Glen Campbell, the country music singer, songwriter and guitarist best known for the hits “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” died today after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 81.
Over the course of a career that spanned six decades, Campbell released 58 studio albums and sold more than 45 million records. In addition to his work as a solo artist, Campbell was an in-demand session guitarist, bassist and vocalist early in his career, and was a member of the L.A. circle of studio musicians nicknamed the Wrecking Crew in the early 1960s.
Born in Arkansas in 1936, Campbell headed west as a teenager to pursue a career in music, landing first in Albuquerque, where he played in his uncle's country and western band, Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys. He moved to Los Angeles in 1960 and briefly became a member of The Champs, best known for their instrumental “Tequila,” before finding studio and touring work with such artists as Nancy Sinatra, Merle Haggard, The Monkees and The Beach Boys.
Campbell's solo career took off in 1967 with a string of hits, including “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “I Wanna Live” and “Wichita Lineman.” The success earned Campbell his own TV variety show, The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour, which ran on CBS until 1972.
In 1975, Campbell released “Rhinestone Cowboy,” a crossover pop hit about a down-on-his-luck singer, which would become his signature song. He followed that up with several more hits, including “Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.)” and “Southern Nights,” which made him one of the biggest stars of ’70s country pop, alongside Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.
Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2010 but did not make his diagnosis public until the following year. In the interim, he recorded an album called Ghost on the Canvas, intended to be his farewell record, with several songs written for him by younger artists including Jakob Dylan, Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg. After revealing he had Alzheimer's, Campbell embarked on a 14-month Goodbye Tour, which included a stop at the Hollywood Bowl on June 24, 2012. The tour was the subject of a 2014 documentary, Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me, whose soundtrack included a new song, “I'm Gonna Miss You.” It would be the last song Campbell ever wrote or recorded. (An album of previously unheard material, Adios, was released this year but recorded in 2012 and 2013.)
Campbell reportedly died in a facility for Alzheimer's patients in Nashville. He is survived by his wife, Kim Campbell, and eight children.
Throughout the day, dozens of Campbell's fellow artists have been releasing statements mourning his loss and paying tribute to his talent and friendship. “We’re gonna miss Glen,” said Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Bare. “He was a friend of mine for way over 50 years. He was my neighbor in L.A. before we both moved to Nashville and we hung out together a lot — back in the early ’60s. It's a rough day.”
“He represented the best of pop and the best of country, and he went that kind of middle ground,” said Charlie Daniels. “He pulled people in from both sides. It was a great thing for country music and, frankly, for pop music.”
“Glen was a dear friend to me. One of the best,” said Jerry Lee Lewis. “Let the Lord be with him to rest his soul and to comfort his family.”
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