Gary Rossington, guitarist and last living member of Southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd’s original lineup, has died. He passed away on Sunday, March 5, 2023 from an as-yet undisclosed cause. Rossington was 71.

Rossington had been in poor health in recent years. As noted in Rolling Stone:

In later years, Rossington navigated a barrage of heart problems: he 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.

“I don’t get enough oxygen in my blood to keep up and keep going like normal,” Rossington told Rolling Stone in November 2022. “But I can still play good. It’s just the travel. It’s so hard on me, especially when you got heart trouble. It’s just really hard traveling and getting by with that stuff.”

A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Rossington started Lynyrd Skynyrd with fellow original members Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Albert Collins, drummer Bob Burns, and others after Van Zant and Burns met the hard way. In a Little League game, Van Zant accidentally nailed Burns with a line drive. The post-play discussion led to a musical get-together that afternoon, and the band was born.

Moving to Atlanta due to limited opportunities in Jacksonville, the band kept at it, reaping its reward in 1973 with its debut album “(Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd).” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s earthy approach to the Southern rock pioneered by the Allman Brothers quickly won an audience, as did the fusion of relationship angst and lengthy juicy jam otherwise known as “Free Bird.” Rossington’s slide guitar work during the song’s first segment has forever earned an entry in classic rock’s hall of fame.

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Rossington overcame severe injuries in the 1977 plane crash that killed Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, Gaines’ sister backing vocalist Cassie Gaines, and others. With other surviving members, he formed the Rossington-Collins Band in 1980, wisely employing a completely different singer than Van Zant in the presence of bluesy female powerhouse Dale Kranz. Although an understandably somewhat more subdued effort than Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band still had the fire.

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The Rossington-Collins Band dissolved in the early 1980s, although one element remained together as Rossington and Kranz married in 1982; the pair produced two daughters. Rossington revived the Lynyrd Skynyrd brand in the late 1980s, regularly touring and recording new music. In 2016 Rossington and Kranz recorded a superb album titled “Take It On Faith.”

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As mentioned, Rossington was the last living member of the band’s original lineup. Drummer Bob Burns was killed in a 2015 car crash. Bassist Leon Wilkeson died from natural causes in 2001. Guitarist Allen Collins was paralyzed in a 1986 car crash and passed away from pneumonia in 1990. Keyboardist Billy Powell suffered a fatal heart attack in 2009. Guitarist Ed King, who earlier in his career was a member of the 1960s psychedelic rock band Strawberry Alarm Clock, died from cancer in 2018.

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s importance in rock history is impossible to overstate. At a time when disco threatened to overwhelm popular music, the band reverberated from almost every teenage boy’s car stereo, unmistakable man music in an era when it was still acceptable to be one. Lynyrd Skynyrd was unapologetically Southern, equally unapologetically masculine, and was the lifeline for many a lad trying to find their way in the polyester world that was much of the 1970s.

Godspeed, Gary Rossington.

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