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Tragically, far too many celebrities have met an untimely end. Often, these deaths of young stars can be directly linked to the lifestyles that they lived — in other words, many see their deaths as part of the celebrity itself.

Drugs, alcohol, and risky behaviors seem to go hand-in-hand with the extravagant lives that many celebrities lead. Many celebrities, too, struggle with their own mental health. The fame, the pressure to perform, and their own creative demons create a perfect storm ripe for tragedy

Ronnie Van Zant is one such celebrity tale — a warning about how the glitz and glamour of fame might not be all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, Van Zant even foretold his own death, correctly predicting he wouldn’t live to see 30. 

Lynyrd Skynyrd was part of the Southern rock boom 

Ronnie Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynyrd
Ronnie Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynyrd | Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

In the 1970s, there was a spate of Southern rock bands quickly growing in popularity across America, and Lynyrd Skynyrd was among them. As Encyclopedia Britannica explains, the principal members of the band consisted of Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Steve Gaines, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson, and Artimus Pyle. The group formed as young musicians in Jacksonville, Florida before agreeing to the name “Lynyrd Skynyrd” — an inside joke about a gym teacher who deplored long haired musicians. 

In 1973, the group released their first album. Hits like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird” immediately gave them credibility in the rising Southern rock scene. They quickly skyrocketed in fame and began touring — lending some inspiration to the film Almost Famous along the way. 

Tragedy cut Lynyrd Skynyrd’s fame short 

Just a few years after their fast and furious arrival on the music scene, tragedy struck the band. A 1977 plane crash killed Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines. Van Zant had been a paternalistic figure in the band, the clear leader of the group. The band went their separate ways in the aftermath, though they did reunite in 1987 with Ronnie’s younger brother Johnny Van Zant taking up vocals.

The original band’s influence and talent lives on in rock legend — even as the band has brought renewed scrutiny for their relationship with Confederate symbolism. In 2006, the band was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, a sign that their legacy will continue to live on for generations to come. 

Ronnie Van Zant predicted his own untimely death

Of course, a plane crash is a shocking tragedy that no one can see coming, but Ronnie Van Zant did have an eerie premonition that he was not long for this world. As Louder reports, band members who survived that tragic crash — many with permanent scars and rods holding together their broken bones — remember all too well that Van Zant frequently told people he would not live to see 30. “Ronnie was the only one of my children who had second sight,” Van Zant’s father said in 1995. 

It’s likely, according to some close to Van Zant, that it was his own rough living he had in mind when he made these predictions. “I think it was because he lived hard every day and anyone who does that – like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix – is gone by the time they’re 28 or 29,” former soundman Kevin Elson explained. 

Sometimes he would make his dark prophecy over drinks — too many drinks, some friends consider in retrospect. “We were in Tokyo at some bar and we were drinking lots of sake. Ronnie told me, ‘I am never going to live to see 30,'” said former drummer Artimus Pyle. 

Indeed, Van Zant was right about when he would die. He was 87 days shy of his 30th birthday when the small rental plane went down.