Leon Russell Wilkerson would have turned sixty today. He died of ’natural causes’ in 2001.
How any member of Lynyrd Skynyrd could die of natural causes is beyond me, but that’s what the death certificate says.
Wilkerson was an original member of Skynyrd, starting as their bassist back in 1972.
He survived the plane crash, he survived having his throat slit on the tour bus, and yet, he finally succumbed to natural causes. He was suffering from liver and lung disease at the age of 49.
Drugs, sex, and rock and roll will get you in the end.
Wilkerson was born in Rhode Island, but grew UP in Jacksonville. He quit the school band so he could learn to play the guitar like Paul McCartney, his idol.
A fellow student in High School told him that his brother was looking for a bassist for his band. The brother was Ronnie Van Zant.
During the glory years of Skynyrd, Wilkerson became known for his wild colorful hats, and was dubbed “The Mad Hatter”.
His injury in the plane crash left his arm so badly damaged, that the doctors considered amputating it. The arm never healed correctly, and he was forced to play the guitar in an “UPright” position because he couldn’t fully extend his arm.
But, play on he did.
Party on he did.
And he never lived to be 60.
His death put the Lynyrd Skynyrd into a tailspin since an agreement with Ronnie Van Zant’s widow stated that as long as there are three original members of the band alive, they can use the name and continue to record as Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The band continued on any way, lawsuits abound, and the song Mad Hatter recorded on group’s Vicious Cycle album was dedicated to Leon.
And in a note of serendipity, today’s the day that Ponce de Leon discovered Florida. Hmmmm.