Toby Keith, the country superstar who became a symbol of American patriotism and masculinity in the mid-2000s, died yesterday (February 5). According to his website, Keith passed away peacefully in the night, surrounded by family. Though no cause of death was disclosed, he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2021. Keith was 62.
Born on July 8, 1961 in Clinton, Oklahoma, Keith formed the Easy Money Band in the early 1980s while he was playing on a semi-pro football team, the Oklahoma City Drillers. The group began playing at honky-tonks in Oklahoma and Texas before Keith moved to Nashville in the early 1990s in hopes of getting a record deal. He eventually signed to Mercury Records, where he released his self-titled debut album in 1993. It was led by the single ‘Should’ve Been a Cowboy’, which went on to become the most-played country song of the 1990s.
After his tenure at Mercury, Keith signed to DreamWorks Records, achieving a commercial breakthrough with the title track from 1999’s How Do You Like Me Now?! Its follow-up, 2001’s Pull My Chain, went double platinum and spawned three No. 1 singles. In 2002, Keith released ‘Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)’, a divisive song written in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, as the lead single from his album Unleashed. Though he described himself as “a conservative Democrat who is sometimes embarrassed for his party,” he later re-registered as an independent and performed at events for Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
Keith’s highest-charting Hot 100 single came in 2012 with ‘Red Solo Cup’, and he continued dominating the country album charts with records like 2013’s Drinks After Work and 2015’s Hope on the Rocks. He put out a total of nineteen albums, most recently Peso in My Pocket in 2021. That same year, Trump awarded Keith the National Medal of the Arts.