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updated 5/7/2009 4:37:22 PM ET 2009-05-07T20:37:22

Bassist Donald “Ean” Evans of the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd has died of cancer at his home in Mississippi.

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Lowndes County Coroner Greg Merchant said Evans died Wednesday. He was 48.

A statement posted on lynyrdskynyrd.com said, “It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of longtime Lynyrd Skynyrd bassist Ean Evans. Ean put up a valiant battle with an aggressive form of cancer and he will be sorely missed by family, friends and fans.”

Evans was born in Atlanta, but moved to Columbus in eastern Mississippi after marrying his wife, Eva. He joined Lynyrd Skynyrd in 2001 and had been touring regularly with the band until being diagnosed with cancer in 2008, when he cut back on performances with the band.

Survivors include his wife and two daughters.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Mike Chain, a local guitarist who was close friends with Evans, told The Commercial Dispatch in Columbus, Miss., that Evans was always a dreamer with a “big heart.”

“He was just one of those guys who was always a dreamer and always seeing ahead,” Chain said. “And he was the most positive person I’ve ever met.”

The Jacksonville-based band was formed in 1966 by a group of high school students; famously, it took its name from a physical education teacher they disliked, Leonard Skinner.

They released their first album, “Pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd.” It became one of the South’s most popular rock groups and gained national fame with such hits as “Free Bird,” “What’s Your Name” and especially “Sweet Home Alabama,” which reached the top 10 on the charts in 1974. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

The band was shattered on Oct. 20, 1977, when their chartered plane crashed in a swamp near McComb, Miss. The crash claimed the lives of six people, including the band’s lead singer Ronnie Van Zant.

And in 2001, bassist Leon Wilkeson died in his sleep in a hotel room near Jacksonville, Fla.

Chain said he was with Evans the night he got hired by the band.

“We were spending New Year’s Eve together when this Skynyrd thing was happening,” Chain said. “It didn’t look like it was going to happen. But he just set his feet in the ground ... and was ready to stand up and fly to the moon. And he did.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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