Haggard was forced to cancel his December shows when he was diagnosed with double pneumonia. He later postponed his January concerts as well, after the pneumonia returned.
He hadn’t intended to play any shows in February, preferring to focus on recovery, but it’s hard to keep a man like Haggard down for long. He wound up finding the energy for a few shows that month, including a show at the Mandalay Bay Ballroom in Las Vegas.
Actor W. Earl Brown was at the show, and witnessed something amazing backstage.
“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 many songs of mine do you know?”
“All of ’em” answered [Toby]
“All of ’em?”
“Yep. And I won’t need a teleprompter.”
“Well, stay nearby.” After four or five songs, Merle’s lungs were spent. He couldn’t breathe enough to sing any more. “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.”
Amazing stuff. Watch Haggard and Keith perform “Ramblin’ Fever”in the video below! What did you think? Leave us a comment, we’d love to hear from you!
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