Billy Powell, the longtime keyboardist for iconic Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, died at his home in Orange Park, FL, on January 28. He was 56.
According to published reports, paramedics reported to Powell’s home after receiving an emergency call that he was having trouble breathing. The musician, who contributed to hits such as “Freebird” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” was pronounced dead shortly before 2 a.m.
Powell was raised in Texas where he learned to play piano at an early age. He joined Lynyrd Skynyrd shortly before the release of the band’s 1973 debut “(pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd),” and enjoyed the band’s rapid rise to fame in the mid- to late ’70s.
The musician was one of a few band members to survive the tragic 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines, as well as three others. Powell continued performing after the accident, rejoining Lynyrd Skynyrd for the band’s 1987 reunion and staying in the band for the rest of his life.
Lynyrd Skynyrd was scheduled to perform on January 30 at Coushatta Casino Resort in kinder, LA, and on Janaury 31 at Beau Rivage in Biloxi, MS. Both performances have been cancelled. No changes have been announced yet for the band’s spring European tour.
In a brief statement on the band’s Web site, the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote, “The family and band request your respect and understanding during this difficult time.”