Singer-guitarist Glen Campbell, the “Rhinestone Cowboy” who went on a farewell tour to play hits such as “Wichita Lineman” and “Gentle on My Mind” before Alzheimer’s disease robbed him of talents, died earlier this week (8 August) at the age of 81.
Campbell died in Nashville at an Alzheimer’s facility surrounded by his family, his publicist Sanford Brokaw said.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, grandfather, and legendary singer and guitarist, Glen Travis Campbell, at the age of 81, following his long and courageous battle with Alzheimer’s disease,” his family said in a statement posted on the singer’s official website.
Campbell announced in June 2011 that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s. The “Gentle on My Mind” singer then embarked on a nationwide farewell tour that ended in November 2012.
Campbell began his career as a well-regarded recording session guitarist in Los Angeles before becoming a fixture on the U.S. music charts, radio and television in the 1960s and ’70s. He won six Grammy Awards and had nine No. 1 songs in a career of more than 50 years.
The tour was captured in a documentary aired in 2015 by CNN, “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” that movingly captured him struggling with the disease. His song “I’m Not Going to Miss You” from the movie’s soundtrack won a Grammy Award for best country song.
His death on Tuesday brought tributes from country music stars.
Following are eight facts about Campbell, one of the biggest stars of American country and pop music in the late 1960s and ’70s, with hits such as “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Wichita Lineman.”
* He was the seventh of 12 children born to sharecroppers in tiny Delight, Arkansas. He learned guitar as a boy and played in his uncle’s band as a teenager.
* Before stardom, Campbell was part of the “Wrecking Crew,” a collection of highly regarded Los Angeles studio musicians that also included guitarists Barney Kessel and James Burton, and pianists Leon Russell and Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack. Among the hit songs Campbell played on were Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” and the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville.”
* Campbell considered “Rhinestone Cowboy” his best song. His version of the song about a struggling musician, written and first recorded by the relatively unknown Larry Weiss, was No. 1 on the country, pop and adult contemporary charts in 1975.
* Campbell had a wild drug-and-alcohol-fueled romance with country singer Tanya Tucker, who was 22 years younger, that was regularly covered by the tabloids. When it started in 1980, she called Campbell “the horniest man I ever met” and Campbell said, “I gave God a prayer and he gave me Tanya.” After the relationship ended, Campbell reversed himself and told People magazine, “God showed me just what I didn’t need.”
* Campbell took up golf in his mid-20s and it became a passion for him. He was host of the Glen Campbell Open on the PGA Tour from 1971 to 1983 and for a while had a daily tee time scheduled at the Malibu Country Club. Sometimes he wore cleated cowboy boots rather than standard golf shoes.
* In his later years, Campbell crossed genres and age barriers. His 2008 album, “Meet Glen Campbell,” featured songs from rock bands U2, the Velvet Underground, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Green Day and Foo Fighters.
* After announcing that he had Alzheimer’s disease in 2011, Campbell recorded an album, “Ghost on the Canvas,” and went on a farewell tour of the United States. Performing with a band that featured three of his children, Campbell sometimes had problems remembering lyrics but his shows were generally well received. A film company made a documentary about the tour and Campbell’s struggle with the disease.
* Campbell was married four times, starting at age 17 with his pregnant 15-year-old girlfriend. He had eight children.