Biographies - Ronnie Van Zant
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|Ronnie Van Zant |
|Born: January 15, 1948|
|Died: October 20, 1977|
lead vocalist, primary lyricist, and a founding member of the Southern Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd.
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 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); this profession seemed fit, as Ronnie had the reputation for being a "tough" person. Ronnie also tossed around the idea of becoming a stock-car racer. In fact, Ronnie used to say that he was going to be the most famous person to come out of Jacksonville since Lee Roy Yarbrough. However, after seeing The Rolling Stones with his future bandmates, Ronnie knew what he wanted to do.
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 Skynyrds name was inspired by a gym teacher the boys had in high school, Leonard Skinner, who disapproved of kids with long hair.
The bands national exposure began in 1973 with the release of their debut album, (pronounced lĕh-
érd), which has a string of hits and fan favorites including: "I Ain The One", "Tuesdays Gone", "Gimme Three Steps", "Simple Man" and their signature song, "Freebird", which he dedicated to the late Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers Band.
Lynyrd Skynyrds biggest hit single, although "Freebird" was a close second, was "Sweet Home Alabama" which came off the album Second Helping. "Sweet Home Alabama" was an answer song to Neil Youngs "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. Youngs 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 Youngs Tonights the Night.
On October 20, 1977, a plane carrying the band between shows from Greenville, South Carolina to Baton Rouge, Louisiana crashed outside of Gillsburg, Mississippi. The impact of the crash tossed Van Zant out of the planes window, killing him. Van Zant, reportedly, was not wearing a seatbelt, as it is said that he preferred to sit on the floor of planes rather than proper seats. 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 often told those closest to him he would never live to see 30 and he wanted to die with his boots on. He died three months short of his 30th birthday.
Van Zants 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 band-mate Steve Gaines tombs on June 29, 2000. Van Zants 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 (1915-2004) and mother Marion (1929-2000). Both his current resting place and the empty mausoleum in Orange Park are listed. The following statement was made on the Find-a-Grave entry of his current resting place in Jacksonville: "Due to the June 29th, 2000 vandalization of his original grave site, his casket was moved to this new location and buried in a massive underground concrete burial vault. To open the vault would require a Tractor with a lift capability of several tons. It is also patrolled by security."
Van Zant was married twice. His first marriage was to Nadine Inscoe and during this marriage Ronnies first daughter Tammy Van Zant was born. During his second marriage to Judy, Melody Van Zant (his second daughter) was born.