Stephen Colbert took a few minutes on The Late Show to pay tribute to Toby Keith, who died this week at age 62. Colbert, who called the country singer “one of the greats,” recalled being friends with Keith.
“I was shocked and saddened when I saw the news this morning,” Colbert said. “I knew Toby was ill, he’d been fighting stomach cancer for some time, but I still had hope that we would see each other again and that we would hear him on this stage. I was lucky enough to become friends with Toby over the years, as improbable as that seems.”
The late-night host remembered meeting Keith on The Colbert Report. “Back then there was a not-so-helpful legend that I had knives out for some of my guests,” Colbert said. “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 on stage 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.’… And we hit it off like a house afire.”
Colbert explained that the conversation went so well that Keith later complimented him by saying, “Hey man, you do a great job… whatever the fuck it is you do.”
“That day Toby taught me not to pre-judge a guest,” Colbert said. “And to have my intention, but keep my eyes open to the reality of who they are. And for that lesson, and for a lot of other things, I’m always going to be grateful.”
He added, “I think he enjoyed how unlikely a pair we seemed. I sure did. You know like when people are excited when a duck and a horse are friends? For the record, I was the duck.”
Keith died on Monday following a diagnosis of stomach cancer, which he revealed in 2022. His family confirmed the death on social media, writing that the musician “passed peacefully” and was “surrounded by his family.” “He fought his fight with grace and courage,” they wrote. Keith was known for country-radio staples like “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” “I Love This Bar,” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).”