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Gary Rossington, founding Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist, dies at 71

A man with long hair wearing a black fedora and playing the electric guitar on a stage
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd performs at a 2017 concert in New Jersey.
(Owen Sweeney / Invision / Associated Press)
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Gary Rossington, slide guitarist and last surviving founding member of the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, has died. He was 71.

The band confirmed Rossington’s death Sunday in a statement posted on its official Facebook page. No cause 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 statement read.

“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.”

Bob Burns, the Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer whose backbeats laid the foundation for Southern rock, died Friday.

April 6, 2015

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In 1966, Rossington founded Lynyrd Skynyrd alongside singer Ronnie Van Zant, bassist Larry Junstrom, drummer Bob Burns and fellow guitarist Allen Collins in Jacksonville, Fla. The group rose to prominence after releasing its debut studio album, ”(Pronounced ‘Lĕh-’nérd ‘Skin-’nérd),” in 1973. Among the band’s greatest hits are “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Simple Man,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Free Bird.”

Four years after the release of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first album, Rossington survived a plane crash that killed Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines. Rossington emerged from the wreck with two broken arms, a broken leg and a punctured stomach and liver. Though the remaining members of Lynyrd Skynyrd disbanded after the crash, the group eventually returned with Rossington on guitar and Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny singing lead.

“So many promoters and record people at MCA (Skynyrd’s longtime label) and other people for years have wanted us to get back together,” Rossington told the Los Angeles Times in 1987.

“So in October, we were just going to do a one-show thing but it turned into a tribute tour because, 10 years later, the music’s still being played on the radio and it’s still requested and it’s still selling real good. So we’re just kind of doing this as a tribute to the fans and the band and the music.”

Don’t use the words anniversary and reunion around Lynyrd Skynyrd founder Gary Rossington.

Sept. 26, 1987

Rossington continued to play for the band on and off until July 2021, when he stepped away to recover from a medical procedure. Throughout his life, the instrumentalist experienced various health issues, having quintuple heart bypass surgery in 2003 and a heart attack in 2015. He underwent numerous operations after the heart attack.

In 2018, Lynyrd Skynyrd embarked on a farewell tour of the United States featuring Rossington, who said in a statement at the time that it was “hard to imagine, after all these years, the band that Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins and myself started back in Jacksonville, would resonate for this long and to so many generations of fans.”

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“I’m certain they are looking down from above, amazed that the music has touched so many.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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