Singer and guitarist Glen Campbell, whose biggest hits included “Wichita Lineman” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” has died. He was 81.
Mr. Campbell’s six-decades career reached its zenith in the 1960s and 1970s with hits that included “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Gentle On My Mind,” “Galveston” and the aforementioned “Wichita Lineman” (his first Top 10 hit) and “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
According to the Associated Press, Campbell’s family said the singer died Tuesday morning in Nashville and publicist Sandy Brokaw confirmed the news. No cause was immediately given.
In 2011, the then 75-year-old singer announced he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, revealing he had suffered from short-term memory loss for years. A studio album, “Ghost on the Canvas,” was released shortly thereafter and Mr. Campbell, along with several of his children who were part of his band, embarked on a farewell world tour in support of the disc. The trek made a stop at the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet in 2012. Earlier this summer, Mr. Campbell’s record label released his final studio album, “Adios,” recorded in 2012 and 2013.
A musicians’ musician, Mr. Campbell played studio sessions with some of the biggest names in the music industry including Merle Haggard, Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. He also toured with the Beach Boys, playing bass guitar and singing many of Brian Wilson’s “high parts.”
He won five Grammys, released 70 albums and sold more than 45 million records. His charttopping hits included “Southern Nights” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
Mr. Campbell was born in Arkansas, one of twelve children in a sharecropper’s family. In a 1996 interview with the Sun-Times, Campbell talked of his early years:
“When I was a kid in Arkansas, we listened to whatever we could get on the radio, and most of it was the big bands with Sinatra and the Grand Ol’ Opry.”
With the Opry and Sinatra in his heart, Mr. Campbell would eventually cross over into almost every music genre, scoring hits in country, pop and gospel. He attributed much of his success to being “blessed with singing Jimmy Webb songs,” he told the Sun-Times. It went much deeper than that.
“Music is something that’s in the soul,” he said in that 1996 interview. “It’s a way of expressing yourself. It just seems like the way music is being expressed nowadays is all for the negative sides rather than the good sides and knowing that your door is always open and your path is free to walk. There’s a lot out there nowadays that I really do like. But as far as the rap and the heavy rock stuff, it’s just too far out there for me. I mean there’s some 16-or 20-year-old kid trying to make a statement about life or society and they haven’t even begun to live. They can’t know life yet.”
He was just 4 when he learned to play guitar. As a teenager, anxious to escape a life of farm work and unpaid bills, Mr. Campbell moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to join his uncle’s band and appear on his uncle’s radio show. By his early 20s, he 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, including their 1966 album “Pet Sounds.”
In 1969, Mr. Campbell took on the role of television show host, with the debut of “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” on CBS. The show, which opened each week with Mr. Campbell’s endearing grin and the words, “Hi, I’m Glen Campbell,” ran until 1972. Also in 1969, Mr. Campbell starred on the big screen opposite John Wayne in “True Grit,” for which the singer provided the title song.
The documentary “Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me” came out in 2014. The film about his farewell tour 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. The song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” won a Grammy for best country song in 2015 and was nominated for an Oscar for best original song.
Mr. Campbell was married four times, but perhaps his most “famous” pairing was his hugely turbulent relationship with country singer Tanya Tucker in the early 1980s.
In a 2012 interview with the Sun-Times, Mr. Campbell was asked what he wanted to be remembered for most? With a hearty chuckle, the singer replied: “Living. I’ll be very pleased with whatever my legacy is. Good songs are what I like. Making music that people can relate to.”
Mr. Campbell is survived by his wife, Kim; their three children, Cal, Shannon and Ashley; and his children from previous marriages, Debby, Kelli, Travis, Kane and Dillon. He had 10 grandchildren.
Contributing: Associated Press