Toby Keith admits that he was sick on the day he delivered a show-stopping performance of "Don't Let the Old Man In" at the 2023 People's Choice Country Awards. In fact, he was nearly too sick.

  • Toby Keith (62) was diagnosed with stomach cancer in late 2021. He tells Taste of Country he's still being treated.
  • On Sept. 30, he made his first television appearance in years, singing "Don't Let the Old Man In," a song inspired by his friendship with Clint Eastwood.
  • Response to the performance was enough to convince Keith to release it as a radio single five years after originally recording and releasing it.

Talking to Taste of Country, Keith shares that he was still undergoing chemotherapy ahead of his television performance. One day prior he was feeling good, however, so he sipped two glasses of wine with dinner. "I shouldn't have done that, I guess. I didn't know," he tells ToC Nights host Evan Paul.

Related: Toby Keith Opens Up About Cancer Battle: 'I Ain't Afraid Anymore'

As a result, he nearly missed rehearsal, but pulled it together, barely.

"I really wasn't thinking nothing about it going into rehearsal," he shares. "We get done with rehearsal and I take my ear monitors out and (PCCA executive producer) Rac Clark is coming up the stage bawling, wiping wet tears and going, 'You S.O.B., you got me!'"

Clark had the idea for Keith to sing "Don't Let the Old Man In" after a tribute from Blake Shelton. When first introduced to the idea, Keith worried it might be a bit too dour, but he trusted the veteran TV man.

"Man, he was right. That thing exploded," he admits.

Thousands of people have emailed, texted, DM'd or somehow found Keith to tell him how deeply his moment affected him. A sampling of comments from the video version of TOC's interview includes a couple dozen.

"All the girls are gonna cry, but I've had so many guys go, 'Dude, I bawled my eyes out,'" he admits. "We didn't design it for that. Things that are really, really special just have to happen for a reason. You can't plan — if you knew how to pull that off every time, you'd plan it that way. There was no planning."

Related: Toby Keith Pumped for Las Vegas Shows + More in 2024

Heading into 2024, there is planning. A trio of Las Vegas shows will close his year, but he teased tour plans for next year.

"We're getting the trucks and buses fired up!" he says.

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