Was Gary Rossington sick? His numerous heart issues

Gary Rossington

Gary Rossington, the last surviving founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, died on 5th March 2023. Rossington founded the band alongside drummer Bob Burns, bassist Larry Junstrom, and singer Ronnie Van Zant. Their eponymous debut album featured one of rock’s most famous songs, the nine-minute track Free Bird. Lynyrd Skynyrd released the following statement:

“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 heaving and playing it pretty, like he always does.”

Rossington struggled with addiction and suffered from numerous heart problems

Rossington cheated death on several occasions: In 1976, he drove his vehicle into a tree; a year later, he survived the plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, vocalist Cassie Gaines, and guitarist Steve Gaines. 

The plane carrying the band crash-landed after running out of fuel. Rossington passed out on impact and woke up under the plane’s door. He suffered broken arms, legs, wrists, pelvis, and a punctured liver and stomach. 

Rossington became addicted to the pain medication he used during his recovery. After losing several key members, Skynyrd disbanded. “We couldn’t imagine going on after something like that,” Rossington said. “We were a brotherhood and when you lose your brothers you can’t just go on.” Skynyrd reunited in 1987. 

In 2003, Rossington underwent quadruple bypass surgery; in 2015, surgeons implanted a pacemaker in Rossington’s chest to control his heartbeat after he suffered an acute heart attack; in 2019, surgeons repaired a valve in Rossington’s heart. 

“He [Rossington] has a bad heart, and we wanted to let people know that ‘Hey, our time is coming to an end,’” bandmate Johnny Van Zant talked to USA Today about a tour perceived to be Skynyrd’s last. Johnny didn’t rule out Rossington’s potential stage return. 

Following Skynyrd’s return to the stage in 2021, Rossington underwent emergency heart surgery. The band released the following statement:

“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. He wants everyone to know he is doing good and expects a full recovery.”

Rossington kept performing despite his numerous health struggles. However, he would only complete part of the Skynyrd performance. Rossington told Billboard in 2016 that he ignored advice to retire: 

“I’m just an old guitar player, and we’ve spent our whole lives and the 10,000 hours of working to understand how to play and do it. So I think once you’ve got something going for yourself, you should keep it up and keep your craft going. When you retire, what’s next? I like to fish, but how much of that can you do, right?”