It was 41 years ago Saturday (October 20th, 1977), that a plane carrying Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed in a swamp near Gillsburg, Mississippi. At the time, the group was en route to its next show in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The crash took the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant; guitarist Steve Gaines and his sister, backup singer Cassie Gaines; Skynyrd manager Dean Kilpatrick, as well as the plane’s two pilots Walter McCreary and William Gray. Three days before the crash (October 17th), the band released its fifth album, Street Survivors, which featured the soon-to-be classics “What’s Your Name” and “That Smell.” The album cover, which featured the band seemingly engulfed in flames, was eventually substituted with another photo in light of the horrific plane crash. In 2007, the 30th anniversary reissue reinstated the original album cover.
Lynyrd’s Skynyrd’s head of security Gene Odom, who was on the plane and one of the 20 survivors, spoke to filmmaker Tony Beazley and recalled the state of Ronnie Van Zant’s body after the fatal crash: “Ronnie Van Zant had an eight-inch little nick and a fractured bone in his leg. His own father, when he went to identify the body the next day — October 21st — said also, that when they pulled Ronnie out, Ronnie looked like he was asleep. No injuries. He said that he just had a little bump right here behind his ear — a little cut. And Lacy (Van Zant) didn’t know his leg was broke. He says, ‘He just looked like he was laying there asleep.'” at Green Bay, Wisconsin’s Resch Center.
It was decided that former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle’s movie chronicling the band’s fatal 1977 plane crash can proceed after a federal appeals court ruled on the case on October 10th. Rolling Stone reported, “The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, New York overturned a permanent injunction that previously halted the movie, which depicts the 1977 plane crash that killed the Southern rock act’s then-frontman, Ronnie Van Zant.”
Last year, the heirs of Van Zant and late-bandmembers Steve and Cassie Gaines, along with founding guitarist Gary Rossington, sued Pyle and Cleopatra Records in an effort to block the distribution of Street Survivors: The True Story Of The Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash. As part of the decision, Pyle is allowed to tell his own life story “but not allowed to use the band’s name or the rights of those killed in the crash.”
Back in August 2017, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of Gary Rossington and the heirs of the band stating, in part: “Cleopatra is prohibited from making its movie about Lynyrd Skynyrd when its partner substantively contributes to the project in a way that, in the past, he willingly bargained away the very right to do just that; in any other circumstance, Cleopatra would be as ‘free as a bird’ to make and distribute its work. . . Cleopatra is free to make a movie about Lynyrd Skynyrd and/or about the plane crash. What Cleopatra is not free to do, however, is to make such a movie in concert and participation with Pyle in violation of the restrictions imposed on him by the Consent Order.”
In 2016, when the biopic was announced, Artimus Pyle told Deadline.com: “When that plane crashed, we were at the top of the world man. I mean, we could play with any band — any band, whether it was the Rolling Stones, anyone, and we would hold our own or better. I think of that accident every day and what we might have accomplished if we’d have ten more years. But I’m very proud of the band; I love the music and I love playing it still. I love hearing the stories, every time I play a gig now and meet people. And I know the only reason people know my name is because of Ronnie Van Zant. We want this to be a good movie that tells a very passionate, intimate story about the music and the band and a rise and fall that happened so suddenly.”
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