Toby Keith, the country music star and symbol of mid-aughts American patriotism, has died at the age of 62.
The swaggering, square-shouldered singer-songwriter, affectionately known to fans as “Big Dog Daddy,” revealed his battle with stomach cancer in June 2022, six months after he had been diagnosed and undergone treatment. He “passed peacefully” on February 5th, 2024, “surrounded by his family,” a statement on his website reads. “He fought his fight with grace and courage.”
Toby Keith Covel was born on July 8th, 1961 in Clinton, Oklahoma. He was inspired to learn guitar at eight years old and performed with friends in local honey-tonks through his early twenties while working in oil fields and playing semi-pro football in Oklahoma City. In the early ’90s, the fledgling musician traveled to Nashville and eventually signed to Mercury Records, where he released his 1993 self-titled debut album led by his first single “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” which would become the most-played country song of the decade, as well as his popular rendition of “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action.”
After releasing three more modestly successful albums with Mercury and signing to DreamWorks Records, Keith hit a new commercial peak with the title track from 1999’s How Do You Like Me Now?! and further cemented his place in the mainstream over the next two years with buzzy singles like “I Wanna Talk About Me” and “My List.” Compelled by the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, Keith became more openly political in his music for 2002’s Unleashed, which notably contained “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” the divisive anthem to American exceptionalism known for undiplomatic lyrics like “We’ll put a boot in your ass/ It’s the American way.” It became his best-performing song on Hot 100 at the time and was balanced on the album with less combative but equally successful singles like “Who’s Your Daddy?” and his Willie Nelson collaboration “Beer for My Horses,” which later inspired a 2008 full-length feature film of the same name that starred the pair and was co-written by Keith.
His subsequent albums yielded hits such as 2003’s “I Love This Bar,” 2005’s “As Good as I Once Was,” and 2007’s “Love Me If You Can,” while Keith cultivated his patriotic image with more solemn singles like 2003’s “American Soldier” and a rigorous USO tour that reached 15 countries between 2002 and 2013. In his 2009 acceptance of the Johnny “Mike” Spann Memorial Semper Fidelis Award by the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, Keith shared, “Spending time with our soldiers around the world is something I’ve always regarded as a privilege and honor.”
The county star earned his highest-charting Hot 100 single in 2012 with “Red Solo Cup,” and maintained his dominance on the country album charts with well-received entries like 2013’s Drinks After Work and 2015’s Hope on the Rocks. Over his three-decade career, Keith released nineteen albums, most recently Peso in My Pocket in 2021.
Over the course of his career, Keith achieved 20 No. 1 hits and sold more than 40 million albums. In January 2021, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by then-president Donald Trump.
Outside of his role as a songwriter and performer, Keith launched his music label, Show Dog Nashville, and also co-founded Big Machine Records in 2005.