America woke up today to the news that country music star Toby Keith, 62, had finally lost his long-running battle with stomach cancer. The singer passed away Monday evening surrounded by his family.
“He fought his life with grace and courage. Please respect the privacy of his family at this time,” a statement on his website and social media read.
A native Oklahoman, Keith first found music stardom with his first hit, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” in 1993 and maintained a strong following for the next 30 years until his passing. He recorded 20 No. 1 country music hits. Keith was an unabashed patriot, supported the military and loved his country as heard in some of his top hits including “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” following the attacks on 9/11, “American Soldier,” “Happy Birthday America,” “Made in America” and others.
In addition to his songs about the military and recalling his veteran father, Keith was honored in 2014 with a Spirit of the USO Award by the USO for his unwavering commitment in playing more than 300 shows beginning in 2002 and up to that time in countries ranging including Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba, Djibouti, Guam, Kyrgyzstan and others. He was also a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, presented to him by President Donald Trump in 2021.
Other top hits included “How Do You Like Me Now,” “Red Solo Cup,” “As Good as I Once Was,” “I Wanna Talk About Me,” and many others. He was a great showman and always seemed to have a great time, whether on stage or hanging with fans or friends.
Toby Keith Outdoorsman
Keith was a passionate outdoorsman, who loved fishing and hunting, though he was known more for his fishing—both saltwater and freshwater. In fact, he loved it so much, he bought a tackle company, Luck E Strike, last year.
And it was on a pheasant hunting trip with some buddies back in the 1990s where the idea for his first big hit, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” was born.
As Keith told a reporter in a Los Angeles Daily News article in 2018 to commemorate the 25th year of the hit song, they were in a country bar after a day of hunting and one of the members of his group, a highway patrolman, asked a girl in the bar to dance. The girl shot him down.
“She guns him down and everyone makes fun of the poor guy and he comes back to the table and a young, guy about half his age, swoops in and takes her to the floor,” Keith was quoted as saying. “One of them turned and said ‘John, you should’ve been a cowboy.’ I thought, well, I have to write that.”
According to Keith, after they left the bar he headed to his hotel room, and in about 20 minutes, wrote the lyrics for the song that would become his first big hit.
Toby Keith & Guns
As a hunter, Keith was obviously a gun owner and fond of shooting. A reporter once tried to corner him on the topic of more gun laws following the tragic racially motivated shooting of churchgoers in a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015, in which Keith replied more laws were not the answer.
“If it can happen in church, it can happen anywhere, so there’s no answer to it,” Keith told the reporter. He then pointed out how countries with strict gun laws still have mass shootings and violence.
But Keith famously ran afoul of the firearms community in 2013 when a restaurant in Woodbridge, Virginia, that bore his name, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, hung a “No Guns Permitted” sign at its front door. Keith took flak from gun owners and 2A supporters on his Facebook page at the time, though the restaurant only licensed his name and Keith had no ownership stake in any of the establishments nor had any say in how the restaurants were run. He merely collected royalties for allowing them to use his name and the name of his hit song, “I Love This Bar.”