Country music star Toby Keith died on Monday at the age of 62 after a battle with stomach cancer.

Though Keith signed his first record deal in 1993 and had several chart-toppers, it wasn’t until after September 11, 2001, when he released his hit song Courtesy of the Red White and Blue (The Angry American), that he became well-known beyond the country music scene for his larger-than-life persona and patriotic swagger. 

Many Americans believed that the song was just what the country needed at the time—it captured the rage Americans were feeling after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The lyrics “you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A / ‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way” served as an anthem for Americans looking to gain patriotism back after losing so much in the 9/11 attacks. 

What many people do not know is that the song was never supposed to be recorded. Keith came up with the idea for “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” a week after 9/11, when he was writing out his fantasy football team. Keith told Time Magazine in 2004, “I wrote it so that I had something to play for our fighting men and women.” He then performed it in a trial run in the U.S. Naval Academy. 

Keith told Time, “… Once people said I should release it, I knew there was going to be trouble. I’m comfortable being extreme, but saying ‘boot in your ass’ is so extreme. Of course, if you say, ‘foot in your butt,’ you got no song.” 

A Marine Corps commandant urged him to release the song, telling him it was his “duty as an American” to make the song public. So he did. 

Keith performed for more than 250,000 troops in 17 countries for over two decades. “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” reached #25 on the Billboard chart of the hottest songs and was named “Male Music Video of the Year” at the CMT Awards in 2003. On February 6, 2024, a day after his death, the song was the #2 country song on Apple Music, followed by Keith’s “Should’ve Been A Cowboy.” 

Aside from Keith’s impact on post-9/11 America, he was highly commended for other achievements in the music industry and for his songwriting. He received numerous accolades, such as the National Medal of Arts, and was inducted into both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. 

Keith was also a major figure in the formation of Taylor Swift’s music career. He was an integral component of helping Swift get her “big break” at the age of 15 with Big Machine Records. 

Though he battled with stomach cancer, Keith could not be stopped from performing. He toured in 2021 and booked three shows in 2023. Fans traveled from all over the world to attend. 

He sang his last public performance on September 29, 2023, at the People’s Choice Country Awards. This live version of “Don’t Let The Old Man In” was a testament to Keith’s spirit, dedication and everything that he gave to the music industry. 

Watch his tear-jerking performance here.

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