James Hetfield (METALLICA, John 5 (MÖTLEY CRÜE, ROB ZOMBIE, MARILYN MANSON),Frank Hannon (TESLA),David Ellefson (MEGADETH),Zakk Wylde (BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, PANTERA, OZZY OSBOURNE) and Doug Aldrich (WHITSNAKE, DIO, THE DEAD DAISIES) are among the musicians who have reacted on social media to the passing of guitarist Gary Rossington, the last surviving founding member of LYNYRD SKYNYRD. Gary was 71.
Rossington's passing was announced by LYNYRD SKYNYRD on the band's official Facebook page Sunday evening (March 5). No cause of death was given. The guitarist had battled a number of heart problems, including an emergency heart surgery in 2021. Six years earlier, he suffered a heart attack, prompting several of the band's concerts to be canceled. He also underwent quintuple bypass surgery back in 2003 due to coronary artery disease. In 2019, he had an operation to fix a leaky heart valve.
Five years ago, Rossington told the Tampa Bay Times his doctors had urged him for years to quit touring. "I've had heart attacks on stage," he said. "That's why I was calling it a farewell tour. I don't know if I'll be here [much longer]. I don't want to just say, 'Well, we're never going to end,' because I don't want to die and then it end that way — which is a heavy thing to talk about, but I have to."
Rossington survived the 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines. The band reunited with Ronnie's brother Johnny Van Zant as singer in 1987 and has been on the road ever since.
Rossington was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2006, along with other members of LYNYRD SKYNYRD, and contributed to many of the group's most iconic songs, including "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird".
Last December, Rossington told Rolling Stone magazine about LYNYRD SKYNYRD's enduring relevance: "It's a tribute band right now, and everybody knows it's not the original. Everybody who comes to see us is told that during the show, and probably knows before they even get there. But people still come to hear it live."
Rossington, whose health woes had forced him to miss many of LYNYRD SKYNYRD's recent shows, with Damon Johnson filling in for him, admitted he went through "a lot of different emotions" watching LYNYRD SKYNYRD from the side of the stage. "The notes are the same, and the songs are the same. It sounds good to me. It sounds like our band," he explained. "I look out and don't see the original band — it's strange. And then I look out and see a replacement for me, which is strange. Just hearing the songs without me playing on 'em live is very strange."
Despite “101 strange things happening," Rossington said that he was happy to know that LYNYRD SKYNYRD's music is still connecting with people. "To see the younger people enjoying it makes your heart warm."
Rossington went on to say that his former bandmates would be equally satisfied with LYNYRD SKYNYRD's continued presence on the touring circuit. "Me, Allen [Collins] and Ronnie [Van Zant] started this band with a dream of making it big, and that dream came true," he said. "They'd love it if their music was still being played when they're gone."