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 bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

14 Replies 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. 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

  6. 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

  7. Plausible Ronnie didn’t want gawking. Not likely there was only a small facial bruise. I would venture to say even those on the plane remember only what their own psyche on auto pilot allows them to recall. Shock shuts the nervous system down. I’d like to believe Art’s story, but others on scene said he didn’t walk anywhere.
    We will never know the actual occurrences. Meaning closure will always remain an arms length away.

  8. Head first into a tree?
    Ive been a paramedic 25 years(retired). Ive seen heads come apart, split, break like a pumpkin ect.
    I find it hard to believe their was no damage to his grape. I feel his wife and survivors covered the fact his head was crushed. The other story is he looked decapitated(because hiabgead cane apart.
    I will not go on a about g forces, mechanism of trauma ect because ive seen some strange stuff as well.
    People living when shouldnt be, dying from tripping on curb; living when car destroed at 90mph.(but with serious laforts fractures).

    IMHO a plane going 200+ mph hitting trees, ejecting RVZ; him hitting head first will make his cranium be unrecognizable.

  9. Gene Odom own words ” he lost his eye from road flares that had ignited on impact and was dripping down on him as he was pinned in the wreckage. His eye and other areas suffered burns.

  10. Ronnie’s widow Judy put his autopsy results upon the LS official site back in the late 90s because she said she was sick of the lies about him. According to them, he died of blunt force trauma because of being ejected out of the plane and slamming into a tree. He did have a cut on his head but it wasn’t huge nor was he smothered or decapitated.

  11. concerning Gene Oden eye, it was an emergency flare that ignited, it was above his head where he landed and as the flare burned the sulfur was melting out of it pouring onto his face mostly in his eye.

  12. As a retired paramedic for 22 years, his grape was smashed. That includes his face, the plane was dropping at 150+mph, he was unrestrained and hit a tree w his head? The plane broke up, he was ejected at speed at his skull hit a tree? Drop a pumpkin off a 2 story building. That’s 35mph???
    Come on.
    Let it go as his wife’s last wish for him, but his head was jello.
    I’ve seen 50mph wrecks w jelly instead of a head. Skull pieces and gristle and a bunch of grayish jello. . and blood. The heart keeps beating for a minute.
    Is what is. Let it go…

  13. Upon further inquiry, plane had slowed dramatically; was out of gas.
    25 years as a medic. 3 in hospital as ER tech.
    RVZ head was crashed. IDK why the macabre interest to dig him up. That’s Fd up.
    Regardless, his wife wanted it as so.
    Some one pay up, and buy the actual pathologists death report. Someone autopsied him, not some bs, but the actual report. 5 pages long?
    Head to toe of injuries.
    ☆ Loved Lynyrd Skynyrd from 81 on(I was 14yo).
    My second favorite band.
    RIP Ronnie, Steve, Casey.

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