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Skynryd bassist dies

(CNN) -- Lynyrd Skynyrd bassist Leon Wilkeson, an original member of the southern rock band, has died Friday at the age of 49.

A statement from Chipster Entertainment Inc., said Wilkeson died in his sleep, but did not provide other information on the cause of death.

"It's very unfortunate, Leon was a very spirited, very nice guy, and we'll all miss him," said Dan Russo of Sanctuary Records, the band's label.

Best known for the hits "Free Bird," "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Gimme Three Steps," the band -- formed in Jacksonville, Florida, in the late 1960s -- has suffered several tragedies over the years.

The band's chartered plane crashed on Oct. 20, 1977, killing lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and background singer Cassie Gaines.

In 1987, founding member Allen Collins -- who was paralyzed after a car wreck -- died of complications from pneumonia.

The current band was on tour this summer, and Wilkeson was home on a brief break between shows, Russo said. The next concert had been scheduled for Monday in San Diego.

• Freebird Cafe

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