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Raise a red Solo cup: Austin Burke, Jelly Roll and others pay tribute to ‘American hero’ Toby Keith

Toby Keith on stage at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine on Saturday August 13th 2011as part of GO Fest 2011.
Country music star Toby Keith was mourned by his contemporaries and those he influenced across social media on Tuesday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
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Toby Keith was mourned by fans and his fellow country musicians Tuesday after his family announced that the “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” singer died Monday at 62 after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.

The musician, who announced in June 2022 that he had been battling cancer for months, was praised for his songwriting ability, patriotism, gruff attitude and larger-than-life persona, as well as his support for the American military, veterans and the USO.

Sometimes a polarizing figure in country music, the 6-foot-4 singer broke out in the country boom years of the 1990s, crafting an identity around his macho, pro-American swagger.

Feb. 6, 2024

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Keith — whose tough-talking post 9/11 hits included “American Ride” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” — famously performed the fighter’s ode “American Soldier” at the 2017 inauguration of former President Donald Trump. Trump later awarded the country star with a National Medal of the Arts in 2021. The seven-time Grammy nominee, who identified as a conservative Democrat and later claimed he was an independent, also played at events for former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

In 2018, the Oklahoma-born “I Love This Bar” singer told The Times that he felt understood by his core fans but also believed that he had fans “that love you for the wrong reasons.”

“And as many people that have painted me in a corner, there’s people standing in that corner ready for me to paint in there,” he told Times music critic Mikael Wood. “You’re never gonna reach enough people in any interview to avoid being misrepresented.”

Toby Keith had something other than music on his mind when he called the other day for a chat ahead of his headlining performance at Sunday’s Coastal Country Jam in Huntington Beach.

April 4, 2018

Still, many of those fans, Keith’s contemporaries and those he influenced took to social media to pay their respects to the late legend.

“Saddle up the horses, Jesus, ‘cause a true blue COWBOY just made his ride up to heaven!!!” country star Carrie Underwood and fellow Okie wrote on Instagram, sharing a carousel of images alongside Keith. “Introduce him to all the Okies and sign that boy up for the choir! We’re gonna miss you, Toby, but my heart has no doubt that you are standing in the presence of our King right now!!! See you again someday, friend.”

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“One Man Band” and “Written in the Sand” quintet Old Dominion wrote: “Toby Keith was a true trail blazer. Authentic and heartfelt but always with a wink ‘til the end. He was larger than life in so many ways and his music will live on forever! Raising our red solos tonight—you will be missed by so many. Peace.”

“We covered ‘should’ve been a cowboy’ at every show last year - Toby inspired millions and I was one of them RIP,” country star Jelly Roll wrote on Instagram stories.

“Too many rides in my old man’s car listening to Toby Keith. really hard thing to hear rest in peace friend we love you,” singer Zack Bryan tweeted.

“So sad to hear about Toby Keith dying. wow,” tweeted musician Bobby Bones, who opened for Keith on tour. “He was just with us in studio and seemed super positive. Ive had the honor of opening for him on his tour. playing with him at festivals. and having him, in studio many times. Gathering notes and thoughts to talk about it coming up this morning.”

“Just waking up to the news of Toby Keith’s passing,” tweeted fellow country star Jason Aldean. “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. You and your music will be forever remembered big man.”

“Waking up to the terrible news that our friend, and legend @tobykeith has passed away from cancer,” tweeted John Rich of Big & Rich. “He was a true Patriot, a first class singer/songwriter, and a bigger than life kind of guy. He will be greatly missed.”

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“RIP to Toby Keith. He was unapologetically pro-America, made songs that could make you want to crack a beer or cry and gave people something to rally around after 9/11. A true legend who will never be replaced,” tweeted Outkick reporter and podcaster David Hookstead.

“It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of Toby Keith. He has forever left a mark on Country Music. Our sincere condolences go out to his loved ones during this difficult time,” the Country Music Assn. tweeted and wrote on Instagram.

A man in a cowboy hat holds a red solo cup and plays guitar while singing into a microphone
Toby Keith performs at the iHeartCountry Festival on Oct. 30, 2021, at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.
(Jack Plunkett / Invision / Associated Press)

The Academy of Country Music Awards — which named Keith entertainer of the year twice, in 2002 and 2003 — recapped his spectacular run with the institution, which amounted to 15 awards.

“With worldwide sales of more than 40 million albums, he built an exceptional career on well-sung ballads, barroom singalongs, and patriotic anthems, as well as heartfelt songwriting, for which he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame as well as received the National Medal of Arts,” the ACM said in a statement posted on social media.

“Indeed, Keith wrote the vast majority of his no. 1 hits and had a chart-topping single every year for 20 consecutive years. He also dedicated himself tirelessly to countless charitable initiatives, including several USO tours and events. Most recently, he received the ACM Spirit Award, presented to a singer-songwriter who continues the legacy of Country legend Merle Haggard. Please join the Academy in sending love, healing, and prayers to his family, friends, and millions of fans all over the globe.”

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Country musician Toby Keith has undergone chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery since getting diagnosed with stomach cancer last fall.

June 12, 2022

“Legendary country singer/songwriter Toby Keith has left us too soon after a battle with cancer. 20 No. 1 Billboard hits!” tweeted Hollywood labor union SAG-AFTRA. “We raise a ‘Red Solo Cup’ & send our condolences to his family, colleagues & millions of fans. May he RIP. #SagAftraMember since 1993.”

“Toby Keith brought joy to millions around the world through his music, especially to our men and women in uniform. He was a great American and an exceptional storyteller who will be deeply missed in country music. Raise your ‘Red Solo Cup’ to Toby for a life well-lived,” wrote Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.)

Keith’s family announced his death on his official social media accounts, prompting more tributes in the posts’ comments sections and replies filled with memories of the “Red Solo Cup” and “Beer for My Horses” singer.

“A true country inspiration to us. Rest easy, Toby,” read an Instagram comment from the band Lady A’s account.

“This hits hard,” singer Jake Owen commented on Instagram. “Love ya Toby and Trish. My ❤️ goes out to your family and thanks big dawg for what you did for this world. Rest high and easy”

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“God Bless you and Family. Hard to imagine an America without Toby Keith in it,” singer-songwriter Randy Houser added.

“Hate to hear this,” wrote Georgia-bred artist Channing Wilson. “You fought hard brother. Prayers for his family. RIPTK.”

“Wow this announcement has totally taken my breath away. I’ve been praying for Toby and it is truly wonderful to know he is finally home praise Jesus,” wrote actor Stephen Baldwin.

“Toby, you were a great one. The realest of the real. Rest easy brother,” wrote 3 Doors Down musician Brad Arnold.

“Toby Keith was a staple in my family growing up. What a gift he was/will always be to country music.🙏🏼♥️” wrote singer-songwriter Lana Scott.

“Part of me is heartbroken wiping tears from my face thinking about the memories we shared and conversations we had. While the other part of me is at peace because I know you are sitting with the almighty right now smiling and feeling no pain,” Lance Carpenter commented on Instagram. “I don’t know how to thank you for all you and your family have done for me but know that I’ll always be there for them. Damn I’m going to miss you big dawg”

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“Man. Not only a king of county music. But a man to look up to by the way he lived and loved. Rest easy up there TB. ❤️” wrote Caden McGuire.

“Toby, you’ll be missed. To me, you represented what a kid from Oklahoma could do with nothing but a dream & some songs. & man, those were some SONGS. I’m thankful for the opportunities you gave me & for the masterclass on live performance & hospitality. You’re a legend. RIP,” added musician Corey Kent.

“Absolutely heartbreaking. Not only a Country Music Legend, but also an American Hero,” wrote Austin Burke. “He will be remembered for what he did for our great Military more than anything and I know that’s how he would want it. God Bless Toby and his family.”

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