‘Rhine­stone Cow­boy’ Glen Camp­bell dies at 81

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - Michael Pol­lak

Gui­tarist and singer who found great fame in 1960s and 1970s had bat­tled Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

Glen Camp­bell, the sweet­voiced, gui­tar-pick­ing son of a share­crop­per who be­came a record­ing, tele­vi­sion and movie star in the 1960s and ’70s, waged a pub­li­cized bat­tle with al­co­hol and drugs and gave his last per­for­mances while in the early stages of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, died Tues­day in Nashville, Tenn. He was 81.

Tim Plum­ley, his pub­li­cist, said the cause was Alzheimer’s dis­ease. Camp­bell had been liv­ing in a Nashville care fa­cil­ity.

Camp­bell re­vealed that he had Alzheimer’s dis­ease in June 2011, say­ing it had been di­ag­nosed six months ear­lier. He also an­nounced he was go­ing ahead with a farewell tour later that year in sup­port of his new al­bum, “Ghost on the Can­vas.” He and his wife, Kim­berly, told Peo­ple mag­a­zine that they wanted his fans to be aware of his con­di­tion if he ap­peared dis­ori­ented on­stage.

Camp­bell’s last per­for­mance was in Napa, Calif., on Nov. 30, 2012.

At the height of his ca­reer, Camp­bell was one of the big­gest names in show busi­ness, his ap­peal based not just on his mu­sic but also on his easy­go­ing man­ner and his ap­ple-cheeked, all-Amer­i­can good looks. From 1969 to 1972, he had his own weekly tele­vi­sion show, “The Glen Camp­bell Good­time Hour.” He sold an es­ti­mated 45 mil­lion records and had nu­mer­ous hits on both the pop and coun­try charts. He was in­ducted into the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Decades af­ter Camp­bell recorded his big­gest hits — in­clud­ing “Wi­chita Line­man,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Galve­ston” (all writ­ten by Jimmy Webb, his fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor for nearly 40 years) and “Southern Nights” (1977), writ­ten by Allen Tous­saint, which went to No. 1 on both pop and coun­try charts — a resur­gence of in­ter­est in older coun­try stars brought him back onto many ra­dio sta­tions.

Glen Travis Camp­bell was born on April 22, 1936, about 80 miles south­west of Lit­tle Rock, Ark., where his fa­ther share­cropped 120 acres of cot­ton. When he was 4, his fa­ther or­dered him a three­quar­ter-size gui­tar for $5 from Sears, Roe­buck. He was per­form­ing on lo­cal ra­dio sta­tions by the time he was 6.

Pick­ing up mu­sic from the ra­dio and his church’s gospel hymns, he “got tired of look­ing a mule in the butt,” as he put it in a 1968 in­ter­view.

He quit school at 14 and went to Albuquerque, N.M., where his fa­ther’s broth­erin-law, Dick Bills, had a band and was ap­pear­ing on both ra­dio and tele­vi­sion.

His skills even­tu­ally took him into the record­ing stu­dios as a ses­sion mu­si­cian, and for six years he pro­vided ac­com­pa­ni­ment for a vast num­ber of fa­mous artists, in­clud­ing Frank Si­na­tra, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, Elvis Pres­ley, Rick Nelson and groups like the Beach Boys and the Ma­mas and the Pa­pas.

Camp­bell had made his first records un­der his own name in the early 1960s, but suc­cess eluded him un­til 1967, shortly af­ter he signed with Capi­tol Records, when his record­ing of John Hart­ford’s “Gen­tle on My Mind” hit the charts. Shortly af­ter that, his ver­sion of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” reached the Top 40. Na­tional recog­ni­tion, four Grammy Awards in 1968 and tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances quickly fol­lowed.

In 1969, Camp­bell had his most fa­mous movie role, the non­sing­ing part of a Texas Ranger who joins forces with John Wayne and Kim Darby to hunt down the killer of Darby’s fa­ther, in the orig­i­nal ver­sion of “True Grit.” Camp­bell made his Las Ve­gas de­but in 1970 and, a year later, played at the White House and for Queen El­iz­a­beth II in Lon­don.

But his life in those years had a dark side. Though his record­ing and tour­ing ca­reer was boom­ing, he be­gan drink­ing heav­ily and later started us­ing co­caine.

“Frankly, it is very hard to re­mem­ber things from the 1970s,” he wrote in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. “The pub­lic had no idea how I was liv­ing.”

He cred­ited his fourth wife, the for­mer Kim­berly Woollen, with keep­ing him alive and straight­en­ing him out — although he would con­tinue to have oc­ca­sional re­lapses for many years.

His sur­vivors in­clude his wife and eight chil­dren: Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane, Ash­ley, Cal, Shan­non and Dil­lon. Three of them were in the band that backed him on his farewell tour.


Glen Camp­bell per­forms on his farewell tour in Oc­to­ber 2011 in Los An­ge­les. He re­vealed months ear­lier that he had Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

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