Singer-songwriter Toby Keith, who twice won the Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year award, has died. He was 62 years old.
Keith, who suffered from stomach cancer, died peacefully Monday surrounded by his family, according to a statement on the country singer’s website.
“He fought his fight with grace and courage,” the statement said. He was diagnosed in 2022.
Sometimes a polarizing figure in country music, the 6’4 singer broke out in the country boom years of the 1990s, carving an identity around his machismo and pro-American swagger and writing songs that fans loved to hear.
During his career, he clashed publicly with other celebrities and journalists and often clashed with record executives who wanted to smooth over his rough edges. He was known for his overt patriotism on post-9/11 songs like Courtesy of Red, White and Blueand loud bar tunes like I love this bar And Red Solo Cup.
He had a powerful, booming voice, a wry sense of humor and a range that carried love songs and drinking songs alike. Among his 20 No. 1 country hits on the Billboard were How do you love me now?!, I should have been a CowboYes, As good as before, My list And Beer for my horsesa duet with Willie Nelson.
“I write about life, I sing about life and I don’t overanalyze things,” Keith told the Associated Press in 2001, following the success of his song. I’m just talking about tonight.
“Miserable” after a resounding success
Keith worked in the Oklahoma oil fields as a young man, then played semi-pro football before launching his singing career.
Eventually his path led him to Nashville, where he attracted the interest of Mercury Records executive Harold Shedd, best known as the producer of the hit band Alabama. Shedd brought him to Mercury, where he released his first platinum record. Toby Keithin 1993.
I should have been a cowboyhis big hit, was played three million times on radio stations, making it the most played country song of the 1990s. But Keith felt like executives were trying to push him in a pop direction.
“They were trying to convince me to compromise and I was living a miserable existence,” Keith told the Associated Press years later. “Everyone was trying to turn me into something I wasn’t.”
After a series of albums that produced hits like Who is that manand a cover of Sting’s I’m so happy I can’t stop cryingKeith joined DreamWorks Records in 1999.
That’s when his weeks How do you love me now?! took off and became her first song to make the Top 40 charts. In 2001, he won Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
Keith often wore his politics on his sleeve, particularly after the terrorist attacks on American soil in 2001, and at first he declared himself a conservative Democrat, but later claimed he was an independent. He has performed at events for Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the latter of whom presented him with a National Medal of Arts in 2021.
Singer-songwriter Steve Earle characterized Keith’s 2002 song: Courtesy of Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)as giving in to people’s worst instincts in a time of fear after the September 11 attacks.
Then there was the feud between Keith and the Dixie Chicks, now known as the Chicks, who became the target of Keith’s ire when singer Natalie Maines told the crowd they were ashamed of the president of the time, George W. Bush.
Keith, who had previously said he supported the freedom of any artist to express their opinion on politics, used a doctored photo of Maines with an image of Saddam Hussein during his concerts, further stoking fans’ anger.
Maines responded by wearing a shirt with the letters FUTK on stage at the 2003 ACM Awards, which many people considered a vulgar message to Keith.
He won Best Artist at the ACM Awards in 2003 and 2004, adding Best Male Vocalist and Album of the Year for Shock you all in 2004.
He has also been nominated three times for Entertainer of the Year at the Country Music Awards.
He participated in 11 United Service Organization tours to visit and perform for troops serving overseas. He also helped raise millions of dollars for charity during his career, including building a home in Oklahoma City for children and their families battling cancer.
After Universal Music Group acquired DreamWorks, Keith started again, starting his own label, Show Dog, in 2005 with record executive Scott Borchetta, who launched his own Big Machine label at the same time.
His later successes included Love me if you can, She never cried in front of meAnd Red Solo Cup. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015. He was later honored by the performing rights organization BMI in November 2022 with the BMI Icon Award, a few months after announcing his stomach cancer diagnosis.
“I always thought songwriting was the most important part of this whole industry,” Keith told the crowd of other singers and writers.