Country legend Glen Campbell suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for many years before finally succumbing to the cruel condition at the age of 81 in August 2017. Throughout his life, the “Rhinestone Cowboy” star had naturally earned the utmost respect from his family and millions of music fans around the globe. But it was his daughter Ashley who touched everyone’s hearts with the tribute she paid to her late father.
Glen Travis Campbell was born into the small community of Billstown, Arkansas, in 1936. He grew up in relative poverty as the seventh of 12 children on their sharecropper father John’s farm. Campbell first picked up the guitar aged four, and his Uncle Boo taught him the rudiments. Just two years later, then, a precocious Campbell was showcasing his talent for the instrument on local radio.
Campbell left school at 14 and took various unskilled jobs before relocating to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1954. Here, he played in another uncle’s group, Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys. That same year, he also married his first wife, Diane Kirk, after meeting her on a local children’s TV program. By 1958, he had daughter Debby and had founded his own outfit, the Western Wranglers.
But in 1960 Campbell moved to Los Angeles where he joined another band, The Champs, and became a session musician. Then as a leading member of the loose studio group The Wrecking Crew, he played on many and varied hit records over the next few years, including ones by The Monkees, Frank Sinatra and Merle Haggard. He also became friends with Elvis Presley after working on the soundtrack to the King’s Viva Las Vegas film in 1964.
And although Campbell became an artist in his own right in 1961 – when he signed a solo deal with the small Crest Records – he continued to collaborate. In fact, he formed the Gee Cees group and performed with hit act the Beach Boys. He also became a TV regular and appeared on the music shows Star Route, Hollywood Jamboree and Shindig!
As a solo artist, Campbell scored his first major hit in 1965 with a cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier.” But the disappointing response to its follow-ups nearly saw him dropped by his new major label, Capitol. Fortunately, he saved his career when he teamed up with producer Al De Lory and began recording a string of songs that would achieve classic status.
These included the Grammy-winning “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Gentle on My Mind” in 1967. The next year, “Wichita Lineman” and “I Wanna Live” also reached the top of the charts. Plus, Campbell’s musical contribution to the soundtrack of the film he co-starred in, True Grit, picked up nods at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards in 1969.
Then in addition to starring in 1970’s Norwood on the silver screen, Campbell also ventured back on to the small screen. In fact, the star hosted an eponymous weekly variety show for three years. The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour not only boasted Steve Martin and Rob Reiner as writers, but it also launched the careers of singers Jerry Reed and Anne Murray.
And Campbell remained a regular screen presence throughout the 1970s. For instance, he co-starred in made-for-TV films Strange Homecoming and Christmas in Disneyland in 1974 and in 1976, respectively. He also co-hosted the American Music Awards three times and headlined several television specials. The star naturally continued to rack up the hits on both the country charts and the Billboard Hot 100, too.
In fact, Campbell had scored two massive number-one smashes by the end of the 1970s. His first arrived in 1975 with “Rhinestone Cowboy,” a Larry Weiss song that Campbell had first heard while touring Australia the year before. His second came in 1977 with a cover of New Orleans rhythm and blues legend Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights.”
Campbell added seven more top-10 country hits to his tally in the 1980s. He also recorded the title song for and appeared in Clint Eastwood film Any Which Way You Can. However, this period sadly saw Campbell battle serious addictions to cocaine and alcohol. Fortunately, though, he managed to get clean by the end of the decade.
Then in the 1990s Campbell gave up smoking to improve his singing voice, and he was also the subject of a VH-1 Behind the Music special. In the 2000s, meanwhile, he enjoyed a Country Music Hall of Fame induction and released a covers album. On the downside, though, he received a ten-day jail sentence for a drink-driving incident after suffering a relapse in 2003.
But in 2010 Campbell received a devastating blow when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He bravely went public with the diagnosis six months later and subsequently embarked on a worldwide farewell tour in which he was supported by three of his kids on stage.
A film documentary about his struggle with Alzheimer’s, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, was released in 2014 to great critical acclaim. It also saw Campbell pick up a Best Original Song Oscar nomination at the Academy Awards. Two years later, Campbell received the Career Achievement Award from the Academy of Country Music, while in 2017 his poignant final album, Adios, hit the shelves.
These achievements are even more impressive when you consider that the star had spent the previous three years as a patient at a long-term care facility for people suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. But just two months after his final album’s release, Campbell, aged 81, lost his battle with the disorder. Unsurprisingly, a whole host of stars paid glowing tributes to Campbell following the news of his death.
For instance, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys described him as “an incredible musician and an even better person.” Dolly Parton, too, hailed him as “one of the greatest voices there ever was in the business.” While Tanya Tucker, a former romantic partner of Campbell’s, even wrote a song in his honor, “Forever Loving You.”
However, the most affecting tribute came from Campbell’s daughter Ashley. The youngest of his eight children tweeted a photo of the pair’s hands locked together, accompanied by a touching message. It read, “Heartbroken. I owe him everything I am and everything I ever will be. He will be remembered so well and with so much love.”
A singer who toured with her dad, Ashley Campbell had previously written a song, “Remembering,” about her beloved father. And just months before his death, she spoke about her visits to his Alzheimer’s care facility with the Rolling Stone Country magazine. She said, “He’s just happy every day, smiles, he enjoys life and he enjoys being around people. And he loves a good piece of cake.”
Alongside Ashley, Campbell was survived by seven other children – Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane, Dillon, Cal and Shannon – and his fourth wife, Kim. The star met this former member of the Rockettes on a blind date in the early 1980s. His former wives were Diane Kirk, Billie Campbell and Sarah Barg.
In a 2012 interview with news channel CNN, Glen Campbell himself revealed that he felt at peace with his destiny. Speaking directly into the camera to end the filmed segment, the star said, “I am content with it. Don’t cry over spilt milk. Get up and be a man, and do what you have got to do.”