Lynyrd Skynyrd Guitarist Gary Rossington's Emergency Surgery Explained

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington has just had emergency heart surgery and according to a statement on the band's Instagram account, he is expected to make a full recovery. The 69-year-old guitarist is the classic rock band's sole remaining original member, and co-writer of the band's legendary song "Sweet Home Alabama" (via Deadline).

Last week, while the band was performing at Minnesota's Twin Cities "Summer Jam" Concert, lead singer Johnny Van Zant told the fans that Rossington had to have an "emergency stent put in his heart" (via Billboard). It was also mentioned that during Rossington's recovery, guitarist Damon Johnson would be filling in for him, as Lynyrd Skynyrd has scheduled tour dates through November.

In their Instagram statement, they noted that "After this past year, the country being shut down and everything we have all been thru, The Rossington's encouraged the band to go perform in his absence. Music is a powerful healer." The band went on to state that they all agreed, temporarily replacing Rossington was a better option than canceling.

Rossington has a history of heart disease

This is not the first heart procedure the rock musician has undergone, as in 2003 he had a quintuple-bypass surgery, and the Rolling Stone shares he had a heart attack in 2015. But the heart problems did not stop there: In 2016, Rossington had emergency heart surgery and in 2019 he had a heart valve repaired, which Billboard reports had forced the band to postpone touring.

In a 2018 interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Rossington admits that his doctors have been urging him to stop touring for 15 years. He reveals to the newspaper that, just to stay alive, he must take a ton of nitroglycerine pills, and he says "I've had heart attacks on stage a lot." 

Rossington, who along with Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, Larry Junstrom, and Bob Burns formed Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1964, told the Tampa Bay Times regarding the band's 2018 tour "That's why I was calling it a farewell tour — I don't know if I'll be here."

On Rossington's heart stent surgery

Gary Rossington's recent procedure involved placing a stent, which is a tiny tube, into a blocked passageway in his heart. According to WebMD, a stent can be a major player in treating heart disease, as it helps keep the arteries open. The arteries are what transport the blood from the heart to the rest of the body and back again. 

The Texas Heart Institute reports that stents can be an alternative to bypass surgery in some cases. During the heart stent procedure, the tiny mesh tube is placed by catheter into a narrowed coronary artery, and helps to resume proper blood flow. Those, like Rossington, who experience symptoms of obstructive artery disease, which can include chest pain or shortness of breath upon exertion (like guitar playing), might be eligible for a stent.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America

The CDC reports that one in four Americans die of heart disease, making it the leading cause of death for men and women of most racial and ethnic groups in the nation. While there are many conditions that contribute to heart disease, such as congenital heart defects, heart rhythm problems, and heart valve disease, it is coronary artery disease (CAD) that is the main cause of heart related deaths in America. It is reported that nearly 18.2 million adults over the age of 20 have CAD.

In the United States, one person dies every 36 seconds from heart disease and 805,000 people each year suffer a heart attack. More alarming than those numbers, many people have already had a heart attack and are not even aware of it. Heart attacks with few to no symptoms are deemed the "silent heart attack," which, according to Harvard Health Publishing, accounts for 45% of heart attacks, and often affects men more than women.

Risk factors for heart disease

After his heart attack n 2015, Gary Rossington's daughter, Mary Elizabeth, took to Facebook, posting "We were very close to losing him this time and just pray that they will develop even better techniques soon to deal with heart disease."

While there have been great strides in the medical field in regard to heart disease, the American Heart Association (AHA) reports that of the three categories of risk factors — major, modifiable, and contributing — there are only a few that a person cannot control. These include gender, as males are more likely to develop heart disease, plus genetics and age.

The CDC reports that nearly half of Americans, 47%, have one out of three of the major risk factors for heart disease. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a history of smoking.

Reducing the risk of heart disease

While we do not have control over some risk factors, there are others that we can control, or at least treat, according to the AHA. For example, smokers have a much higher risk for developing heart disease than nonsmokers, so choosing to not smoke is a heart healthy choice. 

Managing cholesterol and blood pressure with lifestyle choices and, if needed, medication, is another way to decrease the risk of heart disease. The CDC advises creating healthy habits like maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and staying active. Minimizing stress is also a heart healthy move, as Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that stress is linked to "factors that can harm your heart," including inflammation, high cholesterol, and lack of sleep.

Perhaps this is why Rossington's doctors have been advising him to stop touring (via Tampa Bay Times).

Well wishes flood the band's Instagram page

There is a sorrowful scene in "If I Leave Here Tomorrow," a Lynyrd Skynyrd documentary, which shows Gary Rossington visiting his own plot at the same cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida, where his friend, and the band's original lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant, is buried. Rossington knows that he cannot escape the inevitable, and although his doctors continue to advise him to retire from music, he states, "I don't know if I'll last three more years ... It's up to the Lord. I could last 20 more, and still want to play."

The band posted to their Instagram, "Gary is home resting and recovering with his family He wants everyone to know he is doing good and expects a full recovery," and more than 600 Lynyrd Skynyrd fans commented with well wishes like "A true rock and roll legend. Take it easy Gary" and "Gary is an absolute legend! Get well and remember there is someone up above." Like them, we wish Gary a full and speedy recovery.