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Gary Rossington was a founding member of the Southern rock group best known for the 1974 song "Sweet Home Alabama." Image Credit: AFP

Gary Rossington, the lead guitarist and the last surviving founding member of the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, known for hits such as "Free Bird" and "Sweet Home Alabama" that spread the sound of the South around the world, died on March 5. He was 71.

His death was confirmed by an agent, Ken Levitan, who said he was unable to provide the cause or location of death.

The band said in a statement posted on social media that "our brother, friend, family member, songwriter and guitarist ... is now with his Skynyrd brothers and family in heaven and playing it pretty, like he always does."

Robert Burns Jr., one of the original three who founded Lynyrd Skynyrd in the 1960s, died in 2015 in a crash after his vehicle struck a tree. Ronnie Van Zant, another founding member, died in a plane crash in 1977, along with guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, vocalist Cassie Gaines. Mr. Rossington was injured in the crash but survived.

Mr. Rossington, Burns and Van Zant met in the summer of 1964, according to the band's website. After meeting while playing on rival baseball teams in Jacksonville, Fla., an "impromptu afternoon jam session" spurred them to start a band, first under the name My Backyard, then the Noble Five - Allen Collins and Larry Junstrom had joined by then - and the One Percent, before they finally became Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1969. The long-haired musicians named the band, in part, after a physical education teacher, Leonard Skinner, who prohibited boys from having long hair.

The band still tours. It was set to appear at a festival in Florida next week, though it was not immediately clear whether the death of Mr. Rossington, who was still an active member, would lead to the cancellation of that event.

"We're still standing, still keeping the music going," Mr. Rossington was quoted as saying on the band's website. "We wanted to do the guys who aren't with us any more proud - and keep the name proud, too."