As people continue to mourn the recent passing of country legend Toby Keith, friends, family, and fans alike are continuing to pay tribute to the artist’s inspirational career. This includes an unlikely friend in late-night television host, Stephen Colbert.
On last night’s episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Colbert took a few minutes to honor Keith’s legacy with a short, but heartwarming, story.
As the show began at its usual 11:35 PM schedule, Colbert wasted no time to share his thoughts on the matter. He opened with a segment on Toby Keith, sharing his immediate reaction to hearing the news that morning which was just as unexpected to Colbert as it was to everyone else.
“I was shocked and saddened when I saw the news this morning. I knew Toby was ill, and he’d been fighting stomach cancer for some time, but I still had hope that we’d see each other again.”
The late night TV host continued to recount how the two first met on Colbert’s previous show, The Colbert Report, airing on Comedy Central from 2005-2014:
“Back then, there was a not-so-helpful legend that I had knives out for some of my guests, and it didn’t help that at the beginning I sometimes did. And I remember having some kind of plan for Toby, I think related to his boot-in-your-ass song. But right before I went onstage, I remember vividly looking down at my shoes and saying, ‘What are you doing? You’re a host, he’s your guest. Make him feel welcome. See who he is.’ And, what do you know? We hit it off like a house afire. I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed talking to Toby Keith,”
Despite having a preconceived notion concerning Toby Keith based on his 2002 hit song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” Stephen Colbert managed to kindle a friendship. However, the story didn’t end there as the television host continued to share details of an interaction with the Oklahoma native after the show.
“I was headed to a post-mortem meeting, and he was coming out of his green room. And those rooms are on the same hallway. And as he was heading for the door that goes out on the 54th street, he turned and caught my eye and said, ‘Hey, man. You do a great job. Whatever the f*** it is you do.’ “
As the audience laughed at the phrase, Colbert shared just how much the phrase stuck with him:
“I took that as the greatest compliment. So much so, that my then-head writer, Allison Silverman, for Christmas, had that stitched on a pillow for me.”
Colbert proceeded to pull out the small pillow, saying “It has been in my office ever since.” The camera zoomed into the partially blurred-out pillow that read the words, “Hey, man. You do a great job. Whatever the f*** it is you do.’‘”
After the story, Colbert once again praised the award-winning artist for his amazing rise to fame and triumphant career:
“This is a man who rose from Oklahoma’s oil fields, where he worked on a rig, and the state’s football fields, where he was a semiprofessional defensive end, to become one of the most consistent hitmakers in country music for more than three decades: 20 Billboard No. 1 songs, 42 Top 10 hits and rooms full of platinum and gold albums.”
Colbert recounted several other memories he had with Keith throughout their friendship, including his 2015 induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The late-night host had the honor of being a part of a ceremony, calling it, “one of [his] greatest honors.”
Even negating Keith’s success in the music industry, his life is highly regarded as one well-lived with seemingly countless stories of using his larger-than-life personality in service of others. Using his musical abilities as a platform, Keith taught many lessons to those who would listen–including Colbert.
“Toby taught me not to judge people too quickly, and with his passing, I’m going to try to remember that again. It’s something we all need to remember because I’m sure Toby and I disagreed about many things—as so many Americans do these days. More and more of us are angrier and angrier with each other.”
Colbert finished the segment with an invitation to the audience saying:
“I do not care who you are, I will meet you at this place: I will meet you at being brokenhearted that Toby Keith is gone. Thank you, Big Dog.”
Once the emotional segment was over, the crowd applauded as the band played Keith’s 2005 song “As Good as I Once Was” going into the commercial.
The video was reposted on Toby Keith’s X account (formerly Twitter) earlier this afternoon, serving as a reminder of just how much Keith touched the lives of others. As fans continue to mourn Toby Keith’s passing, his legacy lives on through memories–like those shared by Colbert–and his timeless music.