‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ Glen Campbell dies at 81
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.