Country legend Toby Keith died late on Monday, February 5. He was 62. His death was announced on his official website. According to the New York Times he died in Oklahoma, where he had lived his entire life.
Keith announced in the summer of 2022 that he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and was being treated with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
Hailing from Clinton, Oklahoma and raised all around the mid-South, Keith grew up with a love for honkytonks but put his dreams on the backburner when the realities of family life intruded. Before signing his first deal in his 30s in 1993, he worked as a rodeo hand, in the Oklahoma oil fields, and as a semiprofessional football player to support his young family. Eventually, he took a leap, peddling demos throughout Nashville, and Mercury Records’ Harold Shedd liked what he heard.
His self-titled debut album was preceded by the single “Should’ve Been A Cowboy,” which not only went to number one, but also became the most-played country song of the decade. That song was followed up the charts by “He Ain’t Worth Missing,” “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action,” and “Wish I Didn’t Know.”
He matched his promise on the debut with Boomtown (1994) and Blue Moon (1996), which featured another chart-topper in “Me Tool.” Backed by musicians like Sonny Garrish, Reggie Young, and Brent Mason, Keith made commercially accessible music that satisfied his ambitious band—Easy Money—as well.
Keith began moving away from his honky tonk roots in the mid-2000s, releasing the snarling, sarcastic, and incisive White Trash With Money in 2006 and Big Dog Daddy the following year.
American Ride, from 2009, contains the proper blend of swagger and sweetness that made Keith one of country’s most original artists.
In 2015, Keith went for broke on 35 MPH Town, which included an excellent cast of sidemen, among them Robert Greenidge on steel drums, Jimmy Buffett’s featured vocal on “Sailboat For Sale,” and a fat brass and string section.
The last full-length album he released before his death in 2021, Peso in My Pocket, was cheered by fans and critics alike, a fitting conclusion for one of the biggest voices in music.
Fittingly, Keith was honored with a special tribute at the 2023 People’s Choice Country Awards. Blake Shelton presented the country legend with the Country Icon Award back in September. In his speech, Keith said, “Bet y’all thought you’d never see me in skinny jeans,” referencing the weight loss caused by his cancer battle.
He concluded, “A lot of people go into making a big career like this of 30 years…Most of all, I want to thank the fans for letting us do what we do.”