Glen Campbell, the honey-voiced singer-songwriter-guitarist who had a slew of country and pop hits in the 1960s and ’70s and earned an Oscar nom for Best Song from the 2014 docu Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, died today in Nashville. He was 81. He had struggled with Alzheimer’s since 2011.
Campbell starred in the classic 1969 Western True Grit opposite John Wayne, who landed his only Oscar for the lead role of Rooster Cogburn. Campbell had a country top 10 and minor pop hit with the longing title track.
A native of rural Arkansas, he also hosted a CBS variety show called The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. Debuting as a midseason replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in January 1969, the series was an instant hit, finishing in the top 15 among all primetime series that season with a 22.5 rating. Featuring such sidekicks as Dom DeLuise, Jerry Reed and Mike Curb, it finished in the top 20 for the 1970-71 season and ran until June 1972.
By then, Campbell — who briefly toured with the Beach Boys when Brian Wilson was ailing in the mid-’60s and also played on Pet Sounds — already was a successful and solo artist. “Gentle on My Mind” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” hit the pop charts in 1967, both spawned from Album of the Year Grammy winner By the Time I Get to Phoenix and both earning multiple individual Grammys; the latter also was up for Record of the Year. He broke through even stronger with the lament “Wichita Lineman,” which reached the pop Top 5 in 1968 and featured one of his finest and most mournful vocals. All three of those singles — the latter two of which were written by Jimmy Webb — have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Wichita Lineman became his only No. 1 LP.
He went on to have pop hits with “Galveston” and “It’s Only Make Believe” while continuing to score on the country charts. Then Campbell made a huge comeback in the mid-’70s with “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights,” both of which topped the Billboard Hot 100.
But Campbell was dominant on the country chart, with his heart-piercing voice fueling more than two dozen top 10 hits and five No. 1s. He released about 75 albums over a six-decade span and won a half-dozen Grammys among 20 nominations.
He also was a sought-after session man — as part of the famed L.A.-based Wrecking Crew and on his own. He played guitar on records by the Beatles, the Monkees, Neil Diamond and country legends Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and Roger Miller. Campbell also added semi-anonymous six-string licks to such classic pop hits as the Ronettes’ Phil Spector-produced “Be My Baby,” Jan and Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve,” Shelley Fabares’ “Johnny Angel” and the First Edition’s “Just Dropped In,” which later was immortalized in the Coen brothers’ 1998 neo-classic The Big Lebowski.
He saw something of a career resurgence in 2008 with the release of Meet Glen Campbell, a cheekily titled covers album — a la Johnny Cash’s American Recordings discs — featuring songs by the likes of U2, the Velvet Underground, Tom Petty and Green Day. He did a brief club tour to promote it that included a well-received stop at the Troubadour in West Hollywood.
But everything changed with his 2011 diagnosis with Alzheimer’s. His struggle with the unforgiving disease was chronicled in Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, James Keach’s sometimes tough-to-watch documentary that follows the singer on his farewell tour in the U.S., Australia and Europe as he deals with his illness. Campbell co-penned a heartbreaking Alzheimer’s-themed song for the film titled “I’m Not Going to Miss You”; sample lyric: “I’m never gonna hold you like I did/Or say ‘I love you’ to the kids/ You’re never gonna see it in my eyes/It’s not gonna hurt me when you cry.”
It landed a Best Song Oscar nomination but lost to “Glory” from Selma. (It also earned a Grammy nom but couldn’t beat “Let It Go,” from Frozen.) Tim McGraw sang “I’m Not Going to Miss You” at the 2015 Academy Awards. “I’m honored to be asked to sing this powerful song from one of the true legends of the music industry,” McGraw said at the time.
I’ll Be Me also scooped a Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.
Campbell also acted sporadically in films and TV, including a starring turn as a Vietnam veteran who returns home to pursue a singing career in Jack Haley Jr’s Norwood (1970) — it co-starred football legend Joe Namath — and playing himself in Clint Eastwood’s 1980 romp Any Which Way You Can. He also did guest stints on such TV series as The F.B.I. and, three decades later, Players — which also was about FBI agents and was his last acting credit.
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