Glen Campbell's public, painful struggle with Alzheimer's disease has ended.
The Country Music Hall of Fame member died today (8/8), six years after announcing he had been diagnosed with the dreaded disease.
Born in Delight, Arkansas, Glen Travis Campbell began his legendary career as a session musician, playing the daylights out of the guitar in the L.A.-based "Wrecking Crew" group of studio aces. In the mid-60s he became a Beach Boy, touring when Brian Wilson's stage fright caused him to pull out of a tour the day before it started.
From there he took a gorgeous John Hartford song about friendship and love without the pressures of commitment, "Gentle on My Mind," and turned it into a Grammy-winning country and pop hit. Both Campbell and Hartford received Grammy awards for the song. The popularity of the song led CBS to give Campbell a "summer replacement" show for the popular, yet controversial, Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (which, if you didn't know, had banjo master Steve Martin as a writer). His opening song was "Gentle on My Mind," occasionally with Hartford (or just Hartford singing by himself).
From there, Campbell couldn't be stopped for a time. He had hit after hit in country and pop with a string of Jimmy Webb songs that had city titles: "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," and "Galveston."
As country and pop music changed dramatically in the early 70s Campbell's career faded, but he came roaring back in 1975 with "Rhinestone Cowboy," a song about a down-and-out (and out-of-place) musician in New York City dreaming of hitting the big time. The song became the first song since "Big Bad John" in 1961 to simultaneously top the country and pop charts the same week.
Other hits followed on the comeback, including Campbell's cover of the Allen Toussaint song "Southern Nights" (which was also a #1 pop hit as well as a country and "easy listening" chart-topper), "Sunflower," and "Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)" before the hits became fewer again. Still, Campbell managed to score top ten hits in the late 80s with "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" and "She's Gone, Gone, Gone."
As with many other country stars, Campbell tried his hand at acting. His major screen credit is an excellent performance in the classic John Wayne Oscar-winner True Grit. He also appeared in Any Which Way You Can, where he provided the title song.
Many celebrities, when they receive such a heartbreaking and terminal diagnosis such as Alzheimer's disease, retreat to privacy. Campbell decided to give Alzheimer's a very famous face. He did a "farewell" tour in 2014 and gave the world a touching look into the life of a person slowly succumbing to the clutches of the disease in the documentary Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me. The documentary earned Campbell another Grammy award.
We've known for many years that this day was coming, but that certainly doesn't ease the heartache of knowing this giant is no longer with us. As a friend of mine, who writes for Rolling Stone Country, said, however, we can find some solace in knowing he is no longer suffering.
Farewell to the Rhinestone Cowboy, who will be ever gentle on our minds.
Glen Campbell was 81.