The Story Behind Toby Keith’s Poignant Song “Don’t Let The Old Man In”

The Story Behind Toby Keith’s Poignant Song “Don’t Let The Old Man In” | Classic Country Music | Legendary Stories and Songs Videos


Toby Keith’s emotional performance of “Don’t Let The Old Man In” at the People’s Choice Country Awards was one of the most powerful television moments we’ve seen in recent years.

The performance of “Don’t Let The Old Man In” was bittersweet for Toby Keith who has been fighting a valiant cancer battle for nearly two years. The 62-year-old took the stage at the Grand Ole Opry House looking markedly thinner and more tired than usual, evidence of the toll stomach cancer has taken on him. But, his voice was clear and strong as he performed what is widely considered the best song he’s ever written. It was the first televised performance of any kind since Toby’s diagnosis in the fall of 2021.

Almost immediately after his People’s Choice Country Awards performance, “Don’t Let The Old Man In” shot to the top of the iTunes country chart. It also left people curious about the story behind the song.

Toby Keith’s Inspirations For “Don’t Let The Old Man In”

In 2017, Toby Keith was participating in a charity golf tournament in Pebble Beach, California, where he shared a golf cart with legendary Hollywood actor Clint Eastwood. The actor told Keith that day that he was about to start filming a movie called The Mule. Toby was in awe of the then-88-year-old’s energy and desire to keep working and asked Eastwood how he does it.

“He said, ‘I just get up every morning and go out. And I don’t let the old man in,’” Keith recalled. “And I thought, I’m writing that.”

Toby told Billboard in 2018 that he became obsessed with writing a song using Eastwood’s words.

“People were talking to me and they would say, ‘Did you hear what I just said?’ And I was like, ‘No,’ because I wasn’t listening to any conversations. I was consumed by ‘Don’t Let the Old Man In.’ I worked so hard on it,” Keith says. “When I finally sang the line, I thought, it’s got to be dark, it’s got to be a ballad and it’s got to be simple.”

When Toby finished the song, he recorded a demo to send to Clint Eastwood as a gift. Toby wasn’t feeling well, the day he recorded the demo, but recorded it anyway with the intention of re-recording a better version later. But, that didn’t happen. Clint loved the “sick and tired and dark” sound of Toby’s vocals on the demo and called the singer less than an hour after hearing it.

“He said, ‘I’ve got a spot in the movie and I’m putting it in there.’ And then Warner Bros. called asking did I read the script before I wrote this song because it fits perfectly,” Toby said.

John Salangsang/Variety/Penske Media via Getty Images

The country star told SiriusXM that he had no idea what the movie was about when he wrote “Don’t Let The Old Man In.” He simply wrote it as a gift for Eastwood so was surprised when he learned that they wanted to include it in the movie.

Clint Eastwood included “Don’t Let The Old Man In” in the closing credits of The Mule.

Story of The Mule

The Mule is a 2018 film that partially depicts the true story of World War II veteran, Leo Sharp who spent 10 years as a drug runner for the cartel. Sharp was an award-winning horticulturist who was forced out of business by the internet, resulting in the loss of his home. In an act of desperation, Sharp became a drug trafficker and, though the movie portrays a brief trafficking career, he spent 10 years as one of the cartel’s biggest couriers.

At 90-years-old, he was eventually caught and sentenced to three years in prison. He only served one year due to declining health and was released in 2015. He passed away a year later at the age of 92.

Willie Nelson’s version of “Don’t Let The Old Man In”

In 2020, Willie Nelson recorded the song for his 70th studio album, First Rose of Spring. Producer Buddy Cannon knew immediately that he wanted Willie’s voice on the track and called the song “the best song Toby Keith’s ever written.”


Nelson agreed, telling The Sun that he wanted to record the song as soon as he heard it.

“I really love that song. (Country star) Toby Keith, a friend of mine, wrote it and as soon as I heard it, I said, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve got to record this song’.” Nelson said, adding that one of the song’s lines hit him especially hard.

“There’s one line in there that really flipped me out – ‘Many moons I have lived and my body’s withered and worn but how old would I feel if I didn’t know the day I was born?’” the singer said. “I feel like that line.”

“Don’t Let The Old Man In” Lyrics

Don’t let the old man in
I wanna leave this alone
Can’t leave it up to him
He’s knocking on my door

And I knew all of my life
That someday it would end
Get up and go outside
Don’t let the old man in

Many moons I have lived
My body’s weathered and worn
Ask yourself how would you be
If you didn’t know the day you were born

Try to love on your wife
And stay close to your friends
Toast each sundown with wine
Don’t let the old man in

Many moons I have lived
My body’s weathered and worn
Ask yourself how would you be
If you didn’t know the day you were born

When he rides up on his horse
And you feel that cold bitter wind
Look out your window and smile
Don’t let the old man in

Look out your window and smile
Don’t let the old man in

See the official music video for “Don’t Let The Old Man In” below.

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