Page last updated at 10:06 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Skynyrd keyboardist Powell dies

Billy Powell
Billy Powell was originally a roadie for Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboard player Billy Powell has died at the age of 56 of a suspected heart attack in Florida.

Powell, who played on hits including Sweet Home Alabama, called police saying he was having trouble breathing.

Emergency services tried to resuscitate the musician but he was pronounced dead an hour later, police said.

Powell joined the band in 1972 after working as their roadie and survived a 1977 plane crash which killed six people, including three band members.

They were lead singer and founder Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, backing vocalist Cassie Gaines.

Powell, who had a history of heart problems, had missed an appointment with a doctor on Tuesday.

'Difficult time'

A statement on the Lynyrd Skynyrd website said: "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."

In 1987, the band, including Powell, reformed with a new line-up.

We've played before millions and millions of people and it's been a wonderful ride and a bumpy one too
Johnny Van Zant
Lynyrd Skynyrd

Johnny Van Zant, who replaced his brother Ronnie as lead singer, said: "Maybe it is just the destiny of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

"We've played before millions and millions of people and it's been a wonderful ride and a bumpy one too."

Van Zant said the band had recorded songs for an upcoming album.

US shows on Friday and Saturday night have been cancelled.

The band are due to tour Europe, including concerts in London and Manchester, in May and June.

Facial injuries

Lynyrd Skynyrd were formed by a group of high school students in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1966, taking their name from their sports teacher Leonard Skinner.

They gained popularity in the early 1970s with a string of US hits including Free Bird and What's Your Name.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, with Billy Powell (left)  in 1976
Powell, left, suffered facial injuries in the 1977 plane crash

Powell suffered facial injuries in the fatal plane crash in Mississippi on 20 October, 1977, but soon recovered.

Two years later, he formed the Rossington-Collins Band with fellow Lynyrd Skynyrd members Allen Collins, Gary Rossington and Leon Wilkeson.

The Rossington-Collins Band split up in 1982.

In 1991, the reformed Lynyrd Skynyrd released a new album, appropriately titled Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991, and started a tour in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where they had been travelling to when their plane crashed in 1977.

Their last album, Vicious Cycle, was released in 2003.

In 2006, the band was inducted in the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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