NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Glen Campbell, the grinning, high-pitched entertainer who had such hits as “Rhinestone Cowboy” and spanned country, pop, television, and movies, has died. He was 81.
Before his mind evaporated into Alzheimer’s disease, Campbell was able to go out on one last big tour, star in a documentary and record an album of his favorite songs, fittingly called “Adios.” Three of his children sing on the album, which was released earlier this summer.
“I owe him everything I am, and everything I ever will be,” daughter Ashley Campbell wrote on Twitter. “He will be remembered so well and with so much love.”
A guitarist since age 4, Campbell’s musical talent, boyish looks and friendly charm brought him decades of success. He won five Grammys, sold more than 45 million records, had 12 gold albums and 75 chart hits, including No. 1 songs with “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights.”
His performance of the title song from the 1969 film “True Grit,” in which he played a Texas Ranger alongside Oscar winner John Wayne, received an Academy Award nomination. Campbell was nominated again for an Oscar in 2015 for “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” a song from the documentary “Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me.”
The 2014 film about Campbell’s farewell tour in 2011 and 2012 offers a poignant look at his decline from Alzheimer’s while showcasing his virtuoso guitar chops that somehow continued to shine as his mind unraveled.
His wife, Kim Campbell, announced earlier this year that her husband could no longer play guitar.
Campbell’s musical career dated back to the early years of rock ‘n roll. He toured with the Champs of “Tequila” fame. He was part of the house band for the ABC TV show “Shindig!” and a member of Phil Spector’s “Wrecking Crew” studio band that played on hits by the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers and the Crystals. Campbell also played guitar on Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In the Night,” The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” and Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas.”
“We’d get the rock ‘n’ roll guys and play all that, then we’d get Sinatra and Dean Martin,” Campbell told The Associated Press in 2011. “That was a kick. I really enjoyed that. I didn’t want to go nowhere. I was making more money than I ever made just doing studio work.”
One of 12 children, Campbell left his native Arkansas and a life of farm work as a teenager in pursuit of music. He moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to join his uncle’s band and appear on his uncle’s radio show. By his early 20s, Campbell had formed his own group, the Western Wranglers, and moved to Los Angeles. He opened for The Doors and sang and played bass with The Beach Boys as a replacement for Brian Wilson, who in the mid-’60s had retired from touring to concentrate on studio work.
In 1966, Campbell played on The Beach Boys’ classic “Pet Sounds” album.
“I didn’t go to Nashville because Nashville at that time seemed one-dimensional to me,” he told the AP. “I’m a jazzer. I just love to get the guitar and play the hell out of it if I can.”
By the late ’60s, he was a performer on his own, and an appearance on Joey Bishop’s show led to his TV breakthrough. Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers saw the program and asked Campbell if he’d like to host a summertime series, “The Summer Brothers Smothers Show.”
“The whole lid just blew off,” Campbell told the AP. “I had never had anything like that happen to me. I got more phone calls. It was awesome. For the first couple of days I was like how do they know me? I didn’t realize the power of television.”
His guests included country acts, but also The Monkees, Lucille Ball, Cream, Neil Diamond and Ella Fitzgerald.
Like his crossover contemporaries Johnny Cash, Roy Clark and Kenny Rogers, Campbell also enjoyed success on TV. He had a weekly audience of some 50 million people for the “Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” on CBS.
He released more than 70 of his own albums, and in the 1990s recorded a series of gospel CDs. A 2011 album, “Ghost On the Canvas,” included contributions from Jacob Dylan, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins. “Adios” features collaborations with Willie Nelson and Vince Gill.
Campbell was married four times and had eight children. As he would confide in painful detail, he suffered for his fame and made others suffer as well. He drank heavily, used drugs and indulged in a turbulent relationship with country singer Tanya Tucker in the early 1980s. In late 2003, he was arrested near his home in Phoenix after causing a minor traffic accident. He later pleaded guilty to “extreme” DUI and leaving the scene of an accident and served a 10-day sentence.
Besides wife Kim and daughter Ashley, Campbell is survived by children Cal, Shannon, Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane and Dillon, and 10 grandchildren.
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