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Lynyrd Skynyrd’s final founding member, Gary Rossington, passed away at age 71.

Three band members were murdered in a plane crash in October 1977, but Gary Rossington survived and went on to become a legendary figure in rock music.

The guitarist and founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd appeared unbreakable despite decades of drug and alcohol abuse and a string of heart-related illnesses.

The sole surviving founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rossington, passed away on Sunday. He was 71.

On their verified Facebook page, the band published a statement confirming Rossington’s passing. The statement read, “It is with great regret that we announce the passing of our brother, friend, family member, songwriter, and guitarist, Gary Rossington, today. Gary is currently in heaven with his Skynyrd brothers and family and acting kind, as he usually does.

No specific cause of death was revealed.

The statement added, “Please respect the privacy of the Rossington family during this terrible time and remember Dale, Mary, Annie, and the entire Rossington family in your thoughts.

Rossington, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, spent time in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as well as the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta for more than 25 years.

The guitarist had long-term heart issues. He underwent quintuple bypass surgery in 2003, suffered a serious heart attack in 2015, had a pacemaker implanted, had a heart valve replaced in 2019, and, most recently, underwent emergency heart surgery in June 2021, which prevented him from participating in the band’s “Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour.”

The name of the tour was a reference to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s tragic 1977 “Street Survivors Tour” (which was renamed “Tour of the Survivors” after the fatal plane crash) as well as a recognition that the band’s time on the road was probably coming to an end.

With singer Ronnie Van Zant, who perished in a plane crash after performing in Greenville, South Carolina, guitarist Allen Collins, bassist Larry Junstrom, and drummer Bob Burns, Rossington created what would grow into a Southern rock titan.

Lynyrd Skynyrd was founded in 1969 with a lineup that included guitarist Ed King, bassist Leon Wilkeson, and keyboardist Billy Powell, even though they went by other names for about five years (who left in 1975 and was replaced by Steve Gaines in 1976; Gaines and his sister Cassie died in the plane crash). In 1974, drummer Burns quit the group, and Artimus Pyle took his place.

Rossington made several contributions to Lynyrd Skynyrd, but his slide guitar work on the classic song “Free Bird” highlights how crucial he was to the group’s style. In addition to co-writing “Sweet Home Alabama” and “What’s Your Name,” the musician also contributed to their composition. Ronnie Van Zant was partially inspired by the musician to write “That Smell,” a song about the band’s irresponsible actions, including Rossington crashing his car into a tree in Jacksonville after a night of heavy drug and alcohol use.

Van Zant remarked, “We’ve had the tunes for a while, but we haven’t been able to get in and actually finish recording. “We had to postpone since Gary’s health took a turn for the worst, but we’ll get it eventually.”

Because of his leadership, Rossington was frequently seen as Skynyrd’s bulwark. Rossington spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2014 about his goal to keep up the band’s representation.

“I give God praise day and night for allowing me to continue playing and promoting Skynyrd and our name. Simply being able to discuss Ronnie and Allen (Collins, who passed away in 1990) and perform some of their music for the crowd, said Rossington. “We had dreamed of joining a big band and succeeding, but for some of us, that goal was abruptly dashed. (Those who perished in the plane disaster) were unable to see the growth of Skynyrd or the anthem’s ‘Free Bird’. I therefore get to share their story.

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