Gary Rossington, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Last Of The Street Survivors,’ Dies At 71

Gary Rossington of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd performs on Day 1 of the 2015 Big Barrel Country Music Festival at The Woodlands on Friday, June 26, 2015, in Dover, Del. Rossington, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s last surviving original member who also helped to found the group, died Sunday, March 5, 2023, at the age of 71. (Photo by Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP, File)

Gary Rossington, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s last surviving original member and co-founder, died March 5 at the age of 71. No cause of death was given.

“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,” the band wrote on Facebook. “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, who survived the devastating 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalits Cassie Gaines, was known to have serious heart problems. Prior to the plane crash, in 1976, he survived a vehicle accident in 1976 in which he into a tree, inspiring the band’s cautionary song “That Smell.”

In later years, Rossington 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.

Rossington was born Dec. 4, 1951, in Jacksonville, Florida, 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.

See Also:The Last Rebel Looks Back: Founding Skynyrd Member Gary Rossington Recalls Band’s Legacy

The deep affinity music fans harbor toward Lynyrd Skynyrd some 50 years after the band exploded from the wrong side of the tracks in Jacksonville, Fla., stems mostly from a treasure trove of sturdy, relatable songs that were written, relentlessly rehearsed, and expertly delivered on the concert stage.

Though many contributed, beloved songs like “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Simple Man,” “Gimme Three Steps,” and, of course, “Free Bird,” were primarily constructed by founding guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, and lyricist Ronnie Van Zant. 

Forging an identity through such incarnations as My Backyard, The Noble Five, and The One Percent before settling on Lynyrd Skynyrd (a bastardization of their high school P.E. coach’s name) around 1970, Rossington, Collins, Van Zant, bassist Leon Wilkeson, keyboardist Billy Powell, and drummer Bob Burns dreamt of a life beyond the rough streets of Jacksonville, one of many raw bands fighting for attention.

“We grew up wanting to be musicians from the Grand Ole Opry, then when the Beatles came out and all that, we wanted to have a band, like millions of other garage bands in the country did,” Rossington told Pollstar in 2018. “When we started writing songs a few years into it, when we learned how to play finally, we got serious about it. We just wanted to have our own style, and tell a story that made sense to people.”

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.

See Also: One More From The Road: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Final Farewell

Lynyrd Skynyrd embarked on what was billed as “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour” in 2018, but the band continued playing for its passionate fans. At the time, WME’s Greg Oswald, the band’s agent, told Pollstar, “The original theory was to play the band’s and the fans’ favorite venues one last time. That’s what makes the whole idea of a farewell a legitimate thing … We don’t know what’s next for them. We do know that they want to make that pass through all those venues that are their favorites one last time.”

That tour was extended in 2019, and was interrupted in July when Rossington underwent a heart procedure. After a recovery period, Lynyrd Skynyrd announced yet another round of tour dates that took the band through 2020 when only the COVID pandemic could shut it down.

See Also: Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top Join Forces To Co-Headline ‘The Sharp Dressed Simple Man Tour’

But the pandemic shutdown proved to be only a temporary setback for Lynyrd Skynyrd, which announced the “Big Wheels Keep On Turnin’ Tour” last year.

Since the launch of the “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour,” Lynyrd Skynyrd has played in front of 824,202 paying fans and grossed $47,488,998 to date as reported to Pollstar Boxoffice.

In December, the band announced a co-headlining 2023 tour with ZZ Top, “The Sharp Dressed Simple Man Tour,” launching Friday July 21, 2023 at iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, Florida, and running through Sept. 17 at Freedom Mortgage Pavilion in Camden, New Jersey.

Doug Gray, founding member and lead singer of the Marshall Tucker Band — not only a contemporary of Rossington’s but whose band is among the most closely linked to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Southern Rock heritage — said, This was expected but still hard to believe. Great sadness has come upon me. He was a gentleman that held it all together. Much love to his wife, Dale, who has been by his side through the good and the bad. May we all have a moment of prayer for Gary, Dale and the entire Lynyrd Skynyrd family. My heart is completely broken. He was King of the Hop. Marvelous players are waiting on him in heaven. May we all Ride in Peace.”