Leon Wilkeson had a unique style in his playing and he made a huge contribution to Lynyrd Skynyrd sound. Being part of the original line-up, he helped them create a legacy that no other southern rock band has ever touched.
Leon was born in Rhode Island, but moved to Jacksonville at young age. As a youngster, he idolized Paul McCartney and that prompted him to pick up a bass. Leon mastered his instrument and was asked to join Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1970. He left Skynyrd before their debut album, but was back in the line-up soon after it was released.
Lynyrd Skynyrd became one of the biggest bands in the 70’s but their career came to a tragic end in October 1977, when plane that was carrying them, crashed into Mississippi swamp, killing not only Ronnie Van Zant, but Cassie and Steve Gaines as well.
In 80’s he was part of The Rossington – Collins Band and later Allen Collins Band, but didn’t find success until Lynyrd Skynyrd reunion in 1987. He played bass with them, until his untimely death in 2001.
Leon Wilkeson was found dead in his hotel room in Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville, Florida on July 21st 2001. According to his autopsy, he suffered from severe liver cirrhosis caused by years of heavy drinking and traces of drugs were found on his blood, but his death was filed under “accident”. He was 49 at the time of his death.
In their 2003 album Vicious Cycle, remaining band members paid tribute to him in a song Mad Hatter, a reference to Leon’s trademark of wearing different hats while on stage.
Leon Russell Wilkeson April 2nd 1952 – July 27th 2001