Leon Wilkeson

Lynyrd Skynyrd bassist Leon Wilkeson was discovered dead Friday July 27 in a hotel near Jacksonville, Fla., where he was taking a break from the band’s summer touring schedule. He was 49 and had apparently died in his sleep. Cause of death was under investigation.

Wilkenson was an original member of the band, which formed in Jacksonville in the late 1960s.

With hits such as “Free Bird,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “That Smell,” and “Call Me the Breeze,” the band became a staple in American rock arenas.

Just prior to the release of the band’s fifth record, “Street Survivors,” the band’s chartered plane crashed Oct. 20, 1977, resulting in the deaths of lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and background singer Cassie Gaines.

Reuniting in 1987 with Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie’s younger brother, fronting the band, Lynyrd Skynyrd then suffered another tragedy as founding member Allen Collins (who, in 1986, had been paralyzed in a car wreck) died from complications while battling pneumonia.

The band still performs sold-out concerts, and its song “Lyve From Steeltown” was recently certified gold.

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