Glen Campbell dies at age 81

Sto­ried life cul­mi­nated with a coura­geous fight against Alzheimer’s

Los Angeles Times - - CULTURE MONSTER -

The Grammy-win­ning singer and gui­tarist has died af­ter a bat­tle with Alzheimer’s.

There are last acts. And then there was Glen Campbell’s.

As he en­tered his 70s, the mul­ti­ple-Grammy win­ner’s ca­reer seemed im­pos­si­ble to top. Campbell had sold tens of mil­lions of records and sev­eral hits had ma­tured into clas­sics. He en­joyed iconic sta­tus among coun­try mu­si­cians and had even ac­com­plished that cliched fall from grace that seems all but req­ui­site in these cases: a tabloid-chron­i­cled de­scent into booze and scan­dal from which he emerged with re­newed faith — and a string of gospel al­bums.

But there was no script for what came next. Af­ter Campbell an­nounced at age 75 that he had Alzheimer’s, he opted for a rare public air­ing of his men­tal de­cline, a de­ci­sion so af­fect­ing that

for­mer Pres­i­dent Clin­ton sug­gested it might out­strip Campbell’s con­tri­bu­tions to mu­sic.

Campbell died Tues­day in Nashville, ac­cord­ing to a rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the fam­ily.

His death was also an­nounced in a post on his of­fi­cial web­site and so­cial me­dia ac­counts. “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,” the state­ment said.

Campbell ad­vo­cated for Alzheimer’s pa­tients and boldly dis­played his fad­ing mem­ory in public, grop­ing for lyrics in front of know­ing, sup­port­ive crowds. A bru­tally frank film, 2014’s “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” doc­u­mented his pri­vate strug­gles — his con­fu­sion, his flashes of anger.

And as his con­di­tion wors­ened, his fans were sup­plied with a steady se­ries of up­dates, each a kind of primer de­tail­ing the stages of Alzheimer’s and ex­plain­ing symp­toms with graphic clar­ity.

“He was so open about what he was go­ing through,” Ju­lian Ray­mond, a Campbell col­lab­o­ra­tor, said in 2014. “He was up­set about it on one hand, but had a great sense of hu­mor about it too.”

He re­called Campbell jok­ing: “I don’t wanna re­mem­ber that stuff any­way.”

The son of a share­crop­per, Campbell was a vir­tu­oso gui­tarist pos­sessed of a crys­talline tenor voice and boy-next-door good looks. He burst into star­dom in the late 1960s, and over the next five decades sold more than 45 mil­lion records and be­came known for a sig­na­ture string of ’60s and ’70s coun­try mu­sic hits that in­cluded “Gen­tle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wi­chita Line­man” and “Rhine­stone Cow­boy.”

He also had his own TV show, “The Glen Campbell Good­time Hour,” which fea­tured its host along­side su­per­stars such as Ray Charles, Cher and Neil Di­a­mond.

Born April 22, 1936, in Bill­stown, a tiny com­mu­nity near the town of De­light, Ark., Glen Travis Campbell was the sev­enth son of a sev­enth son, John Wes­ley. Wes­ley and his wife, Car­rie Dell Campbell, would have sev­eral more chil­dren af­ter Glen.

By all ac­counts, Campbell’s early life was one of se­vere poverty that in­cluded pick­ing cot­ton in the fields along­side his broth­ers. The seeds of his ca­reer were planted at the age of 4 when he re­ceived a guitar that had been or­dered from a Sears, Roe­buck & Co. mail-order cat­a­log.

By age 6, he was skilled enough to ap­pear on lo­cal ra­dio sta­tions, and by 10th grade he would quit high school to pur­sue a mu­sic ca­reer full time. By the time he was 20, he had joined his un­cle’s band — the Al­bu­querque-based San­dia Moun­tain Boys — where he would hone his skills for a pair of years be­fore strik­ing out on his own to form Glen Campbell and the Western Wran­glers in 1958.

Campbell came west while still in his 20s. He made his home in the Los An­ge­les area, where he would re­main the rest of his work­ing life. He flour­ished as part of the Wreck­ing Crew, the fa­bled though mostly un­known-tothe-public col­lec­tive of stu­dio and ses­sion mu­si­cians who played be­hind some of the big­gest names in the mu­sic busi­ness.

In this early stage of his ca­reer, Campbell was a sought-af­ter in­stru­men­tal­ist, and his brisk, con­fi­dent guitar work was fea­tured on records by Elvis Pres­ley and the Mon­kees, among oth­ers, as well as “Pet Sounds,” the clas­sic al­bum by the Beach Boys, with whom he would briefly tour as a sub­sti­tute for Brian Wil­son.

Campbell’s ca­reer started to move cen­ter stage — or at least fur­ther to the front of it — with a few mod­est hits be­gin­ning with “Turn Around, Look at Me,” a 1961 sin­gle he recorded for Crest Records; “Ken­tucky Means Par­adise,” a 1962 tune recorded with the Green River Boys; and “Swingin’ 12 String Guitar” as part of the Folk­swingers in 1963.

His big break­through, though, came in 1967 when his record­ing of the John Hart­ford tune “Gen­tle on My Mind” hit the No. 1 spot on the coun­try charts and the Bill­board Top 40 and earned Campbell a Grammy.

“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” brought a sec­ond Grammy and de­buted Campbell’s fruit­ful pair­ing with song­writer Jimmy Webb — one of those madein-heaven singer-song­writer matches that helped make leg­ends of both men. Webb also wrote “Galve­ston” and the iconic “Wi­chita Line­man.”

Campbell’s first two hits earned him the Coun­try Mu­sic Assn.’s 1967 Entertainer of the Year award. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” earned him three more Gram­mys, in­clud­ing al­bum of the year in 1968.

Not long af­ter, the ris­ing star with the wide smile, dim­pled chin and side­burns would add tele­vi­sion show host to his re­sume. In 1968, he was a sum­mer re­place­ment co-host of “The Smoth­ers Broth­ers Comedy Hour,” and the next year came “The Glen Campbell Good­time Hour,” his CBS prime-time va­ri­ety show that aired un­til 1972.

Along the way he ap­peared on the big screen, too — most no­tably along­side John Wayne in the orig­i­nal 1969 ver­sion of “True Grit” (Campbell played La Boeuf, the role reprised by Matt Da­mon in the film’s 2010 re­make), and as a Viet­nam vet­eran re­turn­ing state­side in “Nor­wood” (1970).

The 1970s found Campbell’s mu­sic reach­ing a wider au­di­ence, as ev­i­denced by songs such as “Rhine­stone Cow­boy,” which reached No. 1 on Bill­board’s Hot 100, coun­try and adult con­tem­po­rary charts in 1975, fol­lowed two years later by his sec­ond and fi­nal No. 1 hit, “South­ern Nights,” writ­ten by revered New Or­leans mu­si­cian Allen Tous­saint.

The ’80s were a coun­try song gone awry for Campbell, a decade de­fined less by his cre­ative out­put than by his bat­tles with drugs and al­co­hol and his tem­pes­tu­ous, on-again, off-again af­fair with singer Tanya Tucker, who was half his age.

By the mid-1990s he’d taken up res­i­dence at the Glen Campbell Good­time Theatre in Bran­son, Mo., where he per­formed reg­u­larly. His out­put from these years skewed heav­ily to­ward Christ­mas al­bums, gospel records and best-of com­pi­la­tions.

In 2005 Campbell was in­ducted into the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame. Three of his songs have been in­ducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame: “Wi­chita Line­man” (in 2000), “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” (2004) and “Gen­tle on My Mind” (2008). Campbell re­ceived a Grammy Life­time Achieve­ment Award in 2012.

He be­gan a late-ca­reer re­nais­sance in 2008 through his col­lab­o­ra­tion with pro­ducer and song­writer Ray­mond, who per­suaded Campbell to record a di­verse batch of songs by younger, hip­per artists, in­clud­ing Green Day, Tom Petty, the Re­place­ments and U2.

Campbell re­leased “Ghost on the Can­vas” in 2011, fol­low­ing that with a fi­nal stretch of con­certs. The Good­bye Tour, which pushed into 2012, was the sub­ject of the James Keach doc­u­men­tary “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” re­leased in 2014 — the same year Campbell moved into an Alzheimer’s treat­ment fa­cil­ity af­ter list­ing his Mal­ibu home.

With the help of his chil­dren and ad­mir­ing friends such as Wil­lie Nel­son, he re­leased a fi­nal al­bum in the spring of 2017, ti­tled — sim­ply — “Adios.”

The tour and film elicited an emo­tional out­pour­ing. Re­ject­ing the shame that some­times at­tends Alzheimer’s, Campbell turned into an ad­vo­cate for the disease and was staunchly public about his aff lic­tion; au­di­ences cheered him as he fal­tered on stage, stum­bling through lyrics but sol­dier­ing res­o­lutely on.

But even as Campbell’s disease pro­gressed, he re­tained a deep mu­si­cal flu­ency. He would for­get the words to songs, his doc­u­men­tar­ian later said, but not the mu­sic. He could still hit the notes.

The film por­trayed him baf­fled at doc­tor ap­point­ments and lash­ing out to­ward his fam­ily. The Times’ Randy Lewis called the film strik­ing for its re­fusal to flinch be­fore the grim re­al­i­ties of Alzheimer’s.

Also fea­tured in the film was the song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” which Campbell had writ­ten and recorded with Ray­mond.

Like the Good­bye Tour, the song is unique in the coun­try canon. Stark, spe­cific and un­sen­ti­men­tal, its few sim­ple lines con­vey pro­found loss, both for Alzheimer’s suf­fer­ers and those who love them. It opens with, “I’m still here / But yet I’m gone.”

“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” re­ceived an Academy Award nom­i­na­tion for orig­i­nal song and earned Campbell the sixth and fi­nal Grammy of his ca­reer.

Campbell is sur­vived by his wife, Kim; their three chil­dren, Cal, Shan­non and Ash­ley; his chil­dren from pre­vi­ous mar­riages, Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane, and Dil­lon; 10 grand­chil­dren and many great- and great­great-grand­chil­dren; sis­ters Bar­bara, Sandra, and Jane; and broth­ers John Wal­lace “Shorty” and Ger­ald.

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times By Adam Tschorn

HIS CLOS­ING ACT Glen Campbell is pic­tured at his Mal­ibu home in 2011, shortly af­ter he an­nounced he had Alzheimer’s disease. The rare public air­ing of his men­tal de­cline won the ad­mi­ra­tion of for­mer Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, among oth­ers.

Don­ald­son Col­lec­tion

RIS­ING STAR Glen Campbell in 1967, the year of his break­through hit, “Gen­tle on My Mind,” one of his three songs in­ducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. He also ap­peared on record­ings by Elvis Pres­ley and the Beach Boys.

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