell of death surrounds you.” The following year, Rossington survived an air crash in Mississippi in which vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backing singer Cassie Gaines died. Rossington recovered from that crash with steel rods in his right arm and right leg but with an addiction to painkillers.
Rossington formed the Rossington Collins Band with guitarist Allen Collins but split in 1982 after the death of Collins’ wife. Rossington then formed a band with his wife before rejoining the rebuilt Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1987 with Johnny Van Zant on lead vocals. He then toured with the band and released several albums.
He was born in Jacksonville, Florida, to a father in the US Army, who died shortly after his birth. His mother raised him alone and he named his favorite 1959 Gibson Les Paul guitar “Berniece” to honor her memory.