By Robert K. Oermann
Superstar Glen Campbell’s ordeal with Alzheimer’s disease has ended. He was 81.
The Country Music Hall of Fame member left a legacy of dazzling guitar playing, golden-throated singing, iconic television work and movie stardom. His enduring recorded performances include definitive interpretations of such classics as John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind,” Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman,” Larry Weiss’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” and Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights.”
Glen Campbell revealed he had Alzheimer’s in 2011. He sang “Rhinestone Cowboy” at the February 2012 Grammy Award ceremony. He embarked on an international “Goodbye Tour,” with three of his children serving as band members. He appeared in Nashville at the CMA Music Festival in the summer of 2012.
The acclaimed 2014 documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me documented his final tour. Its soundtrack featured his last recorded song, the Oscar nominated “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.”
During his legendary career, Glen Campbell recorded more than 70 albums and placed more than 80 songs on either the pop, country or adult-contemporary charts. His lifetime record sales exceed 45 million units. He has 17 Grammy Award nominations and six wins.
Glen Travis Campbell was born the seventh son of the 12 children of a sharecropper near Delight, Arkansas on April 22, 1936. He dropped out of school at age 14. Proficient on guitar from an early age, he moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1954 to join his uncle’s country band, Dick Bills & The Sandia Mountain Boys. The teenager also appeared on local radio and TV. He formed his own band, The Western Wranglers, in 1958.
With the aim of becoming a session musician, Campbell moved to Los Angeles in 1960. He became a member of the studio aggregation known as “The Wrecking Crew” and played on records by hundreds of established stars, including Frank Sinatra, Ricky Nelson, The Monkees, Jan & Dean, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Bobby Darin, Merle Haggard, The Mamas & Papas, Ray Charles, Simon & Garfunkle, The Fifth Dimension and The Righteous Brothers.
He was in the “house bands” of such TV shows as Star Route, Shindig! and Hollywood Jamboree during this period. He also toured as a member of the instrumental group The Champs (“Tequila”) and recorded as a member of The Hondells (“Little Honda”) and Sagittarius (“My World Fell Down”).
Glen Campbell signed with Capitol Records in 1962. “Kentucky Means Paradise” cracked the country top-20 in early 1963 (billed as The Green River Boys Featuring Glen Campbell). But most of his early singles for the label were not successful.
In 1964-65, he toured as a member of The Beach Boys, playing bass and singing Brian Wilson’s falsetto harmony parts. He also played on that group’s iconic 1966 LP Pet Sounds, as well as on such singles as “Help Me Rhonda” and “Dance, Dance, Dance.” Campbell also toured as a bass player with Ricky Nelson.
His own recording career began to heat up when he teamed up with producer/arranger Al DeLory. His remake of Jack Scott’s “Burning Bridges” returned him to the country top-20 in early 1967.
Later that year, “Gentle on My Mind” became a hit. It earned Campbell the ACM Single and Album of the Year trophies, and he was also the 1967 ACM Male Vocalist of the Year. In addition, “Gentle On My Mind” won Campbell his first country Grammy Awards. At the same ceremony, he won a pop Grammy for “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” which was actually a much bigger hit in the country field.
In 1968, Glen Campbell had his first No. 1 country hit, John D. Loudermilk’s “I Wanna Live.” He followed it with another big hit, Chris Gantry’s “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife.” He repeated his Male Vocalist ACM win, and Bobbie Gentry & Glen Campbell was named the ACM Album of the Year.
He became a bona fide pop star with the 1968 release of the haunting “Wichita Lineman,” his second country chart topper. At that year’s Grammy ceremony, his By the Time I Get to Phoenix LP was named the overall Album of the Year. In addition, he was named the 1968 CMA Entertainer and Male Vocalist of the Year. Simultaneous pop and country success continued in 1969 with Campbell’s yearning version of Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston.”
He had hosted a summer-replacement TV series in 1968. Beginning in 1969, he starred in his own, prime-time, weekly variety series, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, on CBS. The shows were characterized by impressive superstar duets. The host showcased his guitar talents, as well as his abilities on banjo, mandolin and bagpipes. Jerry Reed, John Hartford and Dom DeLuise were regulars. The series remained on the air until the summer of 1972. As a result of this exposure, Glen Campbell was named the ACM TV Personality of the Year in 1968 and 1971.
Film roles ensued. Campbell co-starred with John Wayne in the 1969 feature True Grit. He sang the film’s theme song, which was nominated for an Oscar. The 1970 film Norwood co-starred him with Joe Namath and Kim Darby. Other films that featured Campbell include Strange Homecoming (1974) with Robert Culp and Leif Garrett, Any Which Way You Can (1980) with Clint Eastwood, Uphill All the Way (1986) with Roy Clark and Mel Tillis and the animated Rock-A- Doodle (1991).
During the early 1970s, he continued to have consistent top-10 country hits — “Try a Little Kindness” (1969), “Honey Come Back” (1970), “Everything a Man Could Ever Need” (from Norwood, 1970) and “Manhattan Kansas” (1972), plus revivals of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” (1970), The Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream” (both with Bobbie Gentry, 1969-70), Pee Wee King’s “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (1974) and Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby” (1971). Of them, “It’s Only Make Believe” was the sole single that became a pop top-10 hit as well. He also recorded duet LPs with fellow pop-country stars Anne Murray (1971) and Tennessee Ernie Ford (1975).
Glen Campbell roared back to the top of the pop hit parade with 1975’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” also a No. 1 country hit. With sales reportedly in excess of two million, this became the biggest hit of his career. At the American Music Awards, it won both Pop and Country Single of the Year honors, and its album won the AMA Country Album award the following year. “Rhinestone Cowboy” was the ACM”s 1975 Single of the Year, as well. Also topping both pop and country charts was 1977’s “Southern Nights.”
Now at the peak of his popularity, he hosted the 1976, 1977 and 1978 American Music Awards telecasts. Between 1971 and 1983, he was annually the celebrity host of the Los Angeles Open PGA golf tournament. He began touring overseas and became an international celebrity, particularly in Great Britain.
He remained active on the country charts with “Don’t Pull Your Love/Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” (1976), “Sunflower” (1977), “Can You Fool” (1978), “I’m Gonna Love You” (1979), “Any Which Way You Can” (1980) and “I Love My Truck” (1981).
In 1982, he signed with Atlantic Records. Notable country singles for that company included “I Love How You Love Me” (1983), the Grammy nominated “Faithless Love” (1983), “A Lady Like You” (1984), “Letter to Home” (1985) and “It’s Just a Matter of Time” (1985).
During the 1980s, Campbell recorded duets with Rita Coolidge, Emmylou Harris, Mel Tillis, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Lee Greenwood and Tanya Tucker. The Tucker recordings were done when she and Campbell were romantically involved in a tempestuous relationship that made tabloid-newspaper headlines.
He returned to television with The Glen Campbell Music Show in 1982-83. The half-hour syndicated series had 24 episodes. In 1985, he was honored with an HBO TV special, The Silver Anniversary of the Rhinestone Cowboy. Johnny Cash, Anne Murray, Mel Tillis, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson joined him on it.
Also in 1985, airline flight attendant Denise Jackson approached Glen Campbell in the Atlanta airport. She told him her husband was a songwriter moving to Nashville and asked for advice from the star. Campbell put Alan Jackson in touch with his song-publishing company in Nashville and paid for the studio time that led to a recording contract.
Many others cite Campbell as influencing their careers, perhaps none more so than Keith Urban. Steve Martin was a writer on his TV show. Wade Hayes revived “Wichita Lineman” in 1997. The Band Perry won a Grammy last year for their revival of “Gentle on My Mind,” and Restless Heart’s current version of “Wichita Lineman” was recorded to salute Campbell’s influence. Being Campbell’s duet partner elevated Anne Murray’s profile early in her recording career.
Glen Campbell kicked off a late-1980s stint at MCA Records with another duet. He and Opry star Steve Wariner scored a big hit with 1987’s “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.” It earned the team a Grammy nomination.
Campbell’s solo hits continued with “Still Within the Sound of My Voice” (1987), “I Have You” (1988) and “She’s Gone, Gone, Gone” (1989). His 1986 inspirational album No More Night won Campbell a Dove Award from the GMA.
Accolades continued into the 1990s. He won his second Dove Award in 1992 for his performance of “Where Shadows Never Fall.” He published Rhinestone Cowboy as his autobiography in 1994. The book dealt candidly with substance abuse, women, recovery and his spiritual testimony. In 1998, he was presented with the ACM’s Pioneer Award.
He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005. As a member of L.A.’s studio all stars “The Wrecking Crew,” he was made a member of The Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007. His album A Glen Campbell Christmas won a Dove Award in 2000. Three of his recordings entered the Grammy Hall of Fame during this decade — “Wichita Lineman” (2000), “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (2004) and “Gentle On My Mind” (2008).
Campbell returned to Capitol Records for his “comeback” album, 2008’s Meet Glen Campbell. The collection found him singing a highly eclectic repertoire, including songs by U2, Green Day, Jackson Browne, Foo Fighters and Tom Petty. His “farewell” album, Ghost on the Canvas, was issued in 2010.
He went public with his Alzheimer’s diagnosis the following year. He made his last TV appearance when he was presented with the 2012 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. His final recorded song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” won the 2014 Best Country Song Grammy Award for Campbell and cowriter Julian Raymond.
Glen Campbell entered a Nashville memory-care facility that year. His long-term treatment continued throughout 2015. In early March 2016, his wife reported that he could no longer play the guitar and had lost most of his language skills.
Glen Campbell has had four families. His eldest daughter is Debby, the child of the star with his first wife, Diane Kirk. Debby Campbell sang backup in her father’s road band for 24 years and is the co-author of the 2014 memoir Glen Campbell: Life With My Father.
Second wife Billie Jean Nunley is the mother of daughter Kelli and sons Travis and Kane. Third wife Sarah Barg is the mother of son Dillon. In 2010, Dillon Campbell issued his debut pop EP, Save Yourself.
Campbell married Kim Woollen in 1982. She is the mother of sons Cal and Shannon and daughter Ashley, the three children who accompanied him in his final road band. Ashley Campbell co-wrote and recorded the 2015 Dot Records single “Remembering” to honor her father.
She also appears on his final album, Adios. Produced by his longtime sideman Carl Jackson, the record was released on June 9, in conjunction with the 2017 CMA Music Festival.
From Campbell’s official website:
It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, grandfather, and legendary singer and guitarist, Glen Travis Campbell, at the age of 81, following his long and courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Glen is survived by his wife, Kim Campbell of Nashville, TN; their three children, Cal, Shannon and Ashley; his children from previous marriages, Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane, and Dillon; ten grandchildren, great- and great-great-grandchildren; sisters Barbara, Sandra, and Jane; and brothers John Wallace “Shorty” and Gerald.
In lieu of flowers, donations for Alzheimer’s research may be made to the Glen Campbell Memorial Fund at BrightFocus Foundation through the donation page at Careliving.org.
A personal statement from Kim Campbell will follow.
The family appreciates your prayers and respect for their privacy at this time.
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