Lynyrd Skynyrd founding guitarist Gary Rossington dead at 71

Gary Rossington onstage in 1977
(Image credit: Ed Perlstein)

The last-surviving founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, guitarist Gary Rossington, has died at the age of 71. The news was confirmed in a statement from the band on Facebook.

The statement read: "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."

Born in Jacksonville, Florida, in late 1951, Rossington co-founded Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1964 alongside Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns, Allen Collins, and Larry Junstrom. The band were originally named My Backyard, but became Lynyrd Skynyrd in the early 1970s, before going on to release a string of classic albums from (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd) in 1973 to Street Survivors in 1977.  

Just three days after the release of Street Survivors, Rossington survived the tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of band members Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines, plus backing singing Cassie Gaines and three others.

"Ronnie was asleep." Rossington told Classic Rock in 2020. "Dean, our road manager, woke him up cos the pilot said: ‘Put on your seat belt, put your head between your legs…’, all the technical stuff. He had to get up from sleeping to do all that and he was mad, grumpy: ‘Oh man, I hope this ain’t bullshit.’ Cos he didn’t know what was happening or what was gonna happen.” 

"Everybody was freaking out. Ronnie said: ‘If it’s our time, you can kiss my ass goodbye.’ He just said that.”"

Rossington formed the Rossington Collins Band – with fellow Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins – in 1979, but he returned to Lynyrd Skynyrd when they reformed in 1987 for a reunion tour, with Ronnie's brother Johnny Van Zant as frontman.

“If Johnny hadn’t done it, it wouldn’t have happened," Rossington told us. "There’s no one else who could sing those songs." 

More recently Rossington has missed a number of shows due to ill heath. He had a heart attack in 2015 and underwent heart surgery in 2021, but in October that year he returned to the stage once more, as part of the band's ongoing farewell tour. 

"I’m in my mid-sixties, and my health isn’t that great any more," he told us in 2017. "I’ve got a bad heart and I get pains in my legs. I have a lot of bones that were broken, and they ache a lot. I’ve got arthritis, too."

Following the deaths of guitarist Allen Collins in 1990, drummer Bob Burns in 2015 and bassist Larry Junstrom in 2019, Rossington was the last surviving member of the band's original lineup.

"This is all I’ve ever known and wanted to do since I was thirteen years old – play guitar and be in a band and all that,” he told us. “I’m just some dumb guitar player who quit school to make it in a band. We all did."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.