Gary Rossington, Guitarist and Last Surviving Original Member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dies at 71

Among the band’s hit songs were “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird”

Gary Rossington member of Lynyrd Skynyrd
Gary Rossington, co-founder of Lynyrd Skynyrd (Getty)

Gary Rossington, guitarist, songwriter and longest-serving member of the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, died Sunday. He was 71.

The band announced the news on their official Facebook page: “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. Please keep Dale, Mary, Annie and the entire Rossington family in your prayers and respect the family’s privacy at this difficult time.”

No cause of death or details of his passing were mentioned, but Rossington had a history of heart-related problems.

Among the many hits of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band is best known for “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.” Having sold more that 28 million records in the U.S., the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

Born Jary Robert Rossington in Jacksonville, Florida, his aspiration to become a New York Yankee shifted when he was a teenager after hearing the Rolling Stones. But it was his love of baseball that, in 1964 when he was 13, brought future Lynyrd Skynyrd members Ronnie Van Zant and Bob Burns into his life when they were playing on rival teams in Jacksonville. The teen trio decided to jam one afternoon in Burns’ garage and, after liking what they heard, decided to form a band. Five years later, they settled on the band’s name – Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Rossington was a passenger in a 1977 plane crash that took the lives of bandmates Van Zant and Steve and Cassie Gaines. The guitarist broke his pelvis and both arms, legs, wrists and ankles. In the years that followed, he became addicted to pain medication that he began taking during his recovery.

In 1980, he and Allen Collins co-founded the Rossington Collins Band and released two albums, only for the band to fold two years later. He and his wife Dale Krantz-Rossington later combined their talents to form The Rossington Band and released two albums between 1986 and 1988.

In 2018, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Rossington had survived quintuple bypass surgery, with Rossington telling the paper, “I’ve had heart attacks on stage a lot.” In 2015, he suffered another heart attack and had emergency heart surgery in 2021.

Rossington was the last surviving original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, with whom he played until his death.