Native son, singer Campbell dies
Chart-topping musician succumbs to Alzheimer’s at 81
Singer and Arkansas native Glen Campbell, whose distinct voice bridged country and pop music, died Tuesday in a hospice in Nashville after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, family members said.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, grandfather and legendary singer and guitarist,” Campbell’s family posted on his website Tuesday afternoon.
The singer was 81. Campbell was born in Billstown, a small Pike County community of about 50 people near Delight, on April 22, 1936. He was the seventh of 12 children.
He was best known for his country- pop singles “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Southern Nights” and “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” but Campbell also was an accomplished studio musician who played for such performers as Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, The Monkees, Jan and Dean, and The Beach Boys.
One of Campbell’s daughters, Ashley, wrote on Twitter that she was heartbroken.
“I owe him everything I am and everything I will be. He will be remembered so well and with so much love,” she wrote.
Dolly Parton said Tuesday in a video statement on Twitter after Campbell’s death, “Glen is one of the greatest voices there ever was in the business, and he was one of the greatest musicians.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson also responded to the news of the death.
“Although Glen Campbell lived in a lot of places and performed his songs all over the world, I have always thought of him as ours,” Hutchinson said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. “He was a proud Arkansan who had a huge impact on the music world.”
Campbell released more than 70 albums during his 50-year career and sold more than 45 million records, placing 80 songs on the Billboard Country Chart, the Billboard Hot 100 or the Adult Contemporary Chart.
Campbell’s last studio album, Adios, was released June 9 after he recorded it after his 2011 Goodbye Tour.
“He learned to play the guitar real good,” his brother Gerald Campbell, 86, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in May. “We all played some, but Glen picked it up and he could tear that thing up.”
Campbell and his siblings grew up on a hardscrabble farm in southern Arkansas where they picked cotton at early ages and learned to be self-sufficient, Gerald Campbell said.
Glen learned to swim by diving off a 40-foot bluff on the Little Missouri River near the family home where relatives often held picnics.
Music was part of his life at an early age.
“I always watched after Glen,” Gerald Campbell said. “When he went to playing the guitar when he was about 10, a lot of the other boys were jealous of him because all the girls gathered around to hear him play and sing. They’d try to give him trouble, but I had his back.”
The instrument was his pride, his sister Jane Rather said in a July 12, 1968, interview with the Arkansas Gazette.
Campbell was outside playing one day with one of his friends when it was time for him to go inside and practice his guitar, Rather recalled in the article. The friend suggested that Glen stay outside and play longer, but Glen persisted.
The boy took Glen’s guitar and stepped on it, and a fight ensued.
“Glen won,” Rather said in the article.
Also in Campbell’s youth, his uncle Dick Bills came to Arkansas from New Mexico to visit, and when he heard the youngster’s talent, he asked Campbell’s parents if Campbell could go back to Albuquerque and play in Bills’ band when he got older.
In 1954, Campbell traveled to Albuquerque and played for Bills and his Sandia Mountain Boys, appearing on his uncle’s radio show and on a local children’s television program.
“He was a guitar man,” said his brother Shorty Campbell, 84, in an interview this spring with the Arkansas Democrat- Gazette. “Oh, he was. They don’t come any better.”
Campbell, his father, Shorty Campbell and Gerald Campbell moved to Houston to begin an insulation business, but it turned out to be a short-lived career for the man who wanted to become a musician.
“He worked one week and said, ‘No,’” Shorty Campbell said. “Glen asked, ‘When do you get paid? I told him, ‘Friday’ and Glen said, ‘Get my money,’ and he left.
“Glen said as a working man, you can’t get too far ahead,” Shorty Campbell said. “He said he wanted to play guitar.”
Shorty Campbell took his brother to a music store in south Houston, and they bought a Fender guitar and a small amplifier. He played shows in Houston for six months “making ends meet and staying alive,” Shorty Campbell said.
He formed his first band, Glen Campbell and the Western Wranglers, in 1958.
In 1960, Campbell moved to Los Angeles and joined The Wrecking Crew, a group of studio musicians that included keyboardist Leon Russell and drummer Hal Blaine.
He played on recordings for Nat King Cole, Nancy Sinatra, Ricky Nelson and others. He toured with The Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson on bass, in 1964 and 1965 when Wilson had a reported nervous breakdown. Campbell also played guitar on the group’s album Pet Sounds.
Campbell signed with Capitol Records, but after a string of songs didn’t sell well, the company considered dropping him from the label in 1966.He teamed with producer Al De Lory and released the song “Burning Bridges” in 1967, and it became a top20 country hit.
Later that year, he released “Gentle on My Mind” and won Grammy awards in the country and pop categories. “Gentle on My Mind” includes the lyrics “I pretend to hold you to my breast and find, that you’re waitin’ from the back roads by the rivers of my memory. Ever smilin’, ever gentle on my mind.”
At a time when “outlaws” like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson populated country music’s charts, Campbell’s clean-cut, farm boy image set him apart.
A year later, he followed “Gentle on My Mind” with “Wichita Lineman,” and his career took off.
He was friends with comedian Tommy Smothers and co-hosted the CBS show The Summer Smothers Brothers Show in 1968, although he didn’t agree with the program’s liberal politics.
Success didn’t change Campbell.
“He was just the same,” Shorty Campbell said.
Glen Campbell maintained his country boy image, often answering interview questions with his homespun Arkansas flair.
“If we grew it, we ate it. If Daddy shot it, Mamma cooked it,” he would say of his upbringing in rural Arkansas.
“He always said ‘if you let money go to your head, you ain’t anybody,’” Shorty Campbell said. “He was just plain Glen Campbell.
“Success never went to his head.”
In a 1999 interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Campbell said that if people met him, they’d see the “real” Glen Campbell.
“Most of the time when they turn around they say, ‘Are you Glen Campbell?’” Campbell told the newspaper. “I say, ‘I used to be.’”
Campbell hosted his own weekly variety show from 1969- 72 called The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS, showcasing musicians like Linda Ronstadt, fellow Arkansan Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.
In 1969, he appeared in the movie True Grit with John Wayne, playing the role of a Texas Ranger in the adaptation of Arkansas author Charles Portis’ novel.
He invited his brothers to the movie set in Colorado during filming.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Gerald Campbell said. “We stopped at a place to get gas in Colorado after they filmed True Grit, and I told a guy there that I had a brother do a movie. That guy knew my name was Campbell before I told him. It was my voice. We all sound the same.”
The next year, Glen Campbell starred with Joe Namath as ex-Marines in Norwood, another adaptation of a Portis novel.
In the mid-1970s, Campbell released the songs “Southern Nights” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” both No. 1 hits in the United States.
Campbell often included his family in his performances. Siblings performed with him at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and his brothers toured with him across the country and in Canada.
Gerald Campbell met Lucille Ball through his brother.
“I asked her for a hug and sneaked me some jaw sugar,” he said, referring to a kiss.
While playing shows in Reno, Nev., Glen Campbell enjoyed playing blackjack, but his popularity prevented him from visiting the blackjack tables alone. He gave Gerald Campbell $100 a night to be his “bodyguard” and stand by him, keeping fans from interrupting his gambling.
For six days, Gerald Campbell remembered, his brother hired him. On the last day, he said, Glen didn’t feel like playing that night.
“‘ Dadgum,’ I told him,” Gerald Campbell said. “‘You knocked me out of a hundred bucks.’”
Campbell was married four times and had eight children.
His 15-month public affair with country singer Tanya Tucker included alcohol and cocaine binges in the early 1980s and made him the subject of tabloid headlines.
In 1981, he met Kimberly Wollen, a Radio City Music Hall dancer, on a blind date, and the two were married a year later.
During his career, he battled substance abuse, but family members “took him to church and talked him out of it,” Shorty Campbell said.
In 2005, Glen Campbell was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame
He released his 61st album Ghost on the Canvas on Aug. 30, 2011, and his family announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He embarked on what he called his “goodbye tour,” and on Sept. 6, 2012, he performed at Robinson Center Music Hall in Little Rock.
Campbell was open about his disease, often joking about it during interviews.
“I’ve hurt big toes worse than that,” he said during a Sept. 3, 2011, interview with National Public Radio. “I’m not going to let it get me down. Or it might get me down. I don’t know. I don’t even know what this is. What’s an Alzheimer?”
His wife, Kim Campbell, replied in the interview: “It’s where you start losing your memory.”
Campbell answered, “I remember everything. I really do.”
The 2014 documentary film Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me recounted his 2011-12 farewell tour and chronicled his fight with Alzheimer’s while showcasing his still adept guitar skills. The song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” won a Grammy for best country song in 2015 and was nominated for an Oscar for best original song.
Gerald Campbell said he has kept a suitcase full of news articles, photographs and videos of his brother’s career.
“I’ve got everything about him,” he said. “I want to take it out and look it all over.”
Glen Campbell poses for a portrait in 2011 in Malibu, Calif. Campbell, the grinning, high-pitched entertainer who had such hits as “Rhinestone Cowboy” and spanned country, pop, television and movies, died Tuesday.
Glen Campbell ( top, right) shares the stage on his television show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour with fellow Arkansan Johnny Cash (from left), country legend Merle Haggard and Hee Haw star Buck Owens in an undated publicity photo. At left, Campbell and John Hartford perform on the show in 1968. Hartford, a regular on the show, wrote Campbell’s breakthrough hit, “Gentle on My Mind.”
Glen Campbell visits his parents, Wes and Carrie Campbell, during a Christmastime trip to his hometown of Billstown near Delight in 1981.
This image is taken from Glen Campbell’s video, “Ghost on the Canvas,” for what was meant to be his final album in 2011, but he wound up releasing two more.