Glen Campbell in Memoriam (1936-2017)
When Glen Campbell died on Tuesday (Aug. 8) at the age of 81, he left behind a staggering legacy not only in country music, but also pop and the world of television and film.
Campbell was the seventh of 12 children born when he was born on April 22, 1936, in the tiny town of Billstown, Ark. His uncle, Boo, introduced him to the guitar, and by 1954 he had moved to Albuquerque to play with his uncle’s band.
By 1960 Campbell had packed up and moved to Los Angeles, where it didn’t take long to climb into the ranks of the top session musicians in the studio scene there due to his versatile guitar abilities and broad vocal range. Campbell joined a now-legendary group of L.A. musicians called the Wrecking Crew and played on a vast array of recordings from artists ranging from the Monkees to Jan and Dean, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Nat King Cole, Merle Haggard, Simon and Garfunkel and a long list of other top acts across all genres.
Campbell signed with Crest Records as a solo artist in 1961 and released his debut single, “Turn Around, Look at Me,” which reached No. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100. He signed with Capitol in 1962 and released a string of unsuccessful singles there while continuing to work many other projects, including playing guitar on the Beach Boys‘ landmark Pet Sounds album.
After Brian Wilson‘s mental breakdown made it impossible for him to tour, Campbell joined the Beach Boys live from December of 1964 until March of 1965, playing bass and singing falsetto harmonies at their concerts. He turned down a permanent spot in the group to focus more on his solo career, and in 1967 he scored his first true hit, “Burning Bridges,” which reached No. 18 on Billboard‘s Hot Country Singles chart.
That kicked off a string of hits from 1967 until 1976 that included “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” ” Dreams of the Everyday Housewife,” “Try a Little Kindness” and his signature song, “Rhinestone Cowboy,” among others. He hosted The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour from 1969-1972, helping to launch the careers of Jerry Reed and Anne Murray, who were series regulars, and appeared with John Wayne in True Grit, earning a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer. Campbell also scored an Academy Award nomination for the film’s title song.
Glen Campbell’s Life and Career in Pictures
He went on to host a number of television specials, co-hosted the American Music Awards from 1976–78 and was a guest on a veritable Who’s Who of talk shows and variety shows. From 1982 to 1983 Campbell hosted a 30-minute syndicated music show on NBC called The Glen Campbell Music Show.
Campbell’s career cooled off considerably in later years, but he continued a busy schedule of live appearances and grew to be one of the elder statesmen of music, with artists including Keith Urban acknowledging his influence. In 2010 he recorded what he intended to be his final album, Ghost on the Canvas, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He did not reveal his diagnosis until 2011 when he embarked on his Goodbye Tour, which he wanted to undertake as a farewell to his fans before his disease took away his ability to perform.
He recorded the tracks for what would actually be his final album, Adios, after the tour, though they would not see release until just before his death. Campbell documented his final tour in a film, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, and recorded the final song of his life, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” for the film. “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” took Best Country Song honors at the 2015 Grammy Awards and was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song.
Campbell’s stellar career was offset by an often troubled personal life. He had five sons and three daughters from a total of four marriages, beginning with his marriage to Diane Kirk, which lasted from 1955–1959 and produced his oldest daughter, Debby. Campbell then married Billie Jean Nunley, a beautician from Carlsbad, New Mexico. They had three children — Kelli, Travis, and Kane — before divorcing in 1976. He married his singer Mac Davis’ second wife, Sarah Barg, in September of 1976, and they had one child named, Dillon, before divorcing in 1980. Campbell later admitted that he had begun using cocaine in 1975, and his increasing cocaine use helped end his marriage to Barg.
Campebll made tabloid headlines his tempestuous relationship with Tanya Tucker due to their age difference and frequent troubles. He was 44 and she was 21 when they began their 14-month romance, during which couple recorded a number of songs together, including the single “Dream Lover.” Both later admitted that their affair was punctuated with heavy cocaine use and frequent fights that often turned physical.
They broke up in 1981, and later that year Campbell met Kimberly “Kim” Woollen, a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, on a blind date. They married in 1982 and had three children, Cal, Shannon and Ashley. All three joined Campbell’ touring band in 2010 and played with him on his final tour.
Campbell’s marriage to Woolen began to straighten him out. He converted to Christianity and stopped using cocaine, but his troubles weren’t entirely behind him. In 2003 he was arrested for drunk driving and kicking a police officer, which resulted in a 10-day jail sentence that seemed to clean him up for good.
The entertainer earned virtually every accolade possible from his long career, including Grammys, CMA and ACM awards. In 2005 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Campbell’s publicist, Tim Plumley, issued a statement from Campbell’s family after his death that reads, “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.”
Funeral plans have not been announced for Glen Campbell.
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