Day in History 20 October – Ronnie Van Zant – Burt Lancaster

Ronnie Van Zant

On this day in 1977, lead vocalist, primary lyricist and founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ronnie Van Zant died in a plane crash near Gillsburg, Louisiana.  Also killed in the crash were Steve and Cassie Gaines, Dean Kilpatrick, Walter McCreary and William Gray.  Born Ronald Wayne Van Zant on 15 January 1948 in Jacksonville, Florida.  Older brother of Donnie Van Zant, founder and lead singer of the band 38 Special.  Lynyrd Skynyrd is still one of my favorite bands.  The inspiration for the name came from a high school gym teacher, Leonard Skinner.  The surviving band members reunited in 1987 with Ronnie’s younger brother Johnny as lead singer and primary song writer.  Ricky Medlocke, formerly with the band Blackfoot, later joined Lynyrd Skynyrd.  I saw them play at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 1998, give or take a year.  In addition to Sweet Home Alabama and Freebird, my favorite Skynyrd songs include, Tuesday’s Gone, Simple Man and That SmellThe Final Footprint– Van Zant was originally entombed in a private mausoleum in Jacksonville Memorial Gardens in Orange Park, Florida.

Ronnie Van Zant’s Mausoleum

Unfortunately, his crypt and that of Steve Gaines were vandalized on 29 June 2000.  Their mausoleums remain as memorials for fans to visit.  Van Zant was subsequently interred in Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida near his parents.  His casket was reportedly enclosed in a massive underground concrete vault.  A memorial park funded by fans and family of the band was built in honor of Van Zant. The Ronnie Van Zant Memorial Park is located on Sandridge Road in Lake Asbury, Florida, nearby his hometown of Jacksonville.

Burt Lancaster
Burt Lancaster - publicity 1947.JPG

Lancaster in Desert Fury (1947)

On this day in 1994, actor Burt Lancaster died in his Century City apartment in Los Angeles from a third heart attack at the age of 80.  Born Burton Stephen Lancaster on November 2, 1913 in Manhattan at his parents’ home at 209 East 106th Street, between Second and Third Avenues, today the site of Benjamin Franklin Plaza.

Initially known for playing “tough guys”, Lancaster went on to achieve success with more complex and challenging roles. He was nominated four times for Academy Awards and won once for his work in Elmer Gantry in 1960. He also won a Golden Globe for that performance and BAFTA Awards for The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and Atlantic City (1980). During the 1950s his production company Hecht-Hill-Lancaster was highly successful, making films such as Marty (1955), Trapeze (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), and Separate Tables (1958).

Lancaster and Nick Cravat, performing with the Federal Theatre Project Circus (1935–38)
Cravat and Lancaster performing on the horizontal bars
With Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)

With Ava Gardner in The Killers(1946)


Drawing of Lancaster after he won an Oscar for Elmer Gantry (1960). Artist: Nicholas Volpe

With Audrey Hepburn in The Unforgiven (1960)

Lancaster and Alexander Pokryshkin in the documentary television series The Unknown War, episode 9 War in the Air. Moscow, USSR, 1978.

In Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Lancaster guarded his private life. He was married three times. His first two marriages – to June Ernst from 1935 to 1946 and to Norma Anderson from 1946 to 1969 – ended in divorce. His third marriage, to Susan Martin, was from September 1990 until his death in 1994. All five of his children were with Norma Anderson. He claimed he was romantically involved with Deborah Kerr during the filming of From Here to Eternity in 1953. However, Kerr stated that while there was a spark of attraction, nothing ever happened. He reportedly had an affair with Joan Blondell. In her 1980 autobiography, Shelley Winters claimed to have had a long affair with him. Recent biographers and others believe that Lancaster was bisexual, and that he had intimate relationships with men as well as women. According to testimony in Kate Buford’s Burt Lancaster: An American Life, Lancaster was devotedly loyal to his friends and family. Old pals from his childhood in NYC’s East Harlem remained his friends for life.

The Final Footprint

Burt Lancaster’s grave

Lancaster was cremated and his ashes were buried under a large oak tree in Westwood Memorial Park located in Westwood Village, Los Angeles County, California. A small, square ground plaque inscribed only with “BURT LANCASTER 1913–1994” marks his final resting place. Upon his death, as he requested, he had no memorial or funeral service. Other notable final footprints at Westwood include; Ray Bradbury, Sammy Cahn, James Coburn, Rodney Dangerfield, Janet Leigh, Farrah Fawcett, Brian Keith, Don Knotts, Peter Lawford, Peggy Lee, Jack Lemmon, Karl Malden, Dean Martin, Walter Mathau, Marilyn Monroe, Carroll O’Connor, Roy Orbison, George C. Scott, Dorothy Stratten, Natalie Wood and Frank Zappa.

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