Jacksonville, Florida, USA
Place of Death
Gillsburg, Mississippi, USA
Cause of Death
Claim to Fame
Profile Bio Text
Ronald Wayne "Ronnie" Van Zant (January 15, 1948 – October 20, 1977) was the lead vocalist, primary lyricist, and a founding member of the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. He was the older brother of .38 Special founder and vocalist Donnie Van Zant and current Lynyrd Skynyrd lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant. Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, to Lacy (1915-2004) and Marion (1929-2000) Van Zant. Van Zant aspired to be many things before finding his love for music. Notably, Ronnie was interested in becoming a boxer (as Muhammad Ali was one of his idols) and in playing professional baseball. Ronnie also tossed around the idea of becoming a stock-car racer. In fact, he would say that he was going to be the most famous person to come out of Jacksonville since Lee Roy Yarbrough. Van Zant formed Skynyrd late in the summer of 1964 with friends and schoolmates Allen Collins (guitar), Gary Rossington (guitar), Larry Junstrom (bass), and Bob Burns (drums). Lynyrd Skynyrd`s name was created in spite of a gym teacher the boys had in high school, Leonard Skinner, who disapproved of male students with long hair. The band`s national exposure began in 1973 with the release of their debut album, (pronounced `lĕh-`nérd `skin-`nérd), which has a string of hits and fan favorites including: "I Ain`t the One", "Tuesday`s Gone", "Gimme Three Steps", "Simple Man" and their signature song, "Free Bird", which he later dedicated to the late Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers Band.
Lynyrd Skynyrd`s biggest hit single, although "Free Bird" was a close second, was "Sweet Home Alabama" which came off the album Second Helping. "Sweet Home Alabama" was an answer song to Neil Young`s "Alabama" and "Southern Man". The common belief that Van Zant and Young were rivals is incorrect; they were actually fans of each other and considered collaborating on several occasions. Young`s song "Powderfinger" on the 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps was reportedly written for Skynyrd, and Van Zant is pictured on the cover of Street Survivors wearing a T-shirt of Young`s Tonight`s the Night. In 1972 the band was discovered by musician, songwriter, and producer Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat, and Tears, who had attended one of their shows at a club in Atlanta. They changed the spelling of their name to "Lynyrd Skynyrd", (pronounced `lĕh-`nérd `skin-`nérd) and Kooper signed them to MCA Records, producing their first album the following year. 1973`s pronounced featured the anthem "Free Bird" which received national airplay and reached #19 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Lynyrd Skynyrd`s fan base continued to grow rapidly throughout 1973, largely due to their opening slot on The Who`s Quadrophenia tour in the United States. Their 1974 follow-up, Second Helping, was the band`s breakthrough hit, and featured their most popular single, "Sweet Home Alabama" (#8 on the charts in August 1974), a tongue in cheek response to Neil Young`s "Alabama" and "Southern Man." (Young and Van Zant were not rivals, but fans of each other`s music and good friends; Young even wrote the song "Powderfinger" for the band, but they never recorded it). The album reached #12 in 1974, eventually going multi-platinum. In July of that year, Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the headline acts at The Ozark Music Festival at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, Missouri.
On October 20, 1977, a Convair 240 carrying the band between shows from Greenville, South Carolina to Baton Rouge, Louisiana crashed outside of Gillsburg, Mississippi. The passengers had been informed about problems and told to brace for impact. Van Zant died in the crash. Bandmates Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray were also killed. Remaining band members survived, although all were seriously injured. Van Zant`s younger brother, Johnny, took over as the new lead singer when the band reunited in 1987. Van Zant was buried in Orange Park, Florida in 1977, but was relocated after vandals broke into his and bandmate Steve Gaines` tombs on June 29, 2000. Van Zant`s casket was pulled out and dropped on the ground. The bag containing Gaines` ashes was torn open and some scattered onto the grass. Their mausoleums at Orange Park remain as memorials for fans to visit. According to the cemetery listing website Find-a-Grave, Van Zant was reburied at Riverside Memorial Park in Jacksonville, near the grave of his father Lacy and mother Marion.
Full Name at Birth
Ronald Wayne Van Zant
Ronald Wayne "Ronnie" Van Zant (January 15, 1948 – October 20, 1977) was an American lead vocalist, primary lyricist, and a founding member of the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. He was the older brother of current Lynyrd Skynyrd lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant, and of the founder and vocalist of 38 Special, Donnie Van Zant. He is the father of singer Tammy Van Zant, and cousin of musician Jimmie Van Zant.
Has Detailed Data (New)
Has Detailed Data (76)
Music Profile Complete
Marion Van Zant (1929–2000)
Lacy Van Zant (1915–2004)
Johnny Van Zant, Donnie Van Zant
Music Genre (Text)
Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Drums
Robert E. Lee High School, Jacksonville
guitar, piano, drums
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