Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboardist Billy Powell died January 28, 2009 at his home in Orange Park, Fla. He was 56.
According to the Associated Press, Powell called 911 around 12:55 a.m., saying he was having trouble breathing. Rescue crews arrived at the home, but Powell was pronounced dead just before 2 a.m.
Orange Park Police Lt. Mark Cornett told the AP that Powell had missed an appointment yesterday for a cardiac evaluation.
Powell, whose fluid piano runs spiced such classic Skynyrd songs as “Freebird,” “Call Me the Breeze” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” and founding guitarist Gary Rossington were the only two original members of the Southern rock band to survive the 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup vocalist Cassie Gaines.
Since then, guitarist Allen Collins and bassist Leon Wilkeson have also died; former drummer Artimus Pyle survived the crash but no longer tours with the band, which re-formed in 1987 and still is a powerful concert draw.
Skynyrd lore has it that Powell, a former roadie for the band in its earliest incarnations, was asked to join by Van Zant when the latter heard Powell’s keyboard take on “Freebird.”
According to the band’s publicist, as-yet-unspecified shows will be canceled as a result of Powell’s death. Skynyrd was slated to perform January 30, 2009 in Kinder, La., and the following day in Biloxi, Miss. A European tour was set to begin May 20, 2009 in Finland.
William Norris “Billy” Powell
June 3, 1952 – January 28, 2009