He will never smoke weed with Willie again.
Toby Keith, an imposing country music star and avid University of Oklahoma sports fan, died Monday after a battle with stomach cancer that had left him physically diminished and limited his ability to tour over the last two years. He was 62.
The news was announced on Keith’s website and social media.
“Toby Keith passed peacefully last night on Feb. 5, surrounded by his family,” the statement reads. “He fought his fight with grace and courage. Please respect the privacy of his family at this time.”
Keith, whose name is emblazoned in blue on a water tower in Moore, was born in Clinton and lived as a child in Little Rock, Arkansas, before moving to Moore and playing football in high school. While working in oil and gas production, his musical career began when he formed the East Money Band with friends. After a stint playing semi-pro football, Keith moved to Nashville and ultimately found success with a self-titled debut album. His first single, Should’ve Been a Cowboy, topped charts.
Over the next decade, Keith found more success and a little controversy when he recorded Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American), which featured details of his father’s military service and rhetoric glorifying the United States’ wars after 9/11, including a line about putting “a boot in your ass — it’s the American way.” Keith ultimately said that a Rolling Stone article published by Ethan Hawke — which depicted an alleged argument with singer and veteran Kris Kristofferson about politics, patriotism and war backstage at a Willie Nelson birthday bash — was a lie.
“When I wrote it, I didn’t know that in the next few years that I was going to have to be looking those words square in the face,” Keith told podcaster Evan Paul about his 2018 song.
‘Cancer is an island and you’re on a boat’
Known as a Ford-truck man, Keith was diagnosed in 2021 with stomach cancer, losing weight and aging significantly as he fought the disease.
Frequently spotted standing on the Sooners’ sideline at OU football games, Keith also regularly attended OU basketball games.
“Cancer is an island and you’re on a boat,” Keith said. “Nobody goes over to that island when you don’t have it and as soon as you do, you crash land on it.”
Keith, whose Honkytonk U hit described his career playing beer joint taverns and sold-out basketball arenas, ended 2023 with a series of shows in Las Vegas.
In 2013, Keith headlined and hosted a star-studded benefit show following a tornado that caused significant damage in Moore. In 2016, he endorsed State Question 779’s proposal for a one-cent sales tax to fund common and higher education in Oklahoma. He also played at events for three presidents: George W. Bush, Barrack Obama and Donald Trump.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK4) released a statement remembering Keith as “a homegrown music legend whose love of America and Oklahoma was ever-present.”
“He never failed to show up for our military, embarking on multiple USO tours for our troops. In fact, after a visit to Iraq, where he came under fire at a forward operating base, the House of Representatives passed a resolution commending him for his courage and support of our men and women in uniform. Not surprisingly, he continued performing during the attack,” Cole said. “He brought that same vigor to our community. Toby actually grew up a few blocks from where my grandmother lived in the Southgate neighborhood of Moore. He never forgot his hometown. After every tornado or local disaster, he was always there to help with a concert and generous donations to local charities.”
On the Oklahoma House of Representatives floor Tuesday morning, Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) requested a moment of silence for Keith, with whom he attended school and eventually became friends. McBride called Keith an “Oklahoma treasure.”
“I had just texted him a few days ago, and I could tell at the time that he probably wasn’t feeling too well. Usually he has something up-beat to say like, ‘I’m kicking high and farting loud,’ or something like that. But that was Toby. But this time, he’d just had two surgeries and he wasn’t feeling well, so that wasn’t the normal response I got.”
— Tyler Talley (@tylertalley22) February 6, 2024
Keith is survived by his mother and his wife of 39 years — Tricia (Lucus) Keith — as well as two daughters — Shelley Covel and Krystal Sandubrae — a son, Stelen, his sister, Tonnie, and his brother, Tracy, plus four grandchildren.