Jacksonville FL 1
20 Oct 1977 1
Gillsburg MS 1

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Also known as:
Ronnie Van Zant 1
Full Name:
Ronald Van zant 2
Male 1
Jacksonville FL 1
Male 1
15 Jan 1948 2
20 Oct 1977 1
Gillsburg MS 1
Cause: Plane Crash 1
Oct 1977 2
Mother: Marion Van Zant 1
Father: Lacy Van Zant 1
Social Security:
Social Security Number: ***-**-9535 2

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Ronald Wayne "Ronnie" Van Zant (January 15, 1948[1] – 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 the founder and vocalist of 38 SpecialDonnie Van Zant, and of current Lynyrd Skynyrd lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant.

He was born and raised in JacksonvilleFlorida, 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. He would say that he was going to be the most famous person to come out of Jacksonville since stock car racer 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 is a mock tribute to a gym teacher the boys had in high school, Leonard Skinner, who disapproved of male students with long hair.[2]

The band's national exposure began in 1973 with the release of their debut album, (Pronounced 'L?h-'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.[citation needed]

Lynyrd Skynyrd's biggest hit single was "Sweet Home Alabama" from the album Second Helping. "Sweet Home Alabama" was an answer song toNeil Young's "Alabama" and "Southern Man." 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

On October 20, 1977, a Convair CV-300 carrying the band between shows from Greenville, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge, Louisianacrashed outside Gillsburg, Mississippi. The passengers had been informed about problems with one of the plane's engines and told to brace for impact.[6] Van Zant died in the crash on impact, after the aircraft struck a tree. 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.[7] According to former bandmate Artimus Pyle and family members, Van Zant frequently discussed his mortality. Pyle recalls a moment when Lynyrd Skynyrd was in Japan: "Ronnie and I were in Tokyo, Japan, and Ronnie told me that he would never live to see thirty and that he would go out with his boots on, in other words, on the road. I said, 'Ronnie, don't talk like that,' but the man knew his destiny."[8] Van Zant's father, Lacy, said, "He said to me many times, 'Daddy, I'll never be 30 years old.' I said, 'Why are you talking this gunk?' and he said, 'Daddy, that's my limit.'" Van Zant's father later noted that, "God was a jealous god. Taking him for reasons I don't know."[8] Van Zant was 29 years old at the time of his death.

Van Zant married Nadine Inscoe on 2 January 1967. The couple had a daughter, Tammy (born 1967), before divorcing in 1969. He married Judy Seymour in 1972. They remained married up until his death in 1977. They had one daughter, Melody, born in 1976.

In his spare time, Van Zant enjoyed baseball, and was a fan of the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox, and loved to fish.

Van Zant had several run ins with the law, especially in 1975, when he was arrested for hurling a table out of a second-story hotel room

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 bandmate Steve Gaines' and Ronnie's 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.[9] 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. 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 capacity of several tons. It is also patrolled by security."[10]

A memorial park funded by fans and family of the band was built in honor of Van Zant. The Ronnie Van Zant Memorial Park is located on Sandridge Road in Lake AsburyFlorida, nearby his hometown of Jacksonville.


Mr. and Mrs. Lacy VanZant announce the birth of a son on Thursday, January 15. Mrs. VanZant is the former Miss Marion Hicks." (Florida Times Union -- January 23, 1948) At the time, little did anyone realize those few, sparse words would herald the arrival of a man destined to change the outlook of an entire generation of music. Today, nearly twenty years after the death of that VanZant son, his words ring on with increasing power, authority and adoration.

Born just over five pounds in Jacksonville's St Vincent's Hospital, Ronnie grew up in one of the toughest households in one of the toughest areas of Jacksonville, Florida's Westside "Shanty Town." This toughness permeated his entire being, almost from day one. Growing up on Mull Street, Ronnie was the undisputed king among the boys who would gather to play baseball or football -- games that usually degenerated into raucous free-for-alls because of a missed catch or disputed strike. These games introduced Ronnie with his first love -- baseball. He hoped that sports would rescue him from Shanty Town and recalled in 1975, "I went as far as playing American Legion ball. The next step would have been AA. I played center field. I had the highest batting average in the league one year and a good arm. You've got to have a good arm to play outfield. Gary was good too, but he gave it all up when he got to like the Rolling Stones."

Another early passion of Ronnie's was to remain with him throughout his life. Ronnie loved to fish. In the earliest days he and his friends would wander down to nearby Cedar Creek with simple poles and croaker sacks; later fishing provided him the necessary rest and relaxation he needed to escape from the mounting pressures of success with Lynyrd Skynyrd. When the band would return home to Florida after touring for weeks on end, Gary and Ronnie would head out fishing as soon as they woke the next day.

Ronnie's musical interest first centered around playing his father's guitars and piano, but found that being the frontman suited his nature best. In early 1964, Ronnie heard that a group of students he knew at Lakeshore Junior High were putting together a band and needed a singer. He went to the audition and promptly announced that he was the new singer for the band. The others knew they couldn't beat Ronnie in a fight, so Ronnie became the singer for Us.

A short time after landing his first gig, Ronnie met Gary Rossington and Bob Burns. After deciding the three of them would try and make some music and tracking down an amplifier -- reluctantly supplied by Allen Collins -- they witnessed the genesis of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Practicing anywhere and anytime their parents and neighbors would tolerate the noise, the band, first called My Backyard, then the Noble Five, gelled with the addition of bass player Larry Junstrom. One of the band's favorite places to practice was in Allen's living room while his mother worked evenings at the local Woolworth's. Allen's mother recalled that she would return home shortly after nine at night and whenever the band practiced at her house, Ronnie would be the first out the door to greet her with a kiss on the cheek.

After several years of practicing and name changes, Skynyrd, like any decent group of fledgling rock stars, started gigging the notorious one-nighters which led to management with Alan Walden and a chance to record a demo album with Jimmy Johnson in 1970. Although the demos did not attract a lot of attention from most of the record companies, the band was offered a contract with Capricorn Records. Demonstrating his own strength and determination that Skynyrd would succeed on its own terms, Ronnie vetoed the deal -- he wouldn't put his band in the shadow of the Allman Brothers. Skynyrd returned to the daily grind of one-nighters on the Southern bar circuit.

Ronnie married Judy Seymour in Waycross, Georgia on November 18, 1972. They met in 1969 when Gary introduced Ronnie to Judy at a One Percent gig at the Comic Book Club in Jacksonville. Several of the players in Lynyrd Skynyrd had now married and the time was getting close to when the band either had to make it or the members would not be able to support their growing families.

In 1973, however, things finally started coming together for Lynyrd Skynyrd. During a week-long stint at Funochio's in Atlanta, the band was discovered by the renown Al Kooper. After signing a record deal with MCA subsidiary Sounds of the South, Skynyrd entered the studio with Kooper producing. The result -- Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd -- started the band on its rise to fame with standards like 'Gimme Three Steps', 'Simple Man', and the incendiary, guitar-driven classic, 'Freebird'.

Gold and platinum albums followed a string of hit songs like 'Sweet Home Alabama', 'Saturday Night Special', 'Gimme Back My Bullets', 'What's Your Name?', and 'That Smell'. Over the four years Skynyrd recorded, the memories gradually turned into legends. Opening the Who tour. "Skynning" Europe alive. 1975's Torture Tour. Steve Gaines. One More From The Road. The Knebworth Fair '76.

Despite achieving tremendous success with Lynyrd Skynyrd, by late 1976 Ronnie began considering leaving the band. His health had suffered horribly from the rigors of nearly non-stop touring and partying and the birth of his daughter Melody in September caused him to reassess his life and his priorities. Although Gary and Allen convinced him not to leave, Ronnie did insist on toning down the "rotgut life" Skynyrd had been leading. This fresh approach, combined with the addition of Steve Gaines as Skynyrd's new third guitar player, re-inspired Ronnie and he wrote some of the best material of his career.

By October 20, 1977, Skynyrd's songs had become radio staples. Their latest album, Street Survivors, had just been released to critical and popular acclaim. Their ambitious new tour, just days underway, saw sellout crowds. Then it all fell away at 6000 feet above a Mississippi swamp.

At 6:42 PM, the pilot of Lynyrd Skynyrd's chartered Convair 240 airplane radioed that the craft was dangerously low on fuel. Less than ten minutes later, the plane crashed into a densely wooded thicket in the middle of a swamp. The crash, which killed Ronnie VanZant, guitarist Steve Gaines, vocalist Cassie Gaines, road manager Dean Kilpatrick and seriously injured the rest of the band and crew, shattered Skynyrd's fast rising star as it cut a 500 foot path through the swamp. Lynyrd Skynyrd had met a sudden, tragic end.

As Merle Haggard's 'I Take A Lot Of Pride In What I Am' played, Ronnie was laid to rest with his trademark Texas Hatters black hat and favorite fishing pole. Ronnie was memorialized with a simple, ten minute private service under cloudy skies in Orange Park, Florida surrounded by 150 close friends and family. Following a taped recording of David Allen Coe's 'Another Pretty Country Song', Charlie Daniels sang 'Amazing Grace'. Standing in front of the rose-covered brass coffin, minister David Evans, who had recently performed Gary's wedding, led the mourners with the message that Ronnie was not dead; that he lived on in heaven in spirit and on earth in song. 

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