Lynyrd Skynyrd Keyboardist DiesJACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Billy Powell, the original keyboard player with the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, died early Wednesday at his home in Orange Park, Fla.
Powell was 56.
Orange Park police said Powell called 911 just before 1 a.m. complaining of difficulty breathing. Paramedics found him in his bedroom responsive, reported WJXT-TV in Jacksonville.
Ross Schilling, a publicist with Vector Management, said they believe Powell suffered a heart attack, but an autopsy will be conducted to determine his cause of death.
Orange Park police told WJXT that Powell had an appointment with his cardiologist on Tuesday, but he did not go.
Powell moved to Jacksonville as a child and attended Bishop Kenny High School, where he met Leon Wilkenson, future bass player for Skynyrd. He originally joined the band in the early '70s as a roadie. Before a gig playing at the The Bolles School prom, he sat down at the piano and impressed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant enough to be invited to join the band as its keyboard player.
Skynyrd went on to sign a national recording contract and become the best-selling southern rock band in history.
In 1977, Van Zant, along with guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister and backup vocalist Cassie Gaines and assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick were killed when the band's chartered plane crashed in Mississippi.
Powell suffered facial injuries in the crash, but eventually recovered. He was the only band member well enough to attend the funerals of those killed in the crash.
In 1987, Powell rejoined Skynyrd for a tribute tour and had toured with the band ever since. He and guitarist Gary Rossington were the only two original band members who continued to record and tour with the band.
Powell is survived by his son, Richard, who was at the family home early Wednesday morning.