Toby Keith’s longtime rep says country music star ‘was misunderstood’ over his lifetime following his death at 62 after a battle with stomach cancer

Toby Keith’s longtime rep, Elaine Schock, broke her silence over the country music legend’s death earlier this week to reflect on his remarkable career and legacy. 

Hours after news broke of the superstar’s passing at age 62, following a battle with stomach cancer, his publicist spoke out to ensure he is remembered for more than his controversial political beliefs and feud with The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks) over one of his biggest songs.

‘I loved Toby Keith,’ she told People in a statement. ‘He was brilliant, fun to be with and we would have some robust discussions. Plus, he could write and sing his a** off.’ 

She continued: ‘Toby was kind. I think he was misunderstood because he was painted a certain way but that was an incorrect portrait.’

Toby Keith’s longtime rep, Elaine Schock, broke her silence over the country music legend’s death earlier this week to reflect on his remarkable career and legacy (seen in 2017)

Schock went on to rave about how the musician ‘was so much more’ than most knew and how he was ‘certainly one of the most courageous men’ she’s ever met.

‘I’m not quite sure how to maneuver in a world without Toby yet. I hate the thought of it,’ she concluded. 

While his former rep did not spell out what she was alluding to about him being ‘misunderstood,’ she was most likely referencing some of his most polarizing career moves, including performing at the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017.

After receiving backlash for his decision to play the inauguration, he said he would never apologize for playing for the military or country. 

In a statement, Keith told Entertainment Weekly: ‘I don’t apologize for performing for our country or military.

‘I performed at events for previous presidents Bush and Obama and over 200 shows in Iraq and Afghanistan for the USO.’

While never having endorsed Trump, Keith did previously call the president – and his then-opponent Hilary Clinton – ‘media whores’ during an interview in September 2016. 

In contrast, he touted Barack Obama as being ‘the best Democratic candidate we’ve had since Bill Clinton’ to the Associated Press in 2008. 

Keith was also best known for his post-9/11 anthem, Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue, in which he sings the explicit lyrics like ‘you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A / ‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your a**, it’s the American way.’

He also famously had a row with The Chicks’ lead singer Natalie Maines, who said she ‘hate[ed]’ Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.

She made the comment to the Los Angeles Times in 2002, in addition to slamming Keith for the track’s ‘ignorant’ lyrics and making ‘makes country music sound ignorant.’ 

Hours after news broke of the superstar's passing at age 62, following a battle with stomach cancer , his publicist spoke out to ensure he is remembered for more than his controversial political beliefs and feud with The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks); seen in 2021

Hours after news broke of the superstar’s passing at age 62, following a battle with stomach cancer , his publicist spoke out to ensure he is remembered for more than his controversial political beliefs and feud with The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks); seen in 2021

'I loved Toby Keith,' she told People in a statement. 'He was brilliant, fun to be with and we would have some robust discussions. Plus, he could write and sing his a** off' (pictured in 2004)

‘I loved Toby Keith,’ she told People in a statement. ‘He was brilliant, fun to be with and we would have some robust discussions. Plus, he could write and sing his a** off’ (pictured in 2004)

‘It targets an entire culture – and not just the bad people who did bad things. You’ve got to have some tact. Anybody can write, ‘We’ll put a boot in your a—.’ But a lot of people agree with it,’ she said, at the time.  

Following the interview, Maines and her band were exiled from country music after she said they were ‘ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.’

In response to Maines’ comments about him and former President George W. Bush, Keith displayed a doctored photo of Maines next to Saddam Hussein at his concerts. 

Maines responded by wearing a shirt with the letters FUTK onstage at the 2003 ACM Awards, which many people believed was a vulgar message to Keith. 

In 2003, however, he called off the fight after witnessing his friend’s child battle cancer. 

‘I saw a picture on the cover of Country Weekly with a picture of me and Natalie and it said, ‘Fight to the Death’ or something. It seemed so insignificant. I said, ‘Enough is enough,” he said, at the time.

‘People try to make everything black and white,’ Keith continued. ‘I didn’t start this battle,’ Keith said while defending himself. ‘They started it with me; they came out and just tore me up. One thing I’ve never, ever done, out of jealousy or anything else, is to bash another artist and their artistic license.’ 

Keith, who has acknowledged that he holds onto grudges, also made headlines for walking out of the ACM Awards in 2003 early because he had gotten snubbed in earlier categories, causing him to miss out when he was announced as entertainer of the year. 

She continued: 'Toby was kind. I think he was misunderstood because he was painted a certain way but that was an incorrect portrait'

She continued: ‘Toby was kind. I think he was misunderstood because he was painted a certain way but that was an incorrect portrait’

While his former rep did not spell out what she was alluding to about him being 'misunderstood,' she was most likely referencing some of his most polarizing career moves, including performing at the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017

While his former rep did not spell out what she was alluding to about him being ‘misunderstood,’ she was most likely referencing some of his most polarizing career moves, including performing at the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017

Vince Gill accepted on his behalf. He came back the next year and won the top prize for a second year in a row, along with top male vocalist and album of the year for Shock ‘n Y’all. 

On Tuesdy, Keith’s family announced his death on his social media platforms. 

‘Toby Keith passed peacefully last night on February 5th, surrounded by his family. He fought his fight with grace and courage. Please respect the privacy of his family at this time,’ they wrote. 

The singer is survived by his wife, Tricia Lucas, and their three children, daughters Shelley Covel Rowland, fellow singer Krystal Keith and son, Stelen. He also had four grandchildren. During his illustrious career, Keith sold over 40 million records. 

Earlier this month, the singer opened up about his stomach cancer battle in an interview with 9News. The Should’ve Been a Cowboy singer was first diagnosed in 2021. Keith was born Toby Keith Covel in Clinton, Oklahoma, in 1961.

‘I was going through all the chemo, radiation, surgery, and I got to the point where I was comfortable with whatever happened. I had my brain wrapped around it, and I was in a good spot either way,’ Keith said.

In December 2023, he performed his final shows, a three date stint in Las Vegas. Afterwards, he even teased that he was planning a US tour saying he was ‘getting the trucks and buses fired up.’

During the 9News interview, Keith, a longtime resident of Norman, Oklahoma, the singer called his wife ‘the best nurse.’

‘Oh, she’s been a trooper. She’s the best nurse. The first time we went to Houston, to the hospital, she stepped right in and she just took control and said, ‘We got this. Let’s go.’ So she’s like, ‘We’re going to get this and don’t worry about it,” he added.

In that interview, Keith mentioned that his Christian faith was helping him through his cancer battle.

In 2003, Keith famously feuded with fellow country icons, The Dixie Chicks, in particular singer Natalie Maines, who said she hated his song Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue, pictured in 2007

In 2003, Keith famously feuded with fellow country icons, The Dixie Chicks, in particular singer Natalie Maines, who said she hated his song Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue, pictured in 2007

‘Cancer is a roller coaster. You just sit here and wait on it to go away — it may not ever go away.’

Keith met his wife in an Oklahoma nightspot in 1981 when he was 20 and she was 19. They dated for three years before marrying in 1984. At that point, Keith adopted Tricia’s daughter from a previous relationship, Shelley.

Country star Toby Keith’s brave three-year battle with stomach cancer 

June 2022: Toby Keith reveals publicly that he was diagnosed with stomach cancer the year previously. 

The singer said that in the first half of the year, he had undergone chemo, radiation therapy and surgery.

December 2022: Keith remarked on his cancer diagnosis, calling it ‘pretty debilitating. 

June 2023: Keith tells The Oklahoman in a new interview that he has been continuing radiation therapy and that he has had further surgery. 

He added that he would continue with the chemo and that his tumor had shrunk by a third and that his blood tests have looked good.

August 2023: The singer was presented a Country Music Icon award by Blake Shelton at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee.

‘Bet you thought you’d never see me in skinny jeans,’ the Clinton, Oklahoma native said. 

‘I want to thank the almighty for allowing me to be here tonight. You’ve been riding shotgun with me for a little while.’

A month later, Keith announced his first performances since his diagnosis. 

January 2024: In his final interview, less than a month before his death, Keith said that he was ‘comfortable with whatever happened.’

‘I was going through all the chemo, radiation, surgery, and I got to the point where I was comfortable with whatever happened. I had my brain wrapped around it, and I was in a good spot either way,’ he said. 

 

Their daughter Krystal came along in 1985 followed by son Stelen in 1997. When they married, Keith was still struggling to make it as a country music singer, he credited his wife with standing by him during those times. 

‘Dozens of people told Tricia, ‘You need to go to tell your old man to get a real job,” he once told Country Weekly.

‘It took a strong-hearted and loving woman to say, ‘He’s good enough at music that I’ve got to let him try. And it’ll be a great shot for both of us he can make it work.’

‘I absolutely love performing and writing songs, but being at home with my wife, Tricia, and my three kids is the best feeling of all,’ he continued. 

In September 2023, Tricia could be seen in tears as Keith performed the song Don’t Let the Old Man In after receiving the Country Icon Award at the People’s Choice Country Awards. 

Keith worked as a roughneck in the oil fields of Oklahoma as a young man, then played semi-pro football before launching his career as a singer. 

Keith learned good lessons in the booming oil fields, which toughened him up, but also showed him the value of money.

‘The money to be made was unbelievable,’ Keith told The Associated Press in 1996. ‘I came out of high school in 1980 and they gave me this job December of 1979, $50,000 a year. I was 18-years-old.’

But the domestic oil field industry collapsed and Keith had not saved. ‘It about broke us,’ he said. ‘So I just learned. I’ve taken care of my money this time.’

He spent a couple seasons as a defensive end for the Oklahoma City Drillers, a farm team for the now-defunct United States Football League. But he found consistent money playing music with his band throughout the red dirt roadhouse circuit in Oklahoma and Texas.

According to The Washington Post, through his music and other ventures, Keith was bringing in $50 million per year. His ventures included a stake in Big Machine Records, the Nashville-based company that signed Taylor Swift in 2005.

As a young artist, Keith asked to be let out of his contract with Mercury Records when executives didn’t like his album, How Do You Like Me Now? because they thought women would view the title track’s lyrics as disrespectful. 

But How Do You Like Me Now? went on to attain gold status, selling more than 500,000 units, and Keith went on to sell 25 million albums for his new label, Dreamworks. 

For 20 years, Keith headed his own label, Show Dog/Universal. 

Forbes magazine named Keith the top-earning country music artist for 2015, putting his earnings at $50 million.

‘Those figures make me laugh,’ Keith said at the time. ‘Who cares about stuff like that?’

Keith’s enterprises include his ‘I Love This Bar and Grill’ chain of restaurants and his ‘Wild Shot’ premium mezcal liquor, imported from Mexico.

Keith performs onstage for the BMI Icon Award during the 2022 BMI Country Awards  in Nashville in 2022

Keith performs onstage for the BMI Icon Award during the 2022 BMI Country Awards  in Nashville in 2022

He said in a June 2023 interview with The Oklahoman that he had already spent the past six months undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and surgery

He said in a June 2023 interview with The Oklahoman that he had already spent the past six months undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and surgery

In January 2021, Keith was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Trump alongside fellow country star Ricky Skaggs

In January 2021, Keith was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Trump alongside fellow country star Ricky Skaggs 

‘I’ve not come up for air since 1993. I’ve not missed a tour, I’ve not missed putting out an album, I’ve not taken time off. That’s why we are in Forbes, because of that work ethic.’

My family knows of the sacrifices we’ve all made in order for me to be in this position, the time away from each other, and me being busy.’

Keith did not speak publicly about his cancer battle until 2022. 

The multi-platinum-selling singer said on Twitter that he underwent surgery and received chemotherapy and radiation in the past six months.

‘So far, so good,’ said Keith, an Oklahoma native who turns 61 on July 8. ‘I need time to breathe, recover and relax.

‘I am looking forward to spending this time with my family. But I will see the fans sooner than later. I can’t wait.’ 

 He said in a June 2023 interview with The Oklahoman that he had already spent the past six months undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

He added that he would continue with the chemo and that his tumor had shrunk by a third and that his blood tests have looked good.

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