Haggard died on April 6, 2016, after battling pneumonia and breathing problems off and on for the final months of his life. He died on his 79th birthday, and in a Facebook post after Haggard’s death, actor and musician W. Earl Brown shared how Keith saved the day for the country legend at the Mandalay Bay Ballroom in Las Vegas on Feb. 6, 2016 — one of the last nights he was ever onstage.
“Merle had to pay his band and crew, so there was no calling in sick for this gig,” Brown wrote. “Toby got word that Merle was in Vegas, so he went to see him … Merle was in bad shape. He needed to be in a hospital – not on a stage; but The Show Must Go On. Merle would not take charity from anyone, but he did turn to Toby and say, ‘How many songs of mine do you know?’”
Keith ended up finishing Haggard’s set after a few songs. “Never speak ill of Toby Keith to me; thanks to him, Merle exited the stage with his dignity intact,” Brown said.
In an interview with News Channel 4 in Oklahoma, Keith shared his memories from that night.
“He looked really frail, and I walked him on the stage and said, ‘I’ll be over here. You call me up whenever you need me,'” he recalled. “He made it about eight songs, and he called me up and said, ‘Let’s do something.'”
Watch Haggard and Keith performing “Okie From Muskogee” in the clip above during one of the final public performances of Haggard’s life.
Haggard announced in late March of 2016 that he was canceling all of his scheduled shows on doctor’s orders. He passed away on April 6, 2016, after battling another round of pneumonia.
Toby Keith died almost exactly eight years to the day after filling in for Haggard, on Feb. 5, 2024. He had battled stomach cancer since late 2021, but even so, he retained his fighting spirit to the very end. Keith gave a stunning performance of “Don’t Let the Old Man In” during his final television performance in November of 2023, and he also staged three sold-out shows in Las Vegas at the end of 2023, which proved to be the final shows of his life.
Keith was 62 years old at the time of his death.
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