A TLO Tribute to Toby Keith…
11:55 AM EST on February 6, 2024
Pour a little beer out for a homie’s horses.
I, like most of Oklahoma and the rest of the world, woke up this morning to the sad news that Toby Keith – Oklahoma country music legend, restaurateur, OU super fan, and the celebrity embodiment of Oklahoma suburban cowboy stereotypes and redneck culture – passed away at the age of 62.
Instead of quoting the AP or NY Times or any of the other countless media outlets around the globe that have penned an obituary about his death, let’s watch this video of young, up-and-coming, and very mulleted Toby being interviewed by the McCain Brothers on 5 Alive in the early 90s.
As a bonafide Oklahoma super celebrity, we’ve had a lot of poking fun at Toby's expense over this site’s history.
The first one was this early-era TLO piece by Tony about Toby making the Oklahoma Hall Of Fame, while the most recent was the news I broke that he was a financial backer of the fledgling sports media outlet Sellout-Crowd.com.
Obviously, there's been a lot of stuff written about Toby on these web pages in between those articles. In fact, a quick search through our archive shows that his name has been referenced in about 180 of our 6,000 or so posts and articles.
Way back in 2007, when this site was only a few months old and the Internet was a much much different place, we produced a not very serious list of the Top 100 Oklahoma Embarrassments.
Toby Keith, who was at the height of his “Stick a Boot Up Their Ass, Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” super patriot missile fame, was ranked number one, just edging out Saving Grace, Jim Inhofe and Hinder.
Our pronouncement of Toby Keith as the state’s top embarrassment actually generated a fair amount of attention at the time. The Oklahoma Gazette wrote a blurb about it in their Chicken Fried News, which in 2007, was actually a big deal. As a result, we got a lot of emails from Moore residents, country music fans and state fair carnies letting us have it, and putting us in our place by reciting all the great work that Toby has done for local charities.
They had a point.
Toby was always generous, kind, and supportive of Oklahoma. While most people who make it big in country music get the hell out of town, sue to get back money they donated to hospitals, and rarely return, he made Oklahoma his central base camp, and whether it was visiting a children's hospital or organizing a tornado relief concert, Toby routinely gave back to the state he loved and called home.
And it wasn’t just Oklahoma that benefited from Toby’s charitable giving. He would regularly visit and perform for our troops serving overseas, as well as other charities.
After he topped our rankings of Embarrassments, our general coverage of Toby toned down a tad. Sure, we were critical of him for hosting a fundraiser for Kevin Stitt, or for saying Barack Obama acted like a white person, but we also paid tribute to his work.
For example, Hayley wrote a list of 7 Toby Keith Songs That Predicted the Upcoming Armageddon, while Louis produced a curated article of 5 Songs a Drunk, Belligerent Toby Keith Should’ve Sung at the Trump Inaugural Festivities. They’re both fun reads.
Outside of the songs I heard Toby play at the OU Football National Championship Celebration Concert in January of 2001, I’ve never been too familiar with his work.
As a result, I took a more investigative and collaborative approach and provided a list of “21 rejected Toby Keith songs about alcohol.”
Some of my now-favorites were…
• Whiskey 63, Toby 14
• She Only Lies When She’s Sober
• Tears Like Everclear
• Red, White and Budweiser
• Puttin' Texas Beer in an Oklahoma Girl
Sadly, I don’t think anyone is too surprised by Toby’s passing.
In 2022, he announced he had stomach cancer and was receiving treatment, and the positive updates you hope to see after such an announcement never materialized.
And this past Fall, while doing his obligatory sideline interviews during OU football games, Toby didn’t look very good.
As a former semi-pro football player, he always had the rough and tumble ass-kicking look to match the tough and masculine tropes of his songs. Basically, you knew that if the country music thing didn’t work out for him, he could have always made it as a bouncer at Graham’s or Incahoots.
But in those interviews, as well as his other public appearances, Toby didn’t look like himself. He was thin and gaunt, and it appeared the cancer – which can go fuck itself, by the way – and chemo treatments were taking a heavy toll on his body.
A couple of weeks ago, Robin Marsh with News 9 interviewed Toby for what I believe was his last public interview. He didn’t say the cancer was terminal or mention that he didn’t have much time left on the physical Earth, but the tone and scope of the piece had a sad, ominous vibe to it, as if he were making one final encore before leaving the stage.
You can watch it below:
Regardless of how you felt about Toby Keith and his politics, one thing you can’t argue with is that he is and was an Oklahoma legend, and with all apologies to Will Rogers, as authentic an Oklahoman celebrity as they come – the ultimate personification of what it’s like to be a hard workin', boot wearin’, beer drinkin’, pick-up truck drivin’ conservative good ol' boy who made it big out of Moore, Oklahoma.
In 20 years, when some augmented reality AI bot that will ultimately replace this site produces a list of the Top 100 Oklahoma Celebrities of All Time, there’s no doubt that Toby Keith will rank near the top. And somewhere, someplace, he’ll be looking down, laughing at people like us who made him money, singing “How Do You Like Me Now.”
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