Blake Shelton ‘Never Imagined’ Toby Keith Would Pass Away From Cancer

Blake Shelton is stunned by the news of Toby Keith‘s passing. Both from Oklahoma, Shelton was not only inspired by Keith, but considered him a close friend, which is why he is feeling his loss so deeply.

“Even though I knew about your battle these last few months I still never imagined this day,” Shelton wrote on social media. “Anyone who knew you knows what I mean. You were the toughest man I ever met. Thank you brother for being a friend, a hero and an inspiration. There will never be another Toby Keith.”

It was Shelton who gave Keith the People’s Country Icon Award at the People’s Choice Country Awards in September.

“I bet you never thought you’d see me in skinny jeans,” Keith joked from stage, referring to his much slimmer figure, while he underwent treatment for stomach cancer. “I wanna thank the Almighty for allowing me to be here tonight. He’s been riding shotgun with me for a little while. I want to thank my beautiful family that’s here. A lot of people go into making a big career like this, of 30 years.

“My manager, T.K. Kimbrell and Curt Motley. Brian O’Connell, Elaine Shock,” he continued. “The band and the crew, and everybody’s that behind this thing. All the great musicians that have played on all these albums in the studios. They’ve poured their heart and soul into what I do. And most of all, I want to thank the fans for allowing us to still do what we do. God bless y’all, and have a wonderful evening.”

Of receiving the honor, Keith said he was proud of all he had accomplished since his eponymous debut album came out in 1993.

“I feel like, if an icon is old, I do,” he said when asked if he felt worthy of the honor. “30-year career. There’s a lot of things behind the scenes, a lot of people that built a career of this magnitude. It’s nice that they recognize it.”

Shelton credited Keith with helping him get his own career off the ground, by giving Shelton an opening spot on one of his tours, when Shelton was just getting started.

“They say your big break comes when you sign a record deal or your first song comes out. And for me, one of those things was to get the chance to open for Toby Keith,” Shelton said at the time. “Back when I was a new artist, I got the chance to go out on the road with Toby and then, night after night, 20,000 fans showed up to see Toby perform and he kept them fat and happy.”

Funeral services have yet to be announced.