The Tragic Life Of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Allen Collins
via Lichrae / Youtube
Famed for their ability to blend a unique rock sound with a country twang, Lynyrd Skynyrd made a lasting impression on the music world by creating hits that moved listeners and sparked a plethora of cover versions.
Behind the scenes, though, Lynyrd Skynyrd faced difficulties that went beyond the clichéd rock and roll way of life. The band faced numerous challenges that stretched the bounds of fortitude despite their enormous popularity and unquestionable brilliance. From issues with substance misuse to internal tensions that showed in both verbal and physical fights, the band members underwent a tumultuous path.
The pinnacle of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s tragic narrative came with the devastating plane crash that not only brought an abrupt end to the band’s prolific career but also claimed the lives of two important members.
In light of this collective tragedy, it is reasonable to presume that Lynyrd Skynyrd members’ individual lives were characterized by hardships and calamities. This presumption is confirmed when one explores the moving tale of the band’s first guitarist, Allen Collins.
The tragedy that crippled a band’s success
On October 20, 1977, the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd boarded a tour plane without realizing that it would be the last journey that Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and the band’s road manager would ever take.
Hard rock stalwarts Aerosmith had previously passed over the aircraft because they were suspicious about the crew. A good thing for them, and a disastrous one for Lynyrd Skynyrd.
They ran out of gasoline and the jet crashed in the forests near the Mississippi River while making an emergency landing. Despite the loss of several lives in the crash, Allen Collins managed to survive, albeit with severe physical and psychological injuries.
Collins survived but his psychological wounds never healed
Rolling Stone reports that Collins suffered an arm wound and fractured vertebrae in the collision. It was more than a “few stitches and call it done” type of wound. The doctors initially wanted to amputate Collins’ arm, but his father refused to let them take his money-maker.
The physical wounds would ultimately heal, but Collins would live a lifetime dealing with the psychological scars from witnessing his companions perish while he lived.
Collins experienced excruciating nightmares and horrible survivor’s guilt, according to author Mark Ribowsky’s Lynyrd Skynyrd biography Whiskey Bottles and Brand-New Cars: The Fast Life and Sudden Death of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Collins plunged deeper into grief after his wife died
Allen Collins married Kathy John in 1970, marking the start of a new chapter in his life. But this happy occasion is only a fleeting bright moment in the otherwise somber narrative of Collins’s life. According to Lynyrd Skynyrd History, interestingly, the wedding also happened to be one of the first performances of the now-famous song “Free Bird”.
Following his recovery from the plane tragedy, Collins had a fortunate break in his life. He formed the Rossington-Collins Band with Gary Rossington and other former members of Lynyrd Skynyrd. An eager and revitalized Collins set out on a tour with his new musical endeavor.
However, the tour was abruptly canceled after just a few days on the road. The cause of this unexpected turn of events was the tragic death of his wife. According to reports, Kathy succumbed to complications following a miscarriage. This devastating loss plunged Collins even deeper into a spiral of grief and substance abuse.
Another accident that killed a lover
Allen Collins resorted to a combination of drugs and alcohol as a self-medication method to deal with the intense trauma he was experiencing as a result of both the plane crash and the untimely death of his wife.
Unfortunately, in the long term, this strategy did nothing but make his problems worse. Collins continued to violate these prohibitions by driving after consuming alcohol, even after his license was repeatedly suspended for driving under the influence and ultimately permanently revoked.
Collins took the tragic decision to drive one last time in January 1986, with his sweetheart riding in the passenger seat. He lost control of the car and drove off the road, causing a severe collision that rolled the vehicle over on its side.
Collins’ girlfriend unfortunately passed away after they were taken to the hospital, leaving Collins paralyzed from the waist down. The guitarist pleaded “no contest” to accusations of DUI homicide.
The final chapter of a gloomy life
As a component of his plea agreement following the 1986 incident, Collins spoke to audiences at every Skynyrd concert, offering an explanation for his inability to perform. He emphasized the perils of drinking, driving, and substance abuse.
Additionally, as a response to Collins’ accident, the band contributed a substantial portion of the concert proceeds from the 1987–88 tour to the Miami Project, an organization dedicated to the treatment of paralysis (citation needed).
In 1988, Collins established Roll For Rock Wheelchair Events and Benefit Concerts with the goal of raising awareness and providing opportunities for individuals facing spinal cord injuries and other physical disabilities.
The paralysis resulting from the crash led to chronic pneumonia, ultimately claiming Allen Collins’s life on January 23, 1990, at the age of 37.