Gary Rossington, longtime guitarist for Southern rock icons Lynyrd Skynyrd, has died at the age of 71, the band confirmed in a statement today (March 5). No cause of death 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 band wrote on social media.
"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."
Gary Rossington was a key member of Lynyrd Skynyrd – arguably, along with the Allman Brothers Band, the most popular and influential Southern rock band of all time – for their entire history.
Indeed, at the time of his death, Rossington was the band's last surviving original member.
Along with Allen Collins and first Ed King, then, later, Steve Gaines, Rossington was an integral part of the band's trademark three-guitar attack. That three-guitar-sound, coupled with frontman Ronnie Van Zant's unapologetic but nuanced lyrics about the band's rough 'n' tumble life in the South, won them a national audience that transcended genre.
Free Bird – the closing track on the band's 1973 debut album, (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd) – has become, in the 50 years since its release, one of the most iconic rock songs of all time. Though it may be most well-known for Allen Collins' smokin' extended, multi-tracked outro solo, it was Rossington's achingly melodic slide guitar work that made it a lighters-in-the-air classic.
A year after Free Bird, Rossington co-wrote the band's Southern anthem, Sweet Home Alabama, a funky, catchy response to Neil Young's Southern Man that remains – along with Free Bird – ubiquitous on classic rock radio.
Rossington survived the tragic 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of Van Zant and Gaines, and, a decade later, helped spearhead the band's reunion – with Johnny Van Zant taking his older brother Ronnie's place on vocals.
By 2018, after the death of Ed King, Rossington was the last surviving member of the band's original lineup.
“We just wanted to be a rock band,” Rossington told Guitar World in a 2015 interview. “Sure, we were from the South and we grew up on blues and country, but we really loved the blues and rock that was coming from England, and that’s what we wanted to play.”