I'll Never Forget You: The Last 72 Hours Of Lynyrd Skynyrd is the second recent documentary about Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd and the plane crash that claimed the lives of singer Ronnie Vant Zant and five other members of the band and the crew in 1977. The 2018 documentary, If I Leave Here Tomorrow, covered the entire history of the band in depth. It was narrated by Gary Rossington, the last surviving member of the original lineup, and had lots of archival footage of the band.
I'll Never Forget You deals with the last three days of the original band’s existence. However, there’s a bit of background given on the band’s shenanigans, their management’s screw-ups, and the decisions that lead to the crash. The documentary is based on the 1983 book written by Ronnie Van Zant’s fishing buddy/bodyguard, Gene Odom. The information is based on interview with Odom, the band's guitar tech Craig Reed, and back-up singer Leslie Hawkins. There’s some grainy archival footage and the usual re-enactments with look-alikes.
Reed, who was plucked up from a civilian life to go on the road with the band, lived a crazy rock 'n' roll lifestyle of drugs, alcohol, and women. Luxury hotels all over the world threw the band out for bad behavior. Band members would do things like throw a plugged in TV into the hotel swimming pool. Reed notes, “You’d get attempted murder these days for that stuff.” Hawkins had quite a different story. She was a mother of two trying to live a sane life on the road away from her family.
Van Zant hired his childhood friend Odom as a bodyguard and a hands-on drug/alcohol counselor. (Professional drug and alcohol rehab for rock stars hadn’t gained traction yet.) Keeping the band away from alcohol turned out to be easy, but getting rid of the drugs was a challenge. The band was thrilled when they played a show sober in front of 93,000 people in Anaheim.
While the band made progress with their sobriety, unresolved problems with their Conair CV-240 aircraft caused ongoing problems. A fire broke on the plane’s right side several days before the crash. The pilot refused to turn the plane around, despite Odom’s protestations. The plane got to its destination, but worries about using it for future trips remained. Hawkins recalls a time she brought one of her children on the plane with her, but thought better and sent him home by car before the plane left. The day before the crash, Hawkins and back-up singer Cassie Gaines wanted to take a commercial flight to Baton Rogue, but Van Zant nixed the idea.
After a show in South Carolina, the band decided to fly to Baton Rogue and spend the day off there. The plane crashed in Gillsburg, Mississippi early in the evening of October 20. Local first responders discovered the dead and badly injured passengers. Van Zant, Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary, and co-pilot William Gray perished in the crash. (One time, after downing a few drinks, Van Zant told his friends, “I don’t think I’m gonna live to be 29.” Those words turned out to be prophetic, as the singer was 28 when he died.)
Odom, Reed, and Hawkins spent many months in the hospital and rehab. Hawkins hasn’t been able to work much since the accident. Odom had to have reconstructive surgery, and Reed suffered broken ribs. The film offers glimpses of the NTSB report, a diagram of the downed plane, and a few photos of the crash site. The crash report cited lack of fuel as the cause of the crash, and placed the blame on the pilot and co-pilot.
It’s been over 42 years since the plane went down. Van Zant’s widow, Judy Van Zant-Jenness, helped dedicated a memorial to the singer and the others who perished in rural Mississippi that fateful night. Lynyrd Skynyrd was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
I'll Never Forget You offers perspective on the crash and the band from survivors known only to the most hardcore Skynyrd fans. It provides some minor information you won’t find in other films or news reports. This documentary is a bonus for rock historians and dedicated Skynyrd fans. Extras include Gene’s fishing tips and highlights of the band’s 40th anniversary celebration in their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.