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Toby Keith, one of country music's biggest stars, dies at 62

Updated February 6, 2024 at 1:11 PM ET

Toby Keith, the country music superstar behind some of the biggest hit songs to come out of Nashville, has died at age 62.

Keith died on Monday, his publicist confirmed to NPR, and his passing was also announced on his official website and on X, formerly Twitter.

"Toby Keith passed peacefully last night on February 5, surrounded by his family," reads the statement on Keith website. "He fought his fight with grace and courage. Please respect the privacy of his family at this time."

Keith announced on social media in 2022 that he had been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for stomach cancer since fall 2021.

"So far, so good," he said at the time. "I need time to breathe, recover and relax."

A major country star for three decades, Keith enjoyed hits such as "Red Solo Cup," "How Do You Like Me Now?!" and "Beer For My Horses," a duet with Willie Nelson.

The native Oklahoman grew up in Oklahoma City, working in the oil fields after high school while playing music with his own band. Eventually, music became Keith's main focus, and he caught his big break when famed producer Harold Shedd heard his demo tape.

Keith's breakout hit, "Should've Been a Cowboy," debuted in 1993 and would go on to become the most played country song of the decade, with more than 3 million plays on the radio.

He went on to produce many more hits, including the 2002 song "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," inspired by the 9/11 attacks as well as the death of his veteran father. While polarizing, the unapologetically patriotic song brought Keith's visibility to a new level.

The song famously led to a feud between Keith and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks (now the Chicks). Maines, known for her views against then President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, deemed the song "ignorant" in an interview at the time of its release, leading Keith to later project a doctored image of Maines alongside Saddam Hussein at his concerts.

Keith reportedly later said he was "embarrassed" by his role in the feud.

Among Keith's many accolades, the Academy of Country Music named him Male Vocalist of the Year in 2001. He was awarded Artist of the Decade at the American Country Awards in 2011, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015. In 2021, Keith also became a recipient of the National Medal of Arts.

In all, Keith had 32 number one singles and sold over 40 million albums.

His death has brought an outpouring of tributes from fellow country music stars.

"Saddle up the horses, Jesus, 'cause a true blue COWBOY just made his ride up to heaven!!!" Carrie Underwood wrote on Instagram. "Introduce him to all the Okies and sign that boy up for the choir!"

"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," said Jason Aldean in an Instagram post. "You and your music will be forever remembered big man."

"Too many rides in my old man's car listening to Toby Keith," said Zach Bryan in a post on X. "Really hard thing to hear. Rest in peace friend we love you."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie
[Copyright 2024 NPR]