Did Ronnie Van Zandt Have to Have a Closed Casket Funeral Because His Body Was Badly Disfigured in his Fatal Plane Crash?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: Ronnie Van Zant had a closed casket at his funeral because of the severe injuries he suffered in the plane crash that took his life.

Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the hottest bands in all of rock ‘n’ roll from 1973 to 1977 as their first five albums delivered a number of top hits, inculding “Freebird,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and “What’s Your Name?”

Their dynamic lead singer was Ronnie Van Zant…

Tragically, right when their popularity was peaking with the release of their fifth album (their only top five album of their career), the band’s touring airplane crashed in Mississippi on route to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The crash killed Van Zant and Steve Gaines, the band’s newest member (as well as Gaines’ sister, a back-up singer in the group) plus both pilots and the band’s assistant road manager.

At Van Zant’s funeral, his casket was closed to viewers. This has led to a number of rumors over the years that Van Zant’s body was so disfigured during the crash that they couldn’t fix his appearance for his funeral.

Is that true?

As it turns out, though, the closed casket was due to an entirely different reason. Van Zant’s widow, Judy, recalled Ronnie talking about what he’d like (and wouldn’t like) at his funeral and one thing he specifically mentioned was that he didn’t like the idea of people “gawking” over him.

Everyone in the plane was seated with their seatbelts on except Van Zant, who had been sleeping on the floor of the plane. So when the plane crashed into a tree, Van Zant was sent flying and he slammed into the tree, dying due to blunt force trauma to his skull. The blow resulted in a small bruise on his forehead but that was the only visible damage Van Zant received in the crash. His wife noted that he just looked like he always did, just sleeping.

The legend is..


Thanks to the Lynyrd Skynyrd History Website for valuable information about the group.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

7 Responses to “Did Ronnie Van Zandt Have to Have a Closed Casket Funeral Because His Body Was Badly Disfigured in his Fatal Plane Crash?”

  1. Funerals for anyone, a movie star, husband, mother and of course popular singer who I feel that its the family’s, wife, etc. to make a very hard decision about how to handle a very painful situation. Stores about how he looks or whatever, no one knows what his wishes were, so remember, it’s so easy to judge, but until you are in that painful situation, does it matter?

  2. One of the band members that survived the crash said that the pilots told them to brace for impact, so he got Ronnie up, he was pissed and nonchalantly walked to his seat, A no ute later, the plane crashed.

  3. Ronnie died from asphyxiation when the plane crashed and the bodies of the band members landed on top of him, he never got a chance to breathe. This was according to Gene Odom, Ronnie’s childhood friend and security for the band. He was in the crash and jet fuel destroyed one of his eyes. Gene and even Ronnie’s Father who viewed the body said Ronnie just looked like he was sleeping. There were no disfiguring injuries.

  4. I have heard three different stories about Ronnie Van Zants last minutes I will always wonder which one was true there was an article there was Gene Odom and Artimus Pyles stories

  5. Man , I so wish that never happened.
    One of the GREATEST bands that ever was.

  6. Clobbersnoggin on June 1st, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    The post above says Gene Odom lost his eye because of jet fuel…. that’s not correct, first thing, they weren’t in a jet, they were in a twin engine prop that burns AV gas, and if you read that and NTSB crash data there was less than a quart of fuel on board and that’s why there was no fire …..so I don’t know what blinded him but it wasn’t jet fuel

  7. He was laying in the isle when the plane had crashed and he hit his head on the back of the cockpit his body was disfigured he only had bruising on his forehead he told his wife he didn’t want an open casket because he didn’t like the idea of people “gawking” at him

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