Betamax Guillotine

When Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John? was published in 2006, providing all the answers you ever wanted to your musical questions–and some you didn’t even know you needed–the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked me to answer a few bonus questions. So I did. But unless you live in Georgia, you probably never saw them. This one would clearly belong in the rock death section of the Secret Rock Knowledge.

Was Ronnie Van Zant really killed by a flying “betamax guillotine” as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane went down?

“C’mon, let’s go. If it’s your time to go, it’s time to go,” Van Zant said on October 20, 1977, as he boarded Skynyrd’s plane. He had every right to be nervous-the day before, the plane’s right engine had caught on fire. Nevertheless, he got on the Convair 240 and fell asleep on the floor of the plane. His security guard Gene Odom says that as the airplane went down, he wrestled Van Zant into a seat and buckled him in. “Man, just let me sleep,” Van Zant complained-and then the plane crashed.

The “Betamax guillotine” legend-that Van Zant was decapitated by the plane’s VCR-is infamous enough that on the Drive-By Truckers 2001 concept album, Southern Rock Opera, the fictional band standing in for Lynyrd Skynyrd was named “Betamax Guillotine.” The legend’s not too far from the truth. “There was not another scratch on him, except a small bruise the size of a quarter at his temple,” Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle has said. “Ronnie was killed on impact by a single blow to the head by what the doctors told me was probably a TV or something like that. We were rock and roll, nothing was tied down. All these televisions and guitar cases and camera cases all this stuff went forward, probably at a hundred miles an hour.” So a VCR might have been the instrument of Van Zant’s demise, but his head remained attached to his shoulders.

posted 26 August 2008 in Buy My Stuff and tagged , . no comments yet

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