Hard to believe it’s already been over 7 years since we lost the legendary Merle Haggard.
The outlaw country pioneer passed away April 6, 2016 at the age of 79. But despite his failing health, the Hag kept touring until just weeks before his death.
In December 2015, Haggard was hospitalized for pneumonia, forcing him to cancel several concerts.
The legend returned to the stage on February 6, 2016 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, at the Safari Club International’s annual convention – but he needed some help to get through the show.
The story of one of Merle’s final shows was recounted by his friend and actor W. Earl Brown, who was in Vegas that night.
According to Brown, Merle was determined to take the stage so that he could pay his band and crew, despite his own failing health. And while he wouldn’t accept charity, he did turn to a friend who happened to be in town that night for some help:
“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 asked Toby how many of his songs Toby knew:
“All of ’em” answered T.
“All of ’em?”
“Yep. And I won’t need a teleprompter.”
“Well, stay nearby.”
Merle’s lungs were only strong enough to get through a few songs on his own, so he brought on Toby Keith to help him finish the show:
“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.”
Now, this turned out not to be his last concert, as Merle would go on to take the stage two more times that month, at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills and the Paramount Theatre in Oakland – both in his home state of California.
But as Brown put it:
“Never speak ill of Toby Keith to me; thanks to him, Merle exited the stage with his dignity intact.”