Lynyrd Skynyrd Keyboardist Billy Powell Dead

Powell's piano flourishes are a hallmark of band's hit "Free Bird."

Longtime [artist id=”1285″]Lynyrd Skynyrd[/artist] keyboardist Billy Powell died early Wednesday at his Florida home according to The Associated Press.

Powell called 911 at about 12:55 a.m. Wednesday saying he was having trouble breathing. Rescue crews performed CPR, but he was pronounced dead at 1:52 a.m., Orange Park Police Lieutenant Mark Cornett told AP. Powell, 56, reportedly had a history of heart problems, and a heart attack is the suspected cause of death. No autopsy will be performed because Powell’s cardiologist will sign the death certificate, Cornett said.

The band, based in Jacksonville, Florida, formed in 1966 and took its name from a gym teacher they disliked: Leonard Skinner. Powell joined the group around 1972, the year before they released their first album, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd.

The band, of course, went on to become one of the biggest-ever Southern rock groups, and is best known for its hit “Free Bird,” which opens with Powell’s piano flourishes. Skynyrd’s other classics include “What’s Your Name,” “Gimme Three Steps” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” which was a top-10 single in 1974.

A plane crash on October 20, 1977 — which killed singer Ronnie Van Zandt, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines, among others — decimated the band, although its members have continued through the years as the Rossington-Collins Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Powell had been onboard the plane.

Lynyrd Skynyrd were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.