Lynyrd Skynyrd founding member Larry Junstrom dies aged 70

Founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd and longtime bassist of 38. Special, Larry Junstrom, has been found dead aged 70.

Band members of Junstrom from the rock group .38 Special confirmed the news in an emotional post to Facebook on Sunday night.

Junstrom’s cause of death is not yet known, however his former band mates lauded the southern rocker as a ‘kind’ and ‘humorous’ man who ‘rocked arenas all over the world’.

‘The Big Man on the Big Bass has left us,’ the band’s heartfelt announcement began. ‘He was truly one of a kind, a congenial traveling companion and a great friend to all with a humorous slant on life that always kept our spirits high – a kind man with a big heart for everyone who crossed his path.

‘There will never be another like him. We are sending our devoted love, strength and comfort to his wife Thania and Larry’s family. We will miss our friend and partner.’

Mourned: Lynyrd Skynyrd founding member Larry Junstrom has died aged 70. He is pictured in 2012, left, with band mate Don Barnes

Junstrom helped form Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1964 with his high school classmates – vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, drummer Bob Burns and guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins – under the name My Backyard.

However he left the group in 1971 prior to the recording of the band’s smash-hit 1973 debut album ‘Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd’.

Five-years later he joined the Donnie Van Zant-fronted band, .38 Special, replacing bassist Ken Lyons.

Junstrom would go on to record and perform with the band for the next four decades until his retirement, featuring on some of their biggest hits, such as ‘Hold on Loosely’ and ‘Caught Up in You’.

The rocker was eventually forced to put down the bass guitar in 2014 after suffering a serious hand injury.

As he was: A throwback picture of Junstrom, shared by his band 38 Special's Facebook page

Born Lawrence E. Junstrom on June 22, 1949 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the future icon moved to Jacksonville, Florida when he was 10-years-old

From a young age he showed interest in music, leaning to play the saxophone and clarinet in the 5th and 6th grades before being inspired to pursue the rock star lifestyle watching The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show.

His first guitar was a Silvertone 6-string, and he began playing in a cover band called After Five before joining My Backyard.

Junstrom first met Ronnie Van Zandt as a teenager when he noticed a group of boys racing beach buggies down his street.

One of the buggies, driven by Van Zandt crashed, and Junstrom rushed over to help turn it back upright.

Van Zandt told Larry, ‘Thanks man,’ and the two became friends, before forming what would become Lynyrd Skynyrd a few years later.

In his prime: Larry, left, with his bandmate Barnes in 1986

Junstrom reflected on his time with Lynyrd Skynyrd in Stephen Kijak’s 2018 documentary, If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd, recalling the band’s early rehearsals at the infamous ‘Hell House’, a cabin in rural Florida, as well as speaking out on the band’s frequent drug use.

‘You could put a model airplane together with his breath,’ Junstrom said of Collins’ fondness for sniffing glue.

Though he parted ways with the band before they became one of the most iconic groups of the 1970s, even before Junstrom’s departure, Lynyrd Skynyrd truly lived the raucous rockstar lifestyle.

Promoters regularly provided the band with drugs and booze, and according to drummer and crash survivor Artimus Pylethe, the musicians went wild overindulging.

‘I think they felt they were supposed to smoke every cigarette and drink everything provided and eat whatever they wanted and throw the rest against the wall,’ Pylethe adds in the film. ‘That was our road manager’s duty – to carry a briefcase with probably $250,000 in cash’ to bail people out of jail and placate hotel owners.’

Just five days ago, Junstrom made a rare public appearance at the opening of the Sweet Homegrown Traditions exhibit in Clay County, Florida, documenting the founding of the band.

It would turn out to be the last time Junstrom was seen alive publicly, prior to Sunday’s announcement.

Lynyrd Skynyrd is known for hits including Sweet Home Alabama. The group disbanded abruptly in 1977 following a plane crash which killed Ronnie Van Zant, replacement guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines.

Junstrom died aged 70 on October 5.

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