Billy Powell, a longtime keyboard player for Lynyrd Skynyrd who survived the band's 1977 plane crash, died at his Orange Park condo early this morning, according to police.
Orange Park Police Chief James Boivin said Powell called 911 from his condo in Club Continental and was pronounced dead at 1:52 a.m. after rescue crews performed CPR on him. Boivin said he was told Powell had an appointment with his heart specialist Monday but never made the appointment.
Current Lynyrnd Skynyrd singer Johnny Van Zant spent 22 years with Powell in the band. He said the took the news of Powell's death hard.
"You know, they say they've got one hell of a band up in heaven. My brother Ronnie up in heaven is probably saying, 'Billy, what took you so long?' I'm sure they're catching up on things in heaven."
Powell, who went to Bishop Kenny High School, joined Skynyrd in 1972 after working for the Jacksonville band for a couple of years as a roadie. He was seriously injured in the Oct. 20, 1977 plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant and five other people.
Johnny Van Zant said his brother invited Powell to join the band after he heard him playing piano during a rehearsal of "Free Bird." "Ronnie said, 'What's that?' and Billy said, 'That's the introduction to 'Free Bird.' Ronnie said, 'I like that. You're in the band.'" ...