The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Allen Collins From Lynyrd Skynyrd

If there's one band that inspired the overused, mildly annoying tradition of yelling "Free Bird" at the encore of random concerts, it's Lynyrd Skynyrd. Probably because it was one of the songs they're best known for. They had other accomplishments as well, like convincing millions that they longed for their homeland of Alabama, whether or not they'd ever been to the state.

The band combined a signature rock sound with a country twang and produced singles that have inspired numerous covers. In the end, Lynyrd Skynyrd was a southern rock legend that bridged a gap between genres. The band, for being as famous and talented as they were, had more problems than any "Simple Man" would find bearable. There were drugs, infighting, literal fights, and the plane crash that ended the band and took the lives of two of Lynyrd Skynyrd's members. With the band having so much tragedy surrounding it, it's not a far stretch to assume that the band's members each had their own tragic lives. And, that would be a correct assumption. Here's a little bit about the tragic life of Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist and founding member Allen Collins.

Collins survived the plane crash, but not without repercussions

The members of Lynyrd Skynyrd hopped on a tour plane on October 20, 1977, not knowing that for Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and the band's road manager, it would be the last trip they ever took. The plane, according to History, was previously passed over by Aerosmith because the plane's crew made them wary. A good thing for them, and a bad one for Lynyrd Skynyrd. The plane crashed in the woods next to the Mississippi River while attempting an emergency landing because they ran out of fuel. Though several people died in the crash, Allen Collins survived, although seriously injured, both physically and psychologically.

Collins's injuries from the crash included broken vertebrae and a wound to his arm, according to Rolling Stone. That wound wasn't just a "few stitches and call it done" kind of wound. The doctors initially wanted to amputate Collins' arm, but his father refused to let them take his money-maker.

The physical wounds would eventually heal, but the psychological scars from watching his friends die while Collins survived would plague him for the rest of his life. In the Lynyrd Skynyrd biography Whiskey Bottles and Brand-New Cars: The Fast Life and Sudden Death of Lynyrd Skynyrd, author Mark Ribowsky illustrates that Collins suffered from terrible survivor's guilt and PTSD that lead to severe nightmares.

His wife died tragically

Allen Collins married Kathy John in 1970. The wedding is kind of a light page in the dark book of Collins's life. Worried that the long hair of Collins's bandmates would scare her friends and relatives, Kathy John had them wear wigs so they'd seem more presentable to the normal folk. The wedding also, according to Lynyrd Skynyrd History, featured one of the first performances of the iconic song "Free Bird."

Things were looking up for Collins. After healing up from the plane crash, he got together with Gary Rossington and other former Lynyrd Skynyrd bandmates and formed the Rossington-Collins Band. Collins and his new band were refreshed and ready to go on their debut tour, so they hit the road. After only a few a days of traveling, the tour was canceled, because Kathy Collins had died. According to the Peoria Journal Star, Kathy had been pregnant, and it was hemorrhage following an unfortunate miscarriage that ended her life. Collins was driven further into devastation and substance abuse.

His self-medicating led to further tragedy

Collins used a combination of drugs and alcohol to self-medicate as he tried to cope with significant trauma in his life — both from the plane crash and the loss of his beloved wife. Substance abuse would only cause him more problems in the future. His license was suspended for driving under the influence several times before it was outright revoked for good, but that didn't stop the former Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist from getting behind the wheel after knocking back a few.

In January of 1986, Collins would get behind the wheel one final time, with his girlfriend in the passenger's seat. Collins lost control of the car, drove the vehicle off the road, and flipped the vehicle in a violent crash. Both he and his girlfriend were airlifted to the hospital. His girlfriend died, and he was left paralyzed from the waist down. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Collins pleaded "no contest" to the DUI manslaughter charges.

His life after the plane crash was a slippery slope that connected one tragedy to the next. The trauma led to drugs. The drugs led to the car accident. The paralysis from the car accident contributed to the chronic pneumonia, a common problem issue seen in people who are paralyzed, that ultimately took the life of Allen Collins on January 23, 1990. He was 37 years old.