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When Leon Wilkeson passed away on July 27, 2001, the music world stood still.
He was a prominent member of legendary rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd since 1972 and was a survivor of the 1977 plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines.
In the crash, he injured his arm so badly that doctors considered amputating it, but decided against it. He never fully recovered from the injury and had to re-learn how to play the bass in a completely different way since he couldn’t fully extend his arm. Instead, he had to play holding the instrument in a more upright position, much like in the photo below.
(Photo credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)
After the band’s hiatus, he reunited with the band and continued to play with them until he passed from natural causes after suffering from chronic liver and lung disease. Not too long after, Lynyrd Skynyrd continued with their scheduled performances, knowing that it was what Leon would have wanted them to do.
“We lost our brother Leon just recently and we’d like to dedicate this song to him,” Johnny Van Zant told the crowd with a somber look on his face.
Guitarist Rickey Medlocke wasn’t even halfway through the opening guitar riff, and the crowd went wild, realizing they were about to hear one of the most iconic songs in Skynyrd’s repertoire.
Fans brought out lighters to light up the sky, making a beautiful image every time Johnny looked up and pointed to the sky at Leon.
Watch the moving tribute below.