He was 62.
Keith, the "Should've Been a Cowboy" singer, died Monday night surrounded by his family, a short statement said. "He fought his fight with grace and courage," it added.
"You get good days and, you know, you’re up and down, up and down. It’s always zero to 60 and 60 to zero but I feel good today," Keith told E! News ahead of receiving the Country Icon Award at the People’s Choice Country Awards.
Keith continued to record and perform through his illness, appearing live over three nights in Las Vegas in December. Visibly thin but in good voice, he sang many of his 32 No. 1 hits and 42 Top 10 hits, according to his official website.
"3 sold out shows in Vegas was a damn good way to end the year," he wrote on Instagram.
Born in Clinton, Oklahoma, and raised in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City, Keith emerged as a country artist in the early 1990s and went on to become an icon of the genre. He sold 25 million to 30 million records in the U.S., depending on varying estimates, and his songs had more than 10 billion digital streaming plays.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum remembered Keith as someone who was “big, brash, and never bowed down or slowed down for anyone.”
“His story is a distinctly American one — a former roughneck oil worker who carved out his own space in country music with a sinewy voice and an unbending will to succeed. He wrote his breakthrough songs and later formed his own record label when he felt underserved by Nashville,” the statement read. “He relished being an outsider and doing things his way. Proudly patriotic, he didn’t mind if his clear-cut convictions ruffled your feathers. For three decades, he reflected the defiant strength of the country music audience. His memory will continue to stand tall.”
One of Keith's breakthrough songs certainly ruffled feathers, both within the country music realm and outside it. In 2002, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Keith released "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)." In the song, he warns, "You’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A. / 'cause we’ll put a boot in your ass / it’s the American way."
"I wrote it so that I had something to play for our fighting men and women," he told Time magazine in 2004. He played it at the U.S. Naval Academy, and it was a huge hit. But, Keith said, "once people said I should release it, I knew there was going to be trouble."
The song led to a spat with the Dixie Chicks when lead singer Natalie Maines called it "ignorant" in a 2002 interview. The feud escalated after Maines said onstage in 2003 that she was ashamed to be from President George W. Bush's home state, Texas. At his concerts that year, Keith showed a doctored photo of Maines with an image of Saddam Hussein. Maines responded by wearing a shirt with "FUTK" onstage at the ACM Awards, which many believed was a vulgar message about Keith.
The same year, Keith walked out of the ACM Awards early because he had gotten snubbed in earlier categories, causing him to miss out when he was announced as entertainer of the year. He came back in 2004 and won the top prize for a second year in a row, along with top male vocalist and album of the year for “Shock ’n Y’all.”
Keith's most recent album, "100% Songwriter," was released in November.
His first single, "Should've Been a Cowboy," was written in a motel bathroom in Dodge City, Kansas.
Taken from his self-titled debut album, it came out in 1993 and shot to the top of the country charts in the U.S. and Canada, going on to become one of the most-played tunes on radio throughout the 1990s and beyond.
His other hits included “Beer for My Horses,” a duet with Willie Nelson, “I Love This Bar” and “Red Solo Cup.”