Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually inhibits the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Experts suggest that as many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among older people. It affects cognitive functioning, including thinking, remembering, and reasoning and behavioral abilities, to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. Alzheimer’s ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of daily living. For more details, watch this informative video from Healthline, titled “What Alzheimer’s Disease Is”.
As we’ve seen in this series, Alzheimer’s does not discriminate. People from all walks of life are diagnosed every day, including well-known celebrities and politicians. In this series, we will look at three celebrities and their fights with Alzheimer’s, including the 40th U.S. PresidentRonald Reagan, Lady Volunteers basketball coach Pat Summitt, and country singer Glen Campbell. In the past two weeks, we talked about Ronald Reagan and Pat Summitt, and today, we will focus on country music star and actor Glen Campbell.
Part 3: Glen Campbell
Glen Travis Campbell was born on April 22, 1936, on a family farm in Delight, Arkansas. He is one of 12 children; the son of Wesley, a sharecropper, and Carrie Dell. The family was largely impoverished, but extremely musical, and Campbell showed musical promise early on.
At the age of 4, Campbell’s father bought him a $5 Sears and Roebuck guitar and within a few years, he was appearing as a paid act and performing guest spots on local radio stations. A talented guitarist by the age of 16, Campbell dropped out of high school and headed out West, where he played with bands in Wyoming’s bars and roadhouses. In 1952, he joined the Sandia Mountain Boys (a band founded by his uncle, Dick Bills) and soon became a popular performer on local television and radio shows in New Mexico.
In 1955, Campbell married Diane Kirk and they divorced in 1959. Campbell’s eldest daughter is Debby, from this marriage. After divorcing Kirk, Campbell married Billie Jean Nunley, a beautician who gave birth to Kelli, Travis, and Kane.
Shortly thereafter, Campbell relocated to Los Angeles. He took a job at the American Music Company, a small publishing house that employed a staff of songwriters. In 1961, at the age of 24, Campbell wrote and recorded the single “Turn Around, Look at Me.” Its modest success caught the attention of Capitol Records and, under contract with the label, he became known as a skilled session guitarist and finger-picker. Campbell worked as a sideman with artists including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Merle Haggard, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, the Righteous Brothers, and the Monkees. Prominent producers Phil Spector and Jimmy Bowen also regularly tapped Campbell for their recordings.
In 1965, following Brian Wilson’s retirement, Campbell was invited to tour with The Beach Boys as a temporary bassist. Two years later, he recorded the song “Gentle on My Mind,” which proved to be a crossover pop success. Campbell’s next single, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” also entered the Top 40 and earned a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance. That same year, his song “Gentle” earned the Grammy for Best Country and Western Recording.
In 1968, the Country Music Association honored him as the Entertainer of the Year and in that same year, Campbell released his biggest hits to date: “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.” Both tracks served to narrow the gap between country and pop music.
In 1968, Campbell made a guest appearance on The Joey Bishop Show. The Smothers Brothers comedy duo caught the performance and were so taken with Campbell, they presented him with the opportunity to co-host The Summer Smothers Brothers Show.
Campbell’s ease, humor and musical skill charmed audiences and impressed CBS executives, who offered Campbell his own primetime variety show. Debuting in 1969, The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour was a combination of musical acts, comedy segments, and glamorous guest stars. The show, which was produced under The Smothers Brothers production label, became a No. 1 hit in the United States and the U.K., making Campbell an international star.
After his television success, Campbell moved to the big screen. He forged a film career with his debut performance opposite John Wayne in 1969’s True Grit. Although the variety series was canceled in 1972, the success of his No. 1 singles, “Rhinestone Cowboy” (1975) and “Southern Nights” (1977), further cemented Campbell’s status as a crossover success.
Campbell and Billie Jean divorced in 1975. He later married Sarah Barg in 1976. They had one child together (Dillon) and then divorced in 1980, three weeks after Dillon’s birth.
Beginning in the late 1970s, while dating singer Tanya Tucker, Campbell’s abuse of cocaine and alcohol began to take a toll on his career. The couple’s explosive relationship made Campbell a mainstay in the gossip pages. After a few years of touring in the 1980s, Campbell left Los Angeles, successfully overcame his drug habit, and became a born-again Christian.
Campbell met Kimberly “Kim” Woollen, a Radio City Music Hall “Rockette”, in 1981, and they got married in 1982. They have three children together, Cal, Shannon and daughter Ashley who have joined their father on stage since 2010 as part of his touring band.
In 1994, Campbell published a tell-all autobiography titled Rhinestone Cowboy. In 2005, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He continued to appear at theaters in Branson, Missouri, and in 2008 he released an album of cover songs entitled Meet Glen Campbell.
In 2011, Campbell announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The country legend decided to record one more album and hit the road one more time before his condition worsened.
Glen Campbell released Ghost on the Canvas to good reviews and has enjoyed great support from fans during his farewell tour. In February 2012, he was honored at the Grammy Awards, receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He also participated in a special tribute to his music with Blake Shelton and the Band Perry. The entire audience rose to their feet and sang along as Campbell performed his signature tune “Rhinestone Cowboy.” The event was a fitting salute to one of country’s most influential stars.
In April 2013, Campbell’s wife and daughter shared that the world-renowned singer and instrumentalist’s disease has progressed to the point where he can no longer perform.
He announced plans to retire from touring, citing the progression of his Alzheimer’s disease. Around the same time, he embarked on a trip to Washington, D.C., where he advocated for Alzheimer’s research. He also announced that a new album, See You There–a reimagining of hits like “Wichita Lineman” and “Rhinestone Cowboy”–would be released in the summer of 2013.
In a recent interview, Campbell’s wife Kim told Country Weekly that he now has trouble speaking and requires constant attention, adding that his advancing disease has brought on side effects including anxiety, agitation and depression.
Kim adds that the doctors believe Campbell is “doing exactly the right thing. He’s doing better than expected. They’re amazed at how well he’s doing, and they attribute it to him staying active and to this music. If he were an accountant or lawyer, it would be difficult, but music is so deeply ingrained in your brain. One music therapist said it works every part of your brain at once. That’s one reason it’s the last thing you lose.”
His daughter Ashley says his advancing Alzheimer’s has compromised his musical abilities, noting that when she toured with him last year, he would often forget the words to his own songs while onstage. “It’s heartbreaking to see this disease robbing him of what he does best,” she stated. She recently recorded a video about her father and the hardships of Alzheimer’s.
The family works to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s research and has participated in producer James Keach’s (Walk the Line) documentary chronicling Campbell’s struggle, which likely will be submitted for next year’s Sundance Film Festival.
(Copied from an email from The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. in Fairfax Virginia)