W. Earl Brown: Toby Keith Saved One of Merle Haggard’s Last Shows
In the wake of Merle Haggard's passing, actor and musician W. Earl Brown shared a touching recollection of one of the country legend's final shows, revealing how Toby Keith stepped up to save the day for the ailing icon.
Haggard kept actively recording and performing until very near the end of his life, when his health began to fail. The Country Music Hall of Famer canceled tour dates in December of 2015 due to a life-threatening bout with double pneumonia, and canceled 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.
Brown is best-known for his role in the HBO series Deadwood, but he also records and tours with the country band Sacred Cowboys. He recently hosted the all-star tribute to Kris Kristofferson that took place in Nashville, and after Haggard passed away on April 6, Brown shared the inside story of one of his final gigs via Facebook:
It was Super Bowl weekend. Merle had already cancelled months of shows, but this particular booking was a big payday. Merle had to pay his band and crew, so there was no calling in sick for this gig.
Toby Keith was in town with his wife to watch some football and have some fun. 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?"
"All of 'em" answered T.
"All of 'em?"
"Yep. And I won't need a teleprompter."
"Well, stay nearby." After four or five songs, Merle's infected lungs were spent. He couldn't draw enough air to sing any longer. "We've, uh, we've got a special guest here tonight…" Toby came out and sang the rest of the show. Merle gave his last concert. The Strangers got paid. And the audience, while not realizing it at the time, saw something special.
Never speak ill of Toby Keith to me; thanks to him, Merle exited the stage with his dignity intact.
Keith turned to social media to pay tribute to his friend and musical hero on Wednesday evening:
At the end of March, Haggard announced he was canceling all of his scheduled shows for April on doctor’s orders, revealing that his family had asked him to stop touring. He was still hopeful that he would be able to return to his live schedule.
“I want to thank my fans for their prayers and well wishes. I hope to be back on the road in May, but I’m taking it one day at a time,” Haggard said. But it was not to be; Haggard passed away on April 6, 2016 — his 79th birthday — after battling another round of pneumonia.
UPDATE: Brown amended his original Facebook post, titled 'Merle's Final Show,' later, adding the following:
I have been informed that Merle played a couple of shows after Vegas, so this was not the FINAL show. I knew he and Kris were set to play a rescheduled LA on Feb 3, because I was missing it due to my travel schedule. I had no idea it was postponed a second time.
Whether Vegas was the last show, second-to-last, or whatever, the fact remains that when Merle needed a helping hand, he got one, and the audience was not left wanting. Merle was an artist and a showman until the end.
The reason I know about it, is that I phoned T after the Super Bowl to talk football. That's when he told me what happened. Knowing what a Merle fan I am, he sent me this pic. I asked permission to share the photo before I did so.
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