Gary Rossington, Lynyrd Skynyrd Founding Member, Dead at 71

The guitarist was the band's longest tenured original member

Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, photo by photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

    Gary Rossington, guitarist and longest-tenured original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, has died at the age of 71.

    “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 announced on Sunday (March 5th). “Gary is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and playing it pretty, like he always does.”

    Rossington formed Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1964 with childhood friends Ronnie Van Zant (singer-songwriter), Allen Collins (guitar), Larry Junstrom (bass), and Bob Burns (drums). The band spent a number of years touring small venues under various names and with several lineup changes before being discovered by Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat & Tears. Lynyrd Skynyrd released their debut in 1973 with a lineup featuring Rossington, Van Zant, Collins, and Burns, along with guitarist Ed King and keyboardist Billy Powell. Burns left in 1974 and was replaced by Artimus Pyle, and King departed in 1975 and was replaced by Steve Gaines.


    Rossington’s guitar work was a key component of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s sound, with his melodic and bluesy playing adding depth and complexity to the band’s songs. Notably, he played slide guitar on the band’s signature song, “Free Bird,” and was the lead guitarist on “Simple Man,” which he also co-wrote with Van Zant. He also had songwriting credits on “Sweet Home Alabama” and “What’s Your Name.”

    In 1976, Rossington and Collins were both involved in near fatal car accidents during the same evening, inspiring Van Zant to write song “That Smell” about the band member’s overuse of overuse of drugs and alcohol.

    The following year, Van Zant, Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines, and three others were killed in a plane crash. Rossington was among the survivors, but he suffered serious injuries, breaking his arms, legs, wrists, and ankles, as well as his pelvis. The crash marked the end of Lynyrd Skynyrd.


    Rossington continued to play music after the crash, forming The Rossington Collins Band with pre-crash Sykynrd members Collins, Powell, and Leon Wilkeson, along with female vocalist Dale Krantz. After a falling out with Collins over their competing romantic interest for Krantz, Rossington formed The Rossington Band.

    In 1987, Rossington reunited with Powell, Wilkeson, Pyle, and King for a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute tour. Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother, Johnny, took over as the new lead singer and primary songwriter, while Collins (who was paralyzed in a 1986 car crash) served as musical director.

    Lynyrd Skynyrd remained an active band over the next three decades, regularly touring and releasing music. Rossington remained a constant presence in the lineup, and with the deaths of Collins in 1990, Powell in 2009, and Burns in 2015, he was the last surviving original member of the band. Lynyrd Skynyrd announced a farewell tour in 2018, but continued to perform live as recently as early 2023.


    Alongside Van Zant, Collins, King, Gaines, Powell, Wilkeson, Burns, and Pyle, Rossington was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd in 2006.