Gary Rossington, Last Remaining Founding Member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dies

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Gary Rossington and Johnny Van Zant following Lynyrd Skynyrd’s performance of “Free Bird” on Oct. 23, 2021

Gary Rossington, the last remaining founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, has died at 71. The band announced his death on their Facebook page today (March 5, 2023) at 7:35 p.m. ET. Though they didn’t reveal the cause of death, the guitarist had a long history of heart issues that had caused him to take extended leave of absences from the Southern rock band. Rossington had triumphantly returned to the stage on October 23, 2021, in Atlanta, Ga., four months after he had undergone emergency heart surgery.

In their brief March 5 statement, the band wrote, “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. 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼” Following the news, the guitarist was being mourned by many fellow classic rock stars, one of whom called him “the last of the breed.”

When Rossington returned to action in 2021, the band shared the news with their fans via a post on their Facebook page on Oct. 24. “It was a wonderful surprise to have Gary back on the stage in Atlanta,” it said. “Keep feeling better, bossman!”

The news of Rossington’s surgery came on July 23. The guitarist, born Dec. 4, 1951, had a history of heart issues and also underwent heart surgery as recently as 2019.

Despite Rossington’s health issues, the group continued their 2021 tour which was originally planned as a farewell. The tour resumed on Aug. 22 and continued for another dozen shows before Rossington return on Oct. 23. “We all felt playing the shows and bringing the music to y’all was a better option than cancelling the performances,” the band wrote.

They typically perform a set that’s chock-full of some of classic rock’s best known anthems: “What’s Your Name,” “Simple Man,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “You Got That Right,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and their signature song, “Free Bird.”

Watch the band, with Rossington, perform “Free Bird” at Cellairis Amphitheatre in Atlanta, upon his return on Oct. 23, 2021

The band’s complete statement from Oct. 2021: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Gary Rossington as he recovers from emergency heart surgery. Gary is home resting and recovering with his family at home. He wants everyone to know he is doing good and expects a full recovery.

“After this past year, the country being shut down and everything we have all been thru, The Rossington’s encouraged the band to go perform in his absence. Music is a powerful healer! We all felt playing the shows and bringing the music to y’all was a better option than cancelling the performances.

“We wish Gary a speedy recovery and we will see the Skynyrd Nation very soon!

“Please do us a favor and say some prayers for the Rossington family and if you would like to leave him a (positive) message please do! He will look forward to reading them!”

Veteran guitarist Damon Johnson filled in for Rossington during his absence.

Watch Rossington (c), Johnny Van Zant (r) and Rickey Medlocke talk about returning to the road after the pandemic

Related: Skynyrd’s long farewell from the road

In 2019, Skynyrd revealed that Rossington had been experiencing fatigue and other symptoms related to a leaky heart valve. He underwent a procedure that summer to repair the valve.

On October 8, 2015, Rossington, then 63, suffered a heart attack. Unfortunately, heart problems are nothing new for the guitar hero, who underwent a quintuple bypass in 2003. Never one to be kept down for long, he returned to touring just seven weeks post-surgery.

He was part of every line-up of Skynyrd dating back to its origins as My Backyard in 1964.

Rossington again stepped back from the stage in 2022 due to poor health. Though it was anticipated that he would return for some concerts in 2023, he never did. “There’s a saying the music business,” he once said. “You don’t retire from it. It retires you.”

Related: Musicians we’ve lost in 2023

Best Classic Bands Staff

16 Comments so far

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  1. Michael Scott
    #1 Michael Scott 25 July, 2021, 00:27

    Growing up in the 60’s & 70’s, I grew up with all the great bands. Skynyrd certainly being one of them. It’s hard seeing all your music idols leaving their respective bands for any reason. It’s not going to be long now when all the favorites have left. Hopefully the music, the legends will play on and bring what has to be the best music in the history of music to the new masses. There will never another “music explosion” like we had in the 60’s and 70’s. Get well Gary…!

    Reply this comment
  2. Yvette
    #2 Yvette 25 July, 2021, 01:10

    ENJOYED “Lynyrd Skynyrd” Concert with Paul Rodgers and “Bad Company” on June 23, 2013 at Shoreline Mtn View…
    Sincere Wishes to Gary Rossington for a
    **Very Speedy Recovery**…

    Reply this comment
  3. lyndon DYER
    #3 lyndon DYER 27 October, 2021, 05:03

    good luck gary, stay with us, the music world needs you, good luck with your health, worlds a better place with skynyrd music in it, thanks for all the memories.

    Reply this comment
  4. Geo
    #4 Geo 27 October, 2021, 17:21

    Can’t wait to see you guys again! Hopefully local small spots!

    Reply this comment
  5. Nick
    #5 Nick 27 October, 2021, 20:45

    Saw the original band in Pittsburgh pa… Blew me away. They were popping all their strings when they went off on freebird.. gary can play any style. Saw them a lot in Florida. Wish they would play other songs like I ain’t the one and working for mca. Keep rocking Gary and stay well my friend.

    Reply this comment
  6. Dog
    #6 Dog 27 October, 2021, 23:31

    Gary and the band, I was one of the stage hands at Newkirk Oklahoma in 2010 under the circus , one of the 3 spotlights, my job was on you. Brother I can relate to your medical issues, I have a few too, but we will get though. Keep Flyin Freebies

    Reply this comment
    • Snowman
      Snowman 6 March, 2023, 04:50

      I remember seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd last July at the Ocean in Atlantic City Gary only played the last 2 songs Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird. Rest in Peace and Thank-You

      Reply this comment
  7. BUCKY
    #7 BUCKY 28 October, 2021, 02:39

    Sure miss ya’all. Been with skynyrd from the beginning. Best of health to the band and Gary

    Reply this comment
  8. GuitarHero
    #8 GuitarHero 28 October, 2021, 12:17

    Great to know you’re back, Gary.
    I will keep you and your family which includes your Band Brothers in my prayers. Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of my all time favorite Bands. Being from Louisiana And raised in the country yalls songs have been a part of my life. Rock On Brother !!!!

    Reply this comment
  9. John F
    #9 John F 28 October, 2021, 12:31

    Glad to see all is well. Still enjoying all Skynyrd music. Been awhile since 202 Riverside Ave. Peace

    Reply this comment
  10. Country
    #10 Country 28 October, 2021, 14:50

    Glad You are back and doing well Gary God Bless You Johnny and Rickey, Love You Guys

    Reply this comment
  11. Diamond Darrell fan
    #11 Diamond Darrell fan 28 October, 2021, 19:45

    Can’t listen to anyone sing it but Ronnie can’t do it

    Reply this comment
  12. Baybluesman
    #12 Baybluesman 6 March, 2023, 00:29

    To borrow a quote from the most recent Indiana Jones film (Crystal Skull):

    “We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things, and starts taking them away”.

    How sadly true; We have lost so many great Rock and Blues-Rock musicians, and unfortunately the surviving greats are close behind.

    Hopefully, the few young exceptions like Derek Trucks, Davey Knowles, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, etc. will continue to keep the music and spirit alive.

    Reply this comment
  13. JOANN
    #13 JOANN 6 March, 2023, 05:08

    I went to a lot of Lynard Skyward Concerts in Lakeland,Fla. In the 70’s. I was at one of the last Concerts before the dreadful plane crash happened. I was so upset. My favorite band, it cut deep, I saved this news paper of the event. Then I went to California and years later I went to the Greek Theatre here in LA. I sat outside and was sitting next to the bands Tour Manager. Not knowing this. He found out I had saved this Paper. And that I didn’t have the money for my ticket. That’s why I was outside. So he takes me to my surprise inside. I couldn’t believe it. I wound up on their tour bus. They gave me a bucket of Fried chicken, Two Lynard Skynard Tee Shirts, and the new crew took in the News Paper story. I have always loved this band. I am a southern girl. The original Band with Gary Rossington was great, they had southern charm, and knew how to Rock. Loyal to the last. Loved your music Gary. I saw you at your best. Joan Bryant- Hollywood

    Reply this comment
    • Jmack
      Jmack 6 March, 2023, 10:33

      That’s a great memory Joanne, I also was a huge, southern rock fan back in the day but unfortunately I saw everybody except them. Ironically, I was all set to go to their show Thanksgiving 77 in New York City. I was in high school at the time and then as you said, the dreadful crash happened that October well we still have the music and great music it was. …

      Reply this comment
  14. BIGBADWOLF
    #14 BIGBADWOLF 30 March, 2023, 16:07

    We grew up with your music .. we even played “Simple man ” in our ROMANIAN
    Compact tours in the year of 77. ALL THINGS HAVE TO PASS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE MUSIC !!
    IT LASTS FOREVER.

    Reply this comment

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