Billy Powell, keyboardist for southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, died early Wednesday morning at his Orange Park, Fla. home. He was 56.
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Orange Park Police state Powell dialed 911 at approximately 12:55 a.m. complaining of heart trouble. A rescue team arrived at Powell’s home shortly after, but pronounced him dead at 1:52 a.m. after attempts to revive him using CPR failed. A heart attack is the suspected cause of death.
Powell was born June 3, 1952 in Corpus Christi, Texas. He attended Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville, Fla. It is here where Powell met future Lynyrd Skynyrd bassist Leon Wilkeson, and eventually the rest of the future members of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Powell served as a roadie for Lynyrd Skynyrd for two years before joining the band in 1972. Rumor has it that lead-singer Ronnie Van Zant overheard Powell playing “Freebird” on the piano during a moment of downtime at a gig and immediately inquired about potential employment.
Powell remained a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd until his death Wednesday. He and fellow original member, guitarist Gary Rossington, survived the 1977 plane crash that took the lives of lead singer Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines. After a 10-year break, Lynyrd Skynyrd reformed for a reunion tour in 1987 with new members, including Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny Van Zant on lead vocals. After the tour, the band chose to resurrect Lynyrd Skynyrd, and have released six studio albums since that time. 2003’s Vicious Cycle is the most recent release.
Known for his signature honky-tonk/rock piano styling, Powell’s musical voice can be heard on many of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic recordings. “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Freebird” and “Tuesday’s Gone” all feature Powell’s fluid playing, and current hits such as Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” feature him as well.
On the band’s official website, Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote, “Beloved Pianist for the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band, Billy Powell, passed away last night, The family and band request your respect and understanding during this difficult time. Thank you.”