Leon Wilkeson

April 2, 1952 ā€“ July 27, 2001

Known by all those who worked with him as the “Mad Hatter,” Leon Wilkeson was the longest-tenured bass player for the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. He was briefly part of an early Skynyrd prototype led by fellow classmate and lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant, but was not part of the actual founding of the group. He officially joined in 1972 after original bassist Larry Junstrom left, but got spooked by the prospect of fame that was dancing on the band’s doorstep. His absence was brief, though, and he rejoined when it was decided that bassist Ed King better served the band as one of the 3 guitarists. Skynyrd had its crazy-hat-wearing bass player back and the fame that Wilkeson wasn’t so sure about…found them.

Wilkeson styled himself after popular bass players like Paul McCartney of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. His colorful onstage persona and vibrant studio playing helped mold Skynyrd’s successful album stretch and live shows throughout the mid-1970s. They were the kings of southern rock and roll.

The 1977 plane crash that killed six and decimated the band nearly killed Wilkeson as well. He suffered multiple broken bones and internal injuries, a collapsed lung as well as significant facial injuries. It took him a full 3 years to recover completely, though he never regained full dexterity in his left arm, which altered his playing style into a distinct, near-vertical holding of his bass. As the surviving members put their lives and careers back together, Wilkeson joined Rossington-Collins Band with Skynyrd guitarists Gary and Allen (respectively). Then he followed Collins – along with Skynyrd pianist, Billy Powell – to the fleeting Allen Collins Band project.

Eventually, Skynyrd reformed and Wilkeson was right there, as distinct as ever. He stayed with the band for 14 more years until he was found dead at the age of 49 in a north Florida hotel room. Examiners concluded that he died from natural causes stemming from chronic lung and liver disease. The Mad Hatter, an iconic character in American rock music, was gone.

Burial

Riverside Memorial Park – Jacksonville, FL

Specific Location

Enter the gates to the left of the Chapel, and Leon is buried on the far left side of the circle drive immediately through the gates, right in front of a hedge.

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