For many years, Glen Campbell delighted millions of country music fans with cherished hits like “Rhinestone Cowboy.” However, a recent health crisis has meant the singer has had to step away from the stage. Campbell’s wife Kim has since spoken out about her husband’s plight, and the shocking details will leave you in tears.
Like many country musicians, Glen Campbell walked a long and difficult road to make it to the top. After being born in Arkansas during the Dust Bowl period, the singer escaped his poverty-stricken roots by becoming a session musician with Capitol Records. But the star’s boundless charisma couldn’t be kept in the sidelines, and he soon made his way to the stage.
In 1967, moreover, Campbell had immense success with his single “Gentle on My Mind.” A huge hit on the commercial charts, the song’s popularity certified Campbell as both a star of country and pop. In a sign of the star’s wide appeal, his follow-up “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” even bagged him the Best Pop Vocal Performance award at the 1968 Grammys.
After this initial triumph, Campbell ventured from the stage to the screen. Through his variety show The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour, the star revealed hitherto unseen corners of talent. Meanwhile, hits like “Southern Nights” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” maintained his place as a Billboard chart-topper in the following decade.
With the latter, Campbell found the linchpin that defined his whole career. Following its 1975 release, “Rhinestone Cowboy” would be certified gold and earned accolades from the likes of the American Music Awards. And it was popular with more than just country fans; rockers Radiohead, for example, covered the song in concert.
Nevertheless, Campbell’s life would soon take a turn for the worse, in particular when he developed addictions to alcohol and cocaine. Meanwhile, a volatile romantic relationship with singer Tanya Tucker further diverted attention from his music and made him famous for all the wrong reasons.
Despite his problems, however, Campbell sobered up and met his current partner Kim Woollen in the early ’80s. Married in 1982, the pair are parents to three musicians who have all played with Campbell on tour. And though the union would be Campbell’s fourth, it would also be his most stable. More than 30 years later, the pair are still together.
Happily married and still beloved by millions of fans, Campbell seemingly had it all. But unknown to the country singer, something terrible was happening inside of him. And the horrible consequences would put his whole life on halt.
In 2009 Kim noticed that something was amiss with her husband’s behavior. Once sharp and single-minded, Campbell was now repeating himself and putting a worrying amount of effort into simple tasks. And when the singer couldn’t remember his way home two years later, Kim immediately took her husband to see a doctor.
Unfortunately, Kim’s worst fears were proved right: Campbell was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. A degenerative condition that attacks the brain, the disease afflicts roughly 5.4 million Americans, according to a 2016 report by the Alzheimer’s Association. Moreover, it gives its victims between two and eight years to live.
“That was terrifying,” Kim admitted to The Tennessean in March 2017. But while the diagnosis was a shock, she immediately knew she had to help. As she added, “[It] fills you with compassion when you can understand it. From the time that I understood, I was there for him every single second.”
Meanwhile, knowing he has a limited time left to live, Campbell announced a farewell tour that began in 2011. Accompanied by the studio album Ghost on the Canvas, the tour took Campbell around the United States and wrapped at the end of 2012. One year later, the star announced his retirement from performing, and little has been heard or seen of him since.
For many of Campbell’s friends and family, the star’s decision to abandon touring was inevitable. Indeed, throughout his farewell shows, the singer was showing alarming signs of the disease’s spread. Not only did he have trouble remembering set lists, but he also forgot why he dismissed several backing musicians from his band.
Still, though he had more or less retired from the spotlight, Campbell knew he had to share his story. In 2014 his struggle with the illness was documented via the film I’ll Be Me, which also spawned Grammy-winning track “I’m Not Going To Miss You.” “Glen thought that was probably the most important thing he could ever do,” Kim told The Tennessean.
But despite his 2012 claims to CNN that he has to “do what you have got to do,” Campbell was finding it impossible to accomplish normal tasks. On one occasion he even mistook pictures of his family for the real thing and refused to change in front of them.
On top of this, Kim was also suffering, and her new role as caregiver was having an emotional toll. “It just takes over your life,” she admitted. “As a caregiver, you are losing your identity. You have to give up everything you are doing to take care of them.”
With Campbell growing increasingly combative and hard to maintain, Kim knew she couldn’t look after him on her own. So, in 2014, she made the difficult decision to relinquish her husband’s well-being to a care facility in their native Nashville. “You can’t do it all by yourself,” she later lamented.
Now in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, Campbell may have lost the spark that made him a star, but his love for music is still apparent. In fact, he still plays air guitar to his favorite songs. “[He’s] just very happy and content and a joy for everyone to be around,” his daughter Ashley told People in 2016. “That’s all you can ask for at that stage.”
And though he can no longer play a real six-string, Campbell hasn’t yet finished with music. With the help of his family and friends, like Carl Jackson, Vince Gill and Willie Nelson, the star has made one final album. Sadly entitled Adiós, the LP hit stores on June 9, 2017.
Through it all, Campbell’s craft has helped him keep a healthy and positive attitude. What’s more, he’s shown just how much potential music has to heal. “The doctors say that because Glen continued to do music it probably helped him plateau in the early and middle stages longer than he otherwise had,” Kim told The Tennessean. “It soothed him when he’d get upset, which is a great thing.”