Toby Keith: Merle Haggard ‘Looked Really Frail’ at One of His Final Shows
Merle Haggard worked the stage right up until the end of his life, performing his final shows just two months before he passed away. In a new interview, Toby Keith recalls how he was able to step up for his friend and musical hero at one of his final public performances.
Haggard canceled tour dates in December of 2015 due to a life-threatening bout with double pneumonia, and canceled more shows scheduled for Jan. 30 and 31 after his double pneumonia returned. He unexpectedly returned to the stage on Feb. 6 at the Mandalay Bay Ballroom in Las Vegas, and in a post to Facebook after Haggard passed away, actor and musician W. Earl Brown shared how Keith saved the day for the country icon that night.
"Merle had to pay his band and crew, so there was no calling in sick for this gig," he recalled. "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 songs of mine do you know?'”
Keith ended up taking the stage to finish Haggard's set after a few songs, Brown writes.
"Never speak ill of Toby Keith to me; thanks to him, Merle exited the stage with his dignity intact."
In an interview with News Channel 4 in Oklahoma, Keith shares his own recollections 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 made it about eight songs, and he called me up and said, 'Let's do something,'" he says.
Check out Haggard and Keith performing "Okie From Muskogee" in the clip above during one of Haggard's final public performances.
Haggard announced in late March that he was canceling all of his scheduled shows for April on doctor’s orders. He passed away on April 6, 2016 — his 79th birthday — after battling another round of pneumonia.
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