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Toby Keith tributes: Country music world grieves singer after he died ‘surrounded by family’

Tributes poured in for country music star Toby Keith, who has died aged 62.

Keith died of stomach cancer on Monday (5 February) surrounded by his family, who said in a statement: “He fought his fight with grace and courage. Please respect the privacy of his family at this time.”

The musician, who sold more than 40 million records throughout his career, was best known for the songs “Red Solo Cup”, “I Wanna Talk About Me” and the controversial “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”.

He performed for US presidents including George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and was as much known for his public sparring with fellow celebrities as he was for his distinctly patriotic songs.

His final shows took place over the weekend, with Keith sharing video footage to his official Instagram page.

“And that’s a wrap on the weekend, y’all,” he wrote. “Back to it.”

Toby Keith dies aged 62 - key points

Toby Keith’s family announce singer’s death

Tuesday 6 February 2024 10:29 , Jacob Stolworthy

“Toby Keith passed peacefully last night on February 5th, surrounded by his family. He fought his fight with grace and courage. Please respect the privacy of his family at this time,” a statement posted to Keith’s website and social media said.

Country music world mourns loss of musician Toby Keith

The story behind ‘Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue'

Tuesday 6 February 2024 11:40 , Roisin O'Connor

Keith was knowing for wearing his politics on his sleeve, particularly after 9/11. Previously describing himself as a conservative Democrat, he later claimed to be an independent, playing at events for US presidents George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Written after the death of his father, HK Kovel, in a car crash, and in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” is distinctly pro-American and issues a threat to anyone who tries to mess with it.

Melodically similar to “American Pie” by Don McLean”, the song included the lyrics: “Justice will be served and the battle will rage/ This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage/ And you’ll be sorry that you messed with/ The US of A/ ‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass/ It’s the American way.”

Was Toby Keith married?

Tuesday 6 February 2024 11:51 , Roisin O'Connor

Keith is survived by Tricia Lucus, his wife of 40 years, their three children and four grandchildren.

She told People in 2001 that they met in a bar: “I was 19 and he was 20. He was just one of those larger-than-life guys, full of confidence,” she said.

The couple dated for three years before deciding to get married.

They shared three children together, daughters Shelly Covel Rowland (born in 1980 and adopted by Keith when he married Lucas), and Krystal LaDawn Covel Sandubrae (also a country singer), and son Stelen Keith Covel. Keith also had four grandchildren.

He shared a photo of him and the family together at Christmas last year:

What Toby Keith said about his cancer diagnosis

Tuesday 6 February 2024 11:54 , Roisin O'Connor

Keith was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2021, and shared the news with the public a year later.

In June 2022, he tweeted: “Last fall I was diagnosed with stomach cancer. I’ve spent the last six months receiving chemo, radiation and surgery. So far, so good. I need time to breathe, recover and relax.”

He added that he was looking forward to “spending time with my family. But I will see the fans sooner than later. I can’t wait.”

He had recently played live at the 2023 People’s Choice Awards, in September, when he received the Country Icon Award.

He spoke about his diagnosis during the ceremony, telling Extra TV: “I’ve walked some dark hallways, [but] the Almighty’s riding shotgun. I feel pretty good. You have good days and bad days.”

 (Getty Images for ACM)
(Getty Images for ACM)

Toby Keith’s final Instagram post showed him playing a raucous live show

Tuesday 6 February 2024 11:56 , Roisin O'Connor

Keith had just played a live show and posted about it on his Instagram page:

Controversial news pundit Tomi Lahren pays tribute to Toby Keith

Tuesday 6 February 2024 12:01 , Roisin O'Connor

Appearing on Fox News, Tomi Lahren paid tribute to Keith from Nashville, where she said it “hit a little different”.

“Such a big part of this town, such a big part of country music - he was actually the first concert I ever attended,” she said.

She praised his “patriotic” anthems that offered a “cathartic release” and said he was “a wonderful talent to have lost”.

Toby Keith’s very public feud with The Chicks

Tuesday 6 February 2024 12:05 , Roisin O'Connor

Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” peaked at No 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart upon its release in 2002, and continues to enjoy huge success today.

However, it was also the subject of negative reactions from his country music peers, including the legendary singer-songwriter Steve Earle, who accused the song of “pandering to people’s worst instincts at a time they are hurt and scared.”

The Chicks singer Natalie Maines branded it “ignorant”.

In response, Keith (already incensed by Maines’ infamous remark about how the band were ashamed of then-President George W Bush over the imminent invasion of Iraq) performed in front of a doctored photo of her with Saddam Hussein.

Maines then wore a homemade T-shirt reading “FUTK” on stage at the 2003 ACM Awards. While the band insisted at the time that it stood for, “Friends United Together in Kindness”, most believed that it was an acronym for: “F*** You Toby Keith.”

Maines later admitted this was the case in the band’s 2006 documentary, Shut Up & Sing.

Keith reportedly said he was later “embarrassed” by his part in the spat.

Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Robison of The Chicks on 27 February 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Robison of The Chicks on 27 February 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Toby Keith’s early beginnings as a musician

Tuesday 6 February 2024 12:21 , Roisin O'Connor

After working in the oil fields then a stint playing semi-pro American football, Keith launched his career as a singer in the late Seventies and Eighties, playing with his band around the red dirt roadhouse circuit in Oklahoma and Texas.

He ended up in Nashville, where he caught the interest of Mercury Records executive Harold Shedd, then best known for producing the hit group Alabama. Keith released his debut self-titled album, Toby Keith, with the label in 1993.

With his macho, pro-American swagger, booming voice and simple but catchy songs, Keith achieved success with hits including his breakthrough song, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy”, which became the most-played country song of the Nineties.

During this time, Keith became known for public clashes with celebrities and an unwillingness to have his rough edges smoothed over by record executives.

He also pushed back against what he perceived as an attempt to get him to cross over into pop music, as his label enjoyed similar success with country-pop queen Shania Twain.

“They were trying to get me to compromise, and I was living a miserable existence,” Keith told the AP. “Everybody was trying to mold me into something I was not.”

‘Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue’ controversy

Tuesday 6 February 2024 12:41 , Roisin O'Connor

The song peaked at No 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart upon its release, shortly after 9/11 and was heralded by many fans as a defiant anthem against terror.

Keith was later invited by broadcaster ABC to perform at its Fourth of July concert in 2002, but he claimed he was dropped from the show after host Peter Jennings expressed his distaste for it.

However, ABC said in a statement that it was the network’s decision, because it had not wanted to start its celebratory event with an angry song.

It was also the subject of negative reactions from his country music peers, including the legendary singer-songwriter Steve Earle, who accused the song of “pandering to people’s worst instincts at a time they are hurt and scared.” The Chicks singer Natalie Maines branded it “ignorant”.

In response, Keith (already incensed by Maines’ infamous remark about how the band were ashamed of then-President George W Bush over the imminent invasion of Iraq) performed in front of a doctored photo of her with Saddam Hussein.

Maines then wore a homemade T-shirt reading “FUTK” on stage at the 2003 ACM Awards. While the band insisted at the time that it stood for, “Friends United Together in Kindness”, most believed that it was an acronym for: “F*** You Toby Keith.” Maines later admitted this was the case in the band’s 2006 documentary, Shut Up & Sing.

Country star Zach Ryan pays tribute

Tuesday 6 February 2024 12:46 , Roisin O'Connor

Keith’s fellow Oklahoman, country music star Zach Ryan, 27, is among the stars to pay tribute after Keith’s death from cancer.

“Too many rides in my old man’s car listening to Toby Keith. Really hard thing to hear,” he tweeted.

“Rest in peace friend we love you.”

Toby Keith, ‘Courtesy of the Red White and Blue’ singer, dies aged 62

Tuesday 6 February 2024 12:52 , Roisin O'Connor

Toby Keith, the country music star behind hit songs including “Red Solo Cup” and “I Don’t Wanna Talk About Me”, as well as the controversial “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”, has died aged 62 after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.

“Toby Keith passed peacefully last night on February 5th, surrounded by his family. He fought his fight with grace and courage. Please respect the privacy of his family at this time,” a statement posted to Keith’s website and social media said.

Keith sold more than 40 million records over his career, which was peppered with controversy due to his political beliefs and a public feud with The Chicks (then known as The Dixie Chicks) over one of his biggest songs.

Tributes pour in from friends and fans

Tuesday 6 February 2024 13:01 , Roisin O'Connor

Pro-golfer John Daly, a longtime friend of the country music singer, commented on the Instagram post, writing: “My heart is truly broken… one of my best friends gone by this disease! RIP Big Dawg.”

Video: Toby Keith reflects on the first song he ever wrote

Tuesday 6 February 2024 13:21 , Roisin O'Connor

In a recently shared video, Keith reflected on one of the first songs he ever wrote, aged 14.

“The first song I ever wrote, I was 14 or 15 years old, it was called ‘If You Had an Out of Heartache”, it wasn’t bad, it was structured right, but it weren’t very good either.

“But the people round here, when I played it, they were like, ‘Wow, that’s a great song.’ It’s just a song, that was 5,000 songs ago.”

Good Morning America remembers country music star

Tuesday 6 February 2024 13:41 , Roisin O'Connor

Toby Keith’s early career beginnings

Tuesday 6 February 2024 14:01 , Roisin O'Connor

After a stint playing semi-pro American football, he launched his career as a singer in the late Seventies and Eighties, playing with his band around the red dirt roadhouse circuit in Oklahoma and Texas.

He ended up in Nashville, where he caught the interest of Mercury Records executive Harold Shedd, then best known for producing the hit group Alabama. Keith released his debut self-titled album, Toby Keith, with the label in 1993.

With his macho, pro-American swagger, booming voice and simple but catchy songs, Keith achieved success with hits including his breakthrough song, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy”, which became the most-played country song of the Nineties.

Country Music Television pays tribute to ‘country legend’ Toby Keith

Tuesday 6 February 2024 14:21 , Roisin O'Connor

“CMT is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic loss of country legend Toby Keith. Our hearts go out to his wife, Tricia, his children, and loved ones during this difficult time,” the channel Country Music Television said in a statement.

Luke Combs reacts to Toby Keith’s death

Tuesday 6 February 2024 14:40 , Inga Parkel

Grammy-nominated country singer Luke Combs reacted in disbelief to Toby Keith’s death.

“Damn, RIP Toby. Can’t believe it,” the “When It Rains It Pours” singer tweeted.

Zach Bryan remembers childhood drives listening to Toby Keith

Tuesday 6 February 2024 15:00 , Inga Parkel

Fellow country singer Zach Bryan honoured Toby Keith with a childhood memory.

“Too many rides in my old man’s car listening to Toby Keith,” the 27-year-old “Something in the Orange” tweeted.

“Really hard thing to hear,” he added. “Rest in peace friend we love you.”

Governor of Toby Keith’s home state Oklahoma honours ‘legend’

Tuesday 6 February 2024 15:20 , Inga Parkel

Oklahoma’s Governor Kevin Stitt paid tribute to “legend” Toby Keith.

“America lost a legend today. Toby Keith helped make Oklahoma the coolest place in the nation,” Stitt wrote of the Oklahoma-born country singer.

“His legacy will forever be in the hearts of Oklahomans and fans around the world – I know his spirit will live on. Sarah and I offer our condolences to Toby’s family.”

Jelly Roll pays tribute to inspiration Toby Keith

Tuesday 6 February 2024 15:40 , Inga Parkel

Rapper and country singer Jelly Roll has remembered Toby Keith as an inspiration.

“We covered ‘Should’ve Been a Cowboy’ at every show last year,” the “Need A Favor” artist recalled on his Instagram Story. “Toby inspired millions and, I was one of them. RIP.”

Carrie Underwood honours Toby Keith with throwback photo

Tuesday 6 February 2024 16:00 , Inga Parkel

Carrie Underwood has posted a heartwarming Instagram Post in honour of Toby Keith, whose recent death has been felt across the country music world and beyond.

Immediately following the news of Keith’s death, the 40-year-old “Before He Cheats” singer honoured the country music legend writing: “Saddle up the horses, Jesus, ‘cause a true blue COWBOY just made his ride up to heaven!!!

“Introduce him to all the Okies and sign that boy up for the choir! We’re gonna miss you, Toby, but my heart has no doubt that you are standing in the presence of our King right now!!! See you again someday, friend,” Underwood added.

She included a carousel of photos of her and Keith at the 2022 BMI Country Awards, as well as a photo (presumably) of the first time they met years ago.

Video: Toby Keith reflects on the first song he ever wrote

Tuesday 6 February 2024 16:30 , Inga Parkel

In a recently shared video, Keith reflected on one of the first songs he ever wrote, aged 14.

“The first song I ever wrote, I was 14 or 15 years old, it was called ‘If You Had an Out of Heartache”, it wasn’t bad, it was structured right, but it weren’t very good either.

“But the people round here, when I played it, they were like, ‘Wow, that’s a great song.’ It’s just a song, that was 5,000 songs ago.”

Toby Keith’s final Instagram post showed him playing a raucous live show

Tuesday 6 February 2024 17:00 , Inga Parkel

The day before his death, Keith posted a video from his final live show.

“And that’s a wrap on the weekend, y’all. Back to it,” the country singer wrote in the caption.

Toby Keith’s early beginnings as a musician

Tuesday 6 February 2024 17:45 , Inga Parkel

After working in the oil fields then a stint playing semi-pro American football, Keith launched his career as a singer in the late Seventies and Eighties, playing with his band around the red dirt roadhouse circuit in Oklahoma and Texas.

He ended up in Nashville, where he caught the interest of Mercury Records executive Harold Shedd, then best known for producing the hit group Alabama. Keith released his debut self-titled album, Toby Keith, with the label in 1993.

With his macho, pro-American swagger, booming voice and simple but catchy songs, Keith achieved success with hits including his breakthrough song, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy”, which became the most-played country song of the Nineties.

During this time, Keith became known for public clashes with celebrities and an unwillingness to have his rough edges smoothed over by record executives.

He also pushed back against what he perceived as an attempt to get him to cross over into pop music, as his label enjoyed similar success with country-pop queen Shania Twain.

“They were trying to get me to compromise, and I was living a miserable existence,” Keith told the AP. “Everybody was trying to mold me into something I was not.”

Kristin Chenoweth honours ‘fellow Okie’ Toby Keith

Tuesday 6 February 2024 18:15 , Inga Parkel

Kristin Chenoweth has paid tribute to her fellow Oklahoma country star Keith on Instagram.

Alongside a photo of Chenoweth standing on stage beside Keith and Trace Adkins, the Broadway star wrote: “My fellow Okie. You’re so loved, Toby. We will all miss you so terribly. Dad and I sure did love seeing you on the field at the OU games. Rest easy - you fought a hell of a battle.”

Toby Keith’s very public feud with The Chicks

Tuesday 6 February 2024 18:45 , Inga Parkel

Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” peaked at No 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart upon its release in 2002, and continues to enjoy huge success today.

However, it was also the subject of negative reactions from his country music peers, including the legendary singer-songwriter Steve Earle, who accused the song of “pandering to people’s worst instincts at a time they are hurt and scared.”

The Chicks singer Natalie Maines branded it “ignorant”.

In response, Keith (already incensed by Maines’ infamous remark about how the band were ashamed of then-President George W Bush over the imminent invasion of Iraq) performed in front of a doctored photo of her with Saddam Hussein.

Maines then wore a homemade T-shirt reading “FUTK” on stage at the 2003 ACM Awards. While the band insisted at the time that it stood for, “Friends United Together in Kindness”, most believed that it was an acronym for: “F*** You Toby Keith.”

Maines later admitted this was the case in the band’s 2006 documentary, Shut Up & Sing.

Keith reportedly said he was later “embarrassed” by his part in the spat.

(left to right) Emily Robison, Natalie Maines and Martie Maguire of The Chicks perform on stage at BST Hyde Park in London (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
(left to right) Emily Robison, Natalie Maines and Martie Maguire of The Chicks perform on stage at BST Hyde Park in London (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

Jason Aldean mourns the loss of Toby Keith

Tuesday 6 February 2024 19:15 , Inga Parkel

“Just waking up to the news of Toby Keith’s passing,” Aldean wrote on Instagram. “Today is a sad day for Country music and its fans. Toby was a huge presence in our business and someone we all looked up to and respected. You and your music will be forever remembered big man.”

Randy Houser sings Toby Keith song in honour of ‘American icon'

Tuesday 6 February 2024 20:15 , Inga Parkel

“An American icon. They do not make em like him everyday in my opinion,” Houser wrote on Instagram. “One of my favourites that he and @Scottyemerick wrote,” he added, beside a video of him covering Keith’s 2003 song “I Love This Bar”.

“It’s late at night or early in the morning but I wanted to sing one in his honour no matter what time it is. Rest In Peace. Job well done,” the “How Country Feels” singer posted.

Was Toby Keith married?

Tuesday 6 February 2024 21:15 , Inga Parkel

Keith is survived by Tricia Lucus, his wife of 40 years, their three children and four grandchildren.

She told People in 2001 that they met in a bar: “I was 19 and he was 20. He was just one of those larger-than-life guys, full of confidence,” she said.

The couple dated for three years before deciding to get married.

They shared three children together, daughters Shelly Covel Rowland (born in 1980 and adopted by Keith when he married Lucas), and Krystal LaDawn Covel Sandubrae (also a country singer), and son Stelen Keith Covel. Keith also had four grandchildren.

He shared a photo of him and the family together at Christmas last year:

The story behind ‘Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue’

Tuesday 6 February 2024 22:15 , Inga Parkel

Keith was known for wearing his politics on his sleeve, particularly after 9/11. Previously describing himself as a conservative Democrat, he later claimed to be an independent, playing at events for US presidents George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Written after the death of his father, HK Kovel, in a car crash, and in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” is distinctly pro-American and issues a threat to anyone who tries to mess with it.

Melodically similar to “American Pie” by Don McLean”, the song included the lyrics: “Justice will be served and the battle will rage/ This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage/ And you’ll be sorry that you messed with/ The US of A/ ‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass/ It’s the American way.”

WATCH: Toby Keith performs at Trump’s inauguration in resurfaced clip as singer dies aged 62

Tuesday 6 February 2024 23:15 , Inga Parkel